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Starry skies being masked under veil of light pollution, cosmic census shows

The great gatehouse of Dunstanburgh Castle ruins in Alnwick, Northumberland, is one place a starry sky can be seen. Credit: PA

Light pollution is hindering a starry view of the night sky for more than half of people across England, a cosmic census has found.

Fifty-seven per cent of stargazers struggled to see more than 10 stars, while just 2% of participants said they experienced “truly dark skies”, enabling them to count more than 30, according to the research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

People in towns and the countryside were encouraged to count the number they could see in the sky with the naked eye within the constellation of Orion, which is only visible in the winter months.

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The results of the star count, supported by the British Astronomical Association, demonstrated the problem of light pollution and how it affects “one of the countryside’s most magical sights – a dark, starry night sky”, campaigners said.

Results of the research to map England’s night skies suggests more can be done by Government, local councils and the general public to lessen the negative effects caused by artificial light from streets and buildings, the group added.

Emma Marrington, dark skies campaigner at CPRE, said: “We’re hugely grateful to the many people who took the time to get out and take part in our star count."

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Ms Marrington says it's "it’s deeply disappointing that the vast majority" of us are unable to see a starry sky at night and she puts the blame on light pollution from towns and cities - not air pollution.

“Without intervention, our night sky will continue to be lost under a veil of artificial light, to the detriment of our own health, and the health of the natural world," she said.

She suggests in order to see "the natural wonder of a truly dark sky, blanketed with stars" there should be better-designed lighting, street light dimming schemes and part-night lighting.

This, done in consultation with local communities and police, could provide an opportunity to limit the damage caused by light pollution, reduce carbon emissions and save money.

The natural wonder of a truly dark sky, blanketed with stars, can be fascinating. Credit: PA

“Light doesn’t respect boundaries, and careless use can see it spread for miles from towns, cities, businesses and motorways, resulting in the loss of one of the countryside’s most magical sights – a dark, starry night sky.”

She added: "The Star Count results show just how far reaching the glow from street lights and buildings can be seen."

– CPRE said the star count, which ran for the first three weeks of February, involved 2,300 people.

– To see the star count results, visit www.cpre.org.uk/starcountmap