2009 is International Year of Astronomy, celebrating 400 years since Galileo stopped spying on his neighbours and used his new telescope invention to look at the moon. Over the next eleven months there will be events around the globe, aiming to encourage citizens of the world to look to the sky and rediscover their place in the universe. I think they may have an uphill struggle.

Back in the closing years of the 20th century (which is a more exciting way of saying 1998), a Bowness disco decided to advertise its presence with lasers. These blasted beams of light across the sky, creating fan-like, moving patterns across the stars. On cloudy nights, you got weird, pulsating patterns overhead.

The lasers were visual pollution, washing out any chance of observing the stars. I’d be standing on a hill looking up at the sky, wondering about the possibility of alien life out there … and suddenly these wretched patterns began dancing across my view. I knew instantly exactly where intelligent life wasn’t.

It was shocking how few people seemed to care. Most people I talked to - okay, ranted at - hadn’t even noticed. The National Park and SLDC couldn’t legally do anything. I drummed up a campaign in the Gazette but no one wrote in to support it. Then, just as I was about to go on eBay to bid for an ex-KGB rocket launcher, the lights stopped. It was such a relief.

A clear, light pollution-free skyscape is a rare and beautiful thing. We are so lucky to have one around here. Make use of it. You can see some amazing stuff: Go out within a couple of hours of sunset and you’re bound to see a satellite or two. Maybe even the International Space Station. Possibly a planet or a shooting star. With good binoculars, you can see the moons of Jupiter. How cool is that? When Galileo saw them, he sparked a revolution in Western thought and philospohy. It was called Science.

You can even see the Northern Lights. Not every night, obviously, otherwise Joanna Lumley would have visited the Lakes instead of Lapland. But I’ve seen the aurora borealis twice from Windermere. Strange, coloured shapes, moving across the sky in indefinable patterns. A bit like the disco lasers but more beautiful.

You don’t even have to restrict your observations to night time. Last year there was the partial eclipse of the sun and it was great fun showing friends how to watch it by using binoculars to project an image onto a sketchbook. A year or so prior to that, I did the same trick to see Venus traversing the sun. I was travelling at the time and a handy lay-by became my observatory. A family pulled in behind to have a picnic. When I tried to encourage them to see what I was up to, they wound up the windows and locked the car doors. They obviously hadn’t heard the news. Or maybe they’d heard different news about a lay-by lunatic on the loose.

On the next clear night your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get outside and have a look at what’s above you. Visit the Heavens Above website and look up the times for the International Space Station. Find a local astronomy society and join in. This year, the sky is definitely not the limit.