Stargazers hope for sparkling event

RICHARD BATSON The natural wonder of a black night sky twinkling with a galaxy of sparkling stars is being lost through growing light pollution, rural campaigners said today.

RICHARD BATSON

The natural wonder of a black night sky twinkling with a galaxy of sparkling stars is being lost through growing light pollution, rural campaigners said today.

A new survey, where people were asked to count how many stars they could see, confirmed fears that badly designed and inefficient outdoor lighting was blotting out stars across much of England, especially in urban areas.

It comes as astronomers in Norfolk plan a star-gazing weekend at one of the county's “blackspots”, a rural holiday park where the views are unhindered by the glow of towns and cities.

The survey by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the British Astronomical Association's Campaign for Dark Skies asked 2,000 members of the public to count the number of stars they could see in the constellation of Orion - which normally number around 50 visible to the naked eye in a truly dark sky.

Only 2pc of people who responded to the online survey said they could see more than 30 stars, while 54pc saw fewer than 10 - with built-up areas recording the worst figures.

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The two main causes of light pollution were poorly directed security flood-lighting and sky glow from distant towns, mostly caused by street lighting.

Emma Warrington, CPRE dark skies campaigner, said: “This evidence is a great way to show government how badly we need the long-awaited planning policy on controlling light pollution, which would help stop it spreading ever wider.”

Next month the Norwich Astronomical Society is combining with the Kelling Heath Holiday Park at Weybourne in north Norfolk for a spring equinox star party, with more than 200 people expected to attend from all over the UK. They are also planning twice-monthly star walks for holidaymakers through the summer season.

Chairman Mark Thompson said astronomers had been aware of light pollution for many years - and it was

the reason the society moved its observatory from Colney on the edge of Norwich

to rural Seething in

south Norfolk 12 years ago.

He welcomed any initiatives to make street and industrial lighting more efficient, but also said individuals could help by ensuring any outdoor security lighting they installed at their homes was not too bright.

“It helps us enjoy our hobby but benefits the environment too,” said Mr Thompson, who said Norfolk remained a good place to star gaze, with many areas free from major light pollution problems.

It was hoped the star party and walks would help encourage more people to turn their interest and wonderment at the stars into a hobby, and get them to join a local astronomical society.

And people did not initially need any specialist telescope equipment. “You can see detail on the moon and star clusters using a pair of 7x50 binoculars,” he added.

For information about the Kelling Heath star party on April 13-15 contact the park on 01263 588181 or visit www.

kellingheath.co.uk

To contact the Norwich Astronomical Society phone Mark Thompson on 01692 630399 or visit www.norwich.

astronomicalsociety.org.uk