Nocturnal darkness is a ‘prime quality’ of life and is important to both humans and nature. Research, including that conducted at the University of Groningen, has shown that the disappearance of darkness has adverse consequences. But how dark does it really get at night nowadays? As part of the De Donkerte van de Wadden [Darkness of the Wadden area] programme, the UG has set up a darkness-measuring network, ‘but we cannot measure everywhere’, says ‘darkness guard’ Theo Jurriens. That is why we are asking the public to help us!
The Orion constellation takes centre stage in the measuring action. Everyone can participate, simply by counting the stars in this easily recognizable constellation. The plan of action is as follows: go outside and look for the Orion constellation. Wait for 15 minutes, as your eyes will need to get used to the darkness. Then count the number of stars in the constellation. If you are a perfectionist, feel free to recount several times and report the average of your counts. You can submit your measurements via the website visitwadden.nl/sterrentellen, where the measurements will be displayed on a map of the Netherlands. The website also features a manual including further explanation.
The measurements must take place in the periods between 14 and 24 January and between 11 and 21 February. This is to accommodate for the position of the moon: measurements can only be made once the moon is below the horizon. Measurements made on cloudy nights, in bad weather, and when the moon is above the horizon would be pointless.
The measurement action planned in 2021 fell through: too many clouds, hardly any measurements. In 2022, almost the whole of the Netherlands took part, with 600 counters. Considering the enthusiasm of 2022, also outside the Wadden area, we expect many participants this year. After two years, the count will therefore rightly be awarded national status.
Donkerte van de Wadden [Darkness of the Wadden area] is an initiative by the nature and environment federations (Natuur- en Milieufederaties) of the provinces of Noord-Holland, Friesland, and Groningen, the University of Groningen, the Society for the Preservation of Nature in the Netherlands (Natuurmonumenten), and the National Forest Service (Staatsbosbeheer). The programme aims to allow residents and visitors to experience the darkness of the Wadden region and to become aware of the importance of darkness, for instance by participating in the Nacht van het Wad [Night of the Wadden mudflats] event.
The counting action is just not limited to the Wadden area, though. Darkness belongs to us all and is important everywhere. Through this measurement action, the programme initiators hope to make people aware of how urgent it is to protect the darkness. In addition, it may encourage us all to look up to the stars more often and teach us to recognize constellations.
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