Time to start counting the stars

Close up of the Orion Nebula Credit: Paul Campbell

As part of National Astronomy week, the 2014 star count starts tonight and runs until Saturday, 8th March.

The aim is to find out which part of the country has the darkest skies where the most stars can be seen. The results will help the Campaign to Protect Rural England highlight the issue of light pollution which the CPRE says is spoiling the natural beauty of the night sky.

And guess what? You don't need a telescope to get involved. All you need is the ability to count and five minutes of your spare time.

Orion taken from Kettering showing light pollution at the bottom Credit: Andy Laing

To join the 2014 Star Count, simply go out after dark any time between Wednesday 26 February and Saturday 8 March, and count the number of stars you can see within the four corner points of the Orion constellation - not including these four corner stars. Afterwards, enter the information at www.cpre.org.uk/starcount**

Clear skies allowing the stars to shine through Credit: Steven Rue

The easiest way to find Orion is to look in the southwest sky. You are looking for three bright stars close together in an almost-straight line. These three stars represent Orion's belt. The two bright stars to the north are his shoulders and the two to the south are his feet, you don’t need to count the corner points, just the stars you can see within them – see illustration.

The area in which to count stars Credit: The area in which to count stars

If you see more than thirty stars within Orion, it means you’re lucky enough to have truly dark skies. Fewer than ten indicates severe light pollution.

Light pollution Credit: Anglia Weather

The British Astronomical Association will be collecting all the star count results from across the country and publishing a star count map to show where the darkest skies were with the most visible stars. So come on...get involved!

Orion Nebula Credit: Stephen Nichols

Big thanks to everyone who helped source pictures via Twitter, I've added a few more for you to have a look through. @AmandaHouston

Taken with the Lovell telescope. Credit: Tony Doyle
Night sky at Bedford Credit: Craig Petherick
Orion snap taken last year Credit: Paul Campbell
Gorgeous skies over the Anglia region Credit: Wendy Clark
Orion with Jupiter and the Pleiades Credit: Chris Morrison
Orion over Ditchingham Credit: Shaun Reynolds
Orion Constellation Credit: Martin Stirland