How to see stars and tackle light pollution in your own backyard | 11/7/2019 | Staff
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The dark skies of the great outdoors help people to see the wonders of space, either with the naked eye or using telescopes. That's why observatories are usually placed in high altitudes or remote locations, where there's often outstanding natural beauty and little light pollution.

A report commissioned by the UK government recommended that every school child should be given the opportunity to spend a night under the stars in such places.

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In my research I've noticed the awe and wonder that young people feel while watching the stars in dark sky sites such as the stone circle at Callanish in Scotland. The stones here are made from Lewisian Gneiss—the oldest rock in Britain—formed three billion years ago and erected by people more than 5,000 years ago. Here, the immensity of time and our universe can be felt in every fiber of the body.

Exploring the night sky in a national park could be a transformative experience for both young and old. They might see the dust lanes of the Milky Way galaxy for the first time, stretching across the night sky. Learning that this band is made from millions of stars, each not too different to our sun, gives us a new appreciation of the universe and our place within it.

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Perhaps they might spot the closest galaxy to ours—Andromeda, 2.5m light years away—and marvel at how the light they're seeing set off just before our species walked the Earth.

But protecting dark sky sites in national parks is only half the story. It's a shame that light pollution means these wonderful experiences are only possible far from home. Connecting everyone with the wonders of the universe should be taken up where people live.

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In the UK the Dark Sky Discovery partnership—a network of astronomy and environmental groups—has developed dark sky discovery sites that offer...
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