Dark Skies Outreach to Sub-Saharan Africa, USA/Africa

Project leader: Dr. Connie Walker

We propose to optimize and implement the successful Dark Sky Rangers / GLOBE at Night citizen scientist program in 12-15 sub-Saharan African countries.

The GLOBE at Night program, hosted by the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution. The worldwide campaign invites citizen- scientists to record the brightness of the night sky by visually matching the appearance of a constellation like Orion with star maps of progressively fainter stars or using meters to obtain more precise measurements. Measurements are submitted to a central website by paper, computer, or smart phone. From these data an interactive map of all worldwide observations is created. Every year, NOAO is adding more opportunities for participation by providing campaigns at different times of year and creating Web applications in different languages for smart phones. Over the past 7 years of 10-day campaigns, people in 115 countries have contributed over 83,000 measurements, making GLOBE at Night the most successful, light pollution citizen-science campaign to date. (See www.globeatnight.org for more information.) Sub-Saharan African countries have been dramatically under-represented in Globe at Night campaigns. The proposed effort will help address the lack of public dark sky awareness in these regions and, more importantly, tap into the inherent wonder of the night sky shared by all cultures to increase science awareness within these populations.

To provide foundational activities for GLOBE at Night, NOAO developed the Dark Skies Rangers program during the International Year of Astronomy (2009). Dark Skies Rangers is a set of environmental/astronomy-based lesson plans for grades 3 through 12 that help students learn the importance of maintaining dark skies. The EPO group’s expertise in developing teaching kits and instructional materials for schools, museums, and after- school programs helped create the suite of well-tested and evaluated hands-on, minds-on activities. The activities have children building star-brightness “readers,” creating glow- in-the-dark tracings to visualize constellations, and role-playing confused sea turtles. They also create a model city with shielded lights to stop upward light, examine different kinds of bulbs for energy efficiency, and perform an outdoor lighting audit of their school or neighborhood. (See www.globeatnight.org/dsr/ for more information.)

The proposed program includes an innovative series of Skype sessions for educators and students, a website for exchanges of ideas and student posters, a list-serve, well-vetted kits, an novel twinning program for additional Sky Quality Meters, and participation in the GLOBE at Night campaign.