A few days ago a website was presented to me while browsing the forums of Cloudynights.com, one of the best websites on the web for astronomy information and advice (next to this one of course). The post dealt with a project that has been collecting data in an attempt to categorize the various levels of light pollution around the world. To participate in the project an observer goes out, looks at the Orion Constellation and compares it to star charts on the organizations website to determine how many stars can be viewed from your location. Based on 7 different charts the observer will document what the faintest stars are that can be seen in the constellation, thus determining how much light pollution is located in the area.
After reading the article, a few nights pass by with cloudy skies, until yesterday when clouds in the day gave way to mostly clear conditions in the night, with only a slight mist in the air. After viewing the charts online for Orion’s Constellation, I went outside to see which one most closely matched the night sky in Salem, Virginia. After walking around and staring up into the sky for a couple of minutes to let my eyes get adjusted to the darkness (strange looks from passers-by are a common occurrence in astronomy, just ask Lauren), the sky revealed itself to be magnitude 4 light polluted area. That put’s Salem in the middle range, somewhere between a New York City sky and a Nevada desert sky. What surprised me the most was the realization that the night sky from my parents home in Clifton Forge, Virginia lists as a Magnitude 6 or 7 sky, making it one of the best dark areas to view from in Southwest Virginia. Along with checking out Orion, an interesting satellite also appeared, moving between Bellatrix and Aldebaran. Its rotation had it reflecting light onto Earth every 3 to 5 seconds, making it appear and disappear as it sailed across the sky.
This Star Log just goes to show that fancy telescopes and years of experience aren’t needed to enjoy and appreciate observing the night-time sky. Anyone can get involved with the astronomical community and it’s as easy as going out side and looking up at the stars!
If you would like to participate in the light pollution survey mission please visit this website.