On Sunday night at 8:45pm, I set off over to the campsite armed with flask of tea, to take part in the CPRE’s (Council for the Protection of Rural England’s) star count. Luckily, it was a clear night, crisp and perfect for my investigations.
Why have a star count?
The aim of star count is to count how many stars are visible within an easily identified constellation, with Orions belt at it’s centre.
Its a simple and fun half an hour that anyone can do, from anywhere in the UK running from the 17-24th February.
The reason for star count is to help measure light pollution levels around the country. The more light pollution the less stars you are able to see.
How many did we see?
My half an hour in the currently deserted camping meadow, was accompanied by a huge array of sounds from around the campsite. We had Tawny and Little owls hooting from the surrounding oaks and hornbeams. Better still there were numerous call from foxes patrolling their territory. These are great night time sounds. But the mind starts racing when you hear heavy movement from within the neighbouring bushes. What could it be, hedghogs? badgers? an escaped wild boar? Or perhaps just a rabbit.
The odd dog barked in the distance. A few aeroplane’s red and white lights blinked high up in the sky as they passed silently overhead. We even had the odd shooting star. It’s amazing what the night sky offers when you stop to look.
Once my eyes had acclimatised to the dark, which takes about 20 minutes or so, the stars start to appear. Even some very faint ones. I stared hard to see how many stars I could identify. Under 10 is considered to be bad light pollution, whereas over 30 is a brilliant. A very dark sky.
We managed to spot 16 in the permitted area. This means we are in a good location for stargazing and can consider ourselves to have quite good dark skies. But, there is always room for improvement. The local culprits are the Amex stadium in Falmer, the nearby town of Lewes and my daughter with the torch, wondering what I was doing wandering around in the pitch black.
Seeing the universe at the Secret Campsite
The Secret Campsite is pretty lucky. Most of our guests are interested in the peace and tranquility and the wildlife habitat we have created. This comes into its own at night with a clear sky, the sound of a nightingale and clean crisp air.
We are surrounded by tall, ancient woodland which helps to reduce the impact of any local lights. We are also located in a sparsely populated part of Sussex, with no main roads nearby. So its a great place to enjoy the stars.
Its because of this that we are often visited by the Seven Sisters Astronomical Society. who host viewing evenings during the camping season where anyone can look at the stars and the galaxies. They even do solar viewings during the day where you can see sun spots and flares, but you need special equipment for this, so don’t try it at home, you’ll lose you eyesight.
More on them in another post but here’s a photo of one of their telescopes.