Lights: Friend and Foe

Star Points for February, 2002
By guest writer Brian Eney


On March 23, 2001, the House of Delegates passed House Joint Resolution 14. This resolution formed a task force to study lighting efficiency and light pollution in Maryland. Over the past few years light pollution has increasingly gotten worse. I have watched the Milky Way vanish from Reisterstown, and continually fade from existence in Westminster. In Baltimore City even seeing the North Star in getting harder, leaving only 15 stars in the entire sky!

One may say,"Big Deal, who cares?" In fact, when this was brought to a legislation session in Texas, a senator burst out laughing that there were people concerned that the North Star had disappeared in Houston and Dallas. The fact that, Polaris (the North Star) has vanished from many major cites around the country and the world may not make headlines on the nightly news, but think what it has done to our children' s imagination. No longer does the Great Bear circle the heavens, Sagittarius no longer chases Scorpius the scorpion through the summer night, Pegasus no longer spreads his majestic wings to rescue Andromeda. How can educators inspire their students to reach for the stars when there are no stars to reach for?

There are several groups around the local area concerned about light pollution such as, Westminster Astronomical Society (WAS), the Maryland Section of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA MD), Enlighten Maryland and many more.

WAS has been dedicated to the education of astronomy since 1984. This organization has witnessed many astronomical events such as supernovae, novae, meteor storms, and bright comets, but to quote many of their members " Doing serious astronomy is getting difficult to impossible in this state due to light pollution." Many pack their cans or vans and travel to darker areas out of state. WAS holds star parties for the public, around the local area year around. Check their web site for details.

IDA MD was established in June 2000. In eight months time this organization convinced Maryland's General Assembly to form a task force to study light pollution and lighting efficiency around the state. The Task Force sent its final report to the House of Delegates on February 1, 2002. IDA MD membership is made up of amateur astronomers, lighting contractors/engineers, and "normal" concerned citizens.

Enlighten Maryland is a project run by the Observatory at the Maryland Science Center and supported by the Space Telescope Science Institute (they control the Hubble Telescope) and Commercial Media (a web hosting and developing company). This research project will engage students and citizens in a real-world science experience in monitoring light pollution. By participating in this star counting experiment and submitting your data, you will help generate a map of light pollution in our state.

Enlighten Maryland is based on Project Orion done in 1995 by the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC). NOVAC's project resulted in a detailed map of the Washington, DC metro area, which had a better resolution than a few million-dollar defense satellites. Enlighten Maryland's hope is to due the same in Maryland. With your help you can make their wish come true by using the attached form. You can learn more about Enlighten Maryland and light pollution by going to

Enlighten Maryland is a research project to engage students and citizens in a real-world science experience in monitoring light pollution. By participating in this star counting experiment and submitting your data, you will help generate a map of light pollution in our state.

On a clear night, go outside and count the stars inside the dotted lines on this chart of the constellation of Orion.

1) Pick a night between February 9th and 15th with no clouds or few clouds. Dress warmly: these nights are usually cold and windy.

2) Use a "red-light" flashlight. No white light, please: it will interfere with your night vision. To make a "red-light" flashlight, take two brown paper bags and tape them over the end of your flashlight.

3) Go outside between 7:00 and 9:00 PM. Orion will be prominent in the southern sky. (Additional help finding Orion can be found at Make sure nothing is blocking your view of the constellation. Shield your eyes from any direct lighting-have an assistant hold up a blanket or coat if necessary. Also, if coming out from the bright indoors, wait 10 to 15 minutes before counting to allow your eyes to adjust to darkness.

4) Use your "red-light" flashlight to illuminate this chart. Compare the stars you can see to the stars on this chart. Circle the stars inside the dotted lines and including the 4 stars at the corners that you can see in the sky. (There may be more stars visible in the sky than are plotted inside the dotted lines on this chart! If so, please add them.)

5) When back inside, count how many stars you circled (and added) and report your data to

Date of Your Observation: _________________________

Time of Your Observation: _________________________

Address of Your Observation Location:

Street: _________________________________________________

City, State, Zip Code: _____________________________________

Longitude and Latitude (if known): __________________________

(Example: Long. -76.1234, Lat. 39.1234)

Sky Conditions (check one):

__clear and crisp, __slightly cloudy or hazy, or __very cloudy or hazy

How many stars did you count? ____________________________

Brian Eney is Presdident of the Westminster Astronomical Society (WAS) of Maryland, and also President of the Maryland Section of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA MD).