Count the Stars, Help Save the Night
Conceived by staffers at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, Arizona, this ambitious endeavor is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and Colorado State University. GLOBE stands for Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment, a program to involve primary-and secondary-school students in scientific activities worldwide.
The first GLOBE at Night star count took place in March 2006. Run on just a shoestring budget with minimal news-media exposure, that effort managed to collect 4,591 observations from more than 18,000 "citizen-scientists" in all 50 U.S. states and 95 other countries.
GLOBE at Night participants use simple star charts of Orion, part of a downloadable instruction guide, to gauge the sky's limiting magnitude in whole numbers. (It's also available in Spanish and many other languages.) While this approach sacrifices some precision, educational technologist Dennis Ward counters that this method makes it possible to get useful observations from thousands of locations and from much younger participants than would otherwise be possible.
Observers are welcome to submit more precise limiting-magnitude estimates, notes coordinator Connie Walker (NOAO). These will be augmented by photometric measurements taken with hand-held Sky Quality Meters (purchased with support from the International Dark-Sky Association), calibrated digital photography, and GPS-aided location reckoning.