As streetlights the world over change from sodium lamps to LED, scientists wonder what this will mean for the artificial skyglow over cities. Because not every city lights the same way, the best way to understand whether skies worldwide are getting brighter or darker is to study the observations of citizen scientists. The new project “Myskyatnight”, led by the GFZ and the IGB in Germany, invites interested people from all over the world to examine changes in their night sky. The goal is not only for the participants to collect data. Instead, the new web-based platform makes all data available to the public, and offers tools to visualize and analyze the measurements.
Christopher Kyba is a researcher at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB). He studies light pollution – too much light at the wrong time and place. He initiated the “Loss of the Night” app project in 2013, where citizen scientists from around the world send in their observations of sky brightness by determining the number of visible stars in the night sky.
On this screenshot the data of a user’s entire “Loss of the Night” app observation is displayed. You can see which stars the participant was able to see.
“The data from these observations are crucial for our science. We urgently need them to evaluate how skyglow is changing worldwide”, says Kyba. This research cannot be done with satellites, because they measure the light emitted upward, not the light experienced on the ground by humans and other living creatures.
A further complication is that the current satellites are not sensitive to the blue part of the visible spectrum. So far, only professional scientists have analyzed the skyglow data taken by citizen scientists. Kyba wanted to change that, and put the data and tools to analyze it back into the hands of the public.
Citizen science on a new level
Together with the company Interactive Scape GmbH in Berlin (www.interactive-scape.com), Kyba developed the web-based application “myskyatnight.com”.
The data from the “Loss of the Night” app and two other citizen science projects on light pollution are freely available there. Citizen scientists can easily navigate, view, and download the data, and perform their own analyses directly on the site. Users of the “Loss of the Night” app can also create a profile to easily view their own data.
Kyba hopes that giving citizen scientists access to the data will increase their motivation to participate in taking data: “With the new web application, it’s easy to see that the best results come when citizen scientists make multiple observations from the same location each year”.
The scientists also hope that the data will eventually feed back into local decisions about outdoor lighting. “In the ideal case, we will find examples of success stories: cities that invest in environmentally friendly lighting and end up seeing more stars above well-lit sidewalks”.
The project was funded by the European Commission within the MYGEOSS program, which aims to develop smart Internet applications informing European citizens on the changes affecting their local environment. The new website “myskyatnight.com” became available on 3 December 2015.
Website of the project: http://www.myskyatnight.com
Dr. Christopher Kyba
Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum, Potsdam and
Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), Berlin
Telephone: +49 (0)331 288 28973
Nadja Neumann/Angelina Tittmann
Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB)
Telephone: +49 (0)30 64181 -975/-631
The Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, IGB, is an independent and interdisciplinary research centre dedicated to the creation, dissemination, and application of knowledge about freshwater ecosystems. Working in close partnership with the scientific community, government agencies, as well as the private sector, guarantees the development of innovative solutions to the most pressing challenges facing freshwater ecosystems and human societies.
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