New Android App Gathers Light Pollution Data For Scientists
April 29, 2013

New Android App Gathers Light Pollution Data For Scientists

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Researchers have developed an app for smartphones powered by Google's Android operating system capable of measuring night sky brightness.

The new application, called "Loss of the Night," will gather data so scientists can better understand light pollution on a worldwide scale.

"In natural areas you can see several thousand stars with the naked eye" says Dr. Christopher Kyba, physicist at the Freie Universität. "In Berlin, we can still see several hundred, but the situation in most large cities and world capitals is far worse."

The app essentially is a citizen science project, evaluating sky brightness, or skyglow, on a global scale. The data can be used to map the distribution and changes in skyglow, and will allow scientists to investigate the correlation with health, biodiversity, energy waste and other factors.

"Life evolved periodic changes of bright days and dark nights" says Dr. Annette Krop-Benesch of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB). "The introduction of artificial light into the atmosphere is changing ecosystems worldwide, and might even have an impact on our health. Unfortunately, we have very little information about light levels in different habitats at night."

Fabian Kohler from The German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) said people around the world would be using this app to collect data on skyglow without needing expensive equipment. Loss of the night will allow users to also compare the sky brightness at their homes or other locations. Some of the early app adopters found they learned the names of several stars and constellations in the sky without intending too.

Earth observing satellites are able to measure the light that is radiating into the sky, but not the brightness that is experienced by people and other organisms on the ground. Models can be created from this satellite data to estimate how bright the sky is, but these models need to be tested. The German researchers who developed the app said another drawback from the satellite data is they are not sensitive to certain wavelengths of light, such as areas lit up by LED lights.

Scientists reported in the latest issue of the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Optics Express last week LEDs offer ways to help curb light pollution.