Great World Wide Star Count starts tonight.

Citizen science is getting more and more popular; there are annual bird surveys, like the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, which is now in its 113th year. That event inspired the collaborative Great Backyard Bird Count (cosponsored by National Audubon and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology), now in its 15th year.

And now in its sixth year is the Great World Wide Star Count: two weeks in October during which ordinary citizens can compile simple observations to help better understand the effects of nighttime lighting on our view of the world.

All you’ll need are a clear evening sky sometime between October 5th and 19th, your own two eyes, and a set of simple star charts. First, download the handy five-page activity guide (available in 16 languages) and print the star charts.

There are five simple steps:

1. Determine which constellation to observe (in the Northern Hemisphere, the target is Cygnus)
2. Find that constellation at night an hour after sunset (about 7-9pm local time)
3. Match your nighttime sky with one of the magnitude charts available on the count’s website
4. Report what you see online
5. View results of this international event

Then, after stepping out under the early-evening sky and letting your eyes adjust to the darkness, match one of the charts to what you see overhead. Step back inside and report what you’ve found online. You’re done! (Unlike many contests, you can enter more than once! You might be surprised by how much the sky’s darkness can vary from night to night.)

GWWSC is a managed by UCAR’s Windows to the Universe project. Previous efforts netted more than 22,000 observations. (If you’ve done this activity before, please do it again! In that way, you can help track long-term trends in light pollution’s growth — or, just maybe, its decline.)

Go ahead — participate in the Great World Wide Star Count and become a “citizen scientist”!

To learn more, visit the GWWSC’s website.

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