Citizen Scientists Wanted to Map the Stars

Loss of the Night Citizen Science Project Maps the Night Sky and Levels of Sky Glow

What do you see when you look into the night sky above your home? Turn informal observations of celestial bodies into citizen science with Loss of the Night! Created by German researchers, Loss of the Night is designed to collect information about the amount of sky glow (also known as light pollution) present in populated areas all over the globe. An additional goal of the project is to help users learn more about the stars that they see above them and the seasonal changes that take place in the sky.

A byproduct of densely populated areas, sky glow occurs is the obstruction of night sky views by an excess of light produced on land (by and for humans). Not only does sky glow negatively affect studies of the night sky, but researchers suspect that it may also influence species of plants and animals whose cyclical growth and change relies on their relationship to seasonal changes and, therefore, the moon and stars.

In order to participate and learn, families must download the free Loss of the Night app for Android smart phones. The program determines the phone’s GPS location, and uses the information to generate information about the stars and planets visible above that part of the earth. Then, in order to determine the amount of sky glow in that particular area, users will be asked to locate stars. When there is more sky glow, few stars are seen, and when there is little sky glow, most or all of the stars can be located. The information generated by the app relies solely on the ability of humans to locate points in the night sky – making it unique amongst other citizen science projects, most of which require the use of measurement tools or data collection.

Families with children of all ages can learn by participating in the Loss of the Night project, and the possibilities for further learning are endless. Young children, who are still developing a conceptual understanding of the world around them, can use family participation as an opportunity to expand this understanding to include the sky. Having a copy of HA Rey’s Find the Constellations or Franklyn Branley’s The Big Dipper around the house can help them to find answers to some of their own questions. Older students’ sky-related interest might lie more in the changes that take place in the sky throughout the year. Examining events such as the equinoxes, changes in day length, tides, and daylight savings will help older students develop context for the information that they learn while participating in Loss of the Night.

Families living in small towns should note that the project is intended to study sky glow in areas that experience it – meaning those who live in rural areas with little to no sky glow may not generate helpful data for the project. Those living closer to urban areas will help to generate more useful data, as they will be helping to identify the amount of sky glow actually present in their location. Nevertheless, families should feel free to use the app as a helpful learning tool. Rural folks can also try using the app when they venture into more densely populated areas – compare the amount of stars identified in your own backyard to the amount of stars you’re able to see while visiting a small city. The difference may be quite striking!

[Photo credits: (ccl) Neil Schelly; Per]

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