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Scientists asking for YOUR help setting a world record and mapping Australia’s light pollution!

Written by on June 18, 2020

Scientists are asking all Australians to step outside on the longest night of the year to help them measure light pollution around the country.

“We’re expecting thousands of people to join us on Australia’s longest night, Sunday 21 June, to help researchers create a map of Australia’s darkest skies, and learn about light pollution and its effect on people, animals, and astronomy,” says Marnie Ogg, CEO and founder of the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance.

Night sky Siding Spring.
PHOTO: Angel Lopez-Sanchez

“Together, our observations will map how light pollution varies across Australia’s cities and regions, and make a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ attempt for ‘Most users to take an online environmental sustainability lesson in 24 hours’,” says Marnie.

“The Australian night sky is amazing. Our galaxy, The Milky Way, is painted across the sky. It’s a view that encourages us to wonder what’s out there, amongst the billions of stars. It’s a view that encourages kids to take up science and physics. But most Australians can’t see it, their view of the sky is blinded by light pollution,” says astronomer Professor Lisa Kewley, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) who are supporting the project.

“Light pollution doesn’t just disrupt our view of The Milky Way. It disturbs wildlife, disrupt people’s sleep, and represents wasted electricity,” says Marnie.

“The information will help councils plan for darker skies and create opportunities for tourism,” says Marnie. “Dark sky parks and tours are already popping up around the country.”

Galaxy M 83 from Siding Spring Observatory, near Coonabarabran, New South Wales.
PHOTO: Angel Lopez-Sanchez

“You can help us understand how light at night affects wildlife,” says wildlife ecologist Dr Jen Martin from The University of Melbourne. “For example, light pollution from cities distracts bogong moths as they migrate from Queensland to Victoria’s alpine regions. If they don’t arrive on time, the endangered mountain pygmy possums that depend on them for food will starve.”

The project is supported by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, which has produced The National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife. Other supporters include ASTRO 3D, AstroNZ, Bintel, ICRAR, Globe at Night, Unihedron, ANU, the International Dark Sky Alliance, Laing Simmons & Young, Waiheke Island Dark Sky Park and Dark Sky Traveller.

The GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS attempt starts from 1pm AEST on Sunday 21 June 2020 and follows night fall around the world. All the submissions will be added to the international database of Globe at Night and participants from across the planet are welcome to take part.

For more information and to register, visit https://worldrecordlight.thinkific.com/.

How does it work?

Observations from Australian stargazers will contribute to the global dataset held by Globe at Night — an international scientific research program that crowdsources measurements of light pollution in the night sky. At set time periods within each year, the project asks people to report the stars they can see from their location to the project’s website. The coordinating researchers compile this information to produce a public, freely available map of global light pollution that can be used by researchers and the broader public.

How the World Record Light project works

  • You will need a computer, smartphone or tablet with an internet connection to take part.
  • Sign up via https://worldrecordlight.thinkific.com/.
  • Sign in on 21 June from 1pm AEST.
  • Watch some videos, answer all five questions, and do a night sky observation after dark, using the Globe at Night web app as directed on the project website. Participants in the Southern hemisphere will be looking for the Southern Cross (aka the Crux constellation), and the constellation of Bootes for the Northern hemisphere.
  • Don’t be put off by the weather: observations are valid even if it’s cloudy or raining.
  • Observations are uploaded to the international Globe at Night dataset in real time.
  • Finish all parts of the lesson within 24 hours.
  • Note that Guinness World Records officials may take several weeks to confirm the status of this attempt.

Artificial lighting from urban and industrial areas is a major contributor to light pollution.
PHOTO: SAM7682 from Pixabay

Why light pollution is a problem

  • Light pollution is one of the fastest growing pollutants around the globe.
  • In the natural world, artificial light can disorient some animals and plants, and affect the availability of food. It can stop turtle hatchlings from finding the ocean, interfere with the movement of pollinating insects, and cause birds such as shearwaters to collide with structures.
  • The study of astronomy is very sensitive to light pollution, with light scattered in the atmosphere at night reducing contrast between stars and galaxies and the sky itself. Light pollution particularly affects the visibility of diffuse sky objects like nebulae and galaxies.
  • Artificial light interferes with our ability to get a good night’s sleep. Chronic sleep depravation is linked to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, and accidental injury.
  • Excessive or misdirected artificial light wastes electricity and, depending on the source of power, contributes to climate change.
  • Constellations and the night sky have special significance for many Indigenous Australians. Light pollution can interfere with their ability to share and practice culture.

Australian locations protecting dark skies include

  • Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran (NSW) is Australia’s first Dark-Sky Park, as recognised by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
  • The Jump-Up Australian Age of Dinosaurs in Winton (QLD) is one of only 12 Dark-Sky Sanctuaries.
  • Mid Murray Council (SA) has supported the creation of the Dark Sky Reserve there.
  • Byron Shire (NSW) is investigating the removal of streetlights in the area.
  • Sunshine Coast Council (QLD) has implemented the first-night sky friendly lighting management plan in Australia.
  • Gingin Council (WA) are aiming to create a dark sky place at the Gin Gin Observatory.
  • Phillip Island (VIC) has installed migratory bird-friendly lighting for shorebirds and little penguins.
  • Parkes to Narrabri are starting an astro-tourism trail supported by Destination NSW Outback.
  • Western Australia Tourism is featuring dark sky stays from Perth to Port Hedland.

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