HEXHAM Courant readers are being invited to look up to the night sky this month as part of one of the biggest starlight surveys in years.

Star Count 2019 is giving everyone the chance to become ‘citizen scientists’ by taking part in an experiment to find where skies are darkest and which areas suffer most from light pollution.

Organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), it is asking people across the North-East to look at Orion with the naked eye and count how many stars they can see within the rectangular constellation. The nationwide star count, supported by the British Astronomical Association, is live now and runs up until Saturday, February 23.

Although there is interest in the North-East’s profoundly dark skies in Northumberland, statisticians are equally interested in the views from cities and towns.

As well as promoting dark skies and engaging people in the wonders of stargazing, the CPRE aims to gather information to assess light pollution across the whole of England.

Colin Adsley, chairman of CPRE Northumberland, said: “We are lucky in parts of Northumberland to have some of the darkest skies in Europe and it would be great to see families using this as a way to study the skies together.

“How many stars you will see ultimately depends upon the level of light pollution in your area, but by counting stars and mapping our dark skies together, we can fight back against light pollution and reclaim the night sky.

“The skies in Northumberland are particularly interesting because they are specifically mentioned in the emerging Northumberland plan as something that should be protected and the county council has been replacing old street lighting with new ‘down-lighting’ maps which cut stray light and cost less to run.”

The countryside charity will use the results from the star count to create a new map to show how light pollution is affecting the nation’s views of the night sky.

The CPRE’s previous Night Blight map, based on satellite data, showed just 22 per cent of England was untouched by light pollution and that more than half of our darkest skies were over national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The CPRE plans to work with the Government to ensure appropriate lighting is used only where it’s needed.