New Star Counting App Asks Citizen Scientists To Map The Skies
December 20, 2013

New Star Counting App Asks Citizen Scientists To Map The Skies

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

German researchers are asking citizen scientists to use an app to help them count the stars in their city to see how light pollution affects what shows up in the night sky.

Scientists developed the “Loss of the Night" app to measure how the brightness of the sky changes over time, as lighting technologies change. The app has been expanded to support 11 languages to gather data from as many regions as possible.

“Since the app became available in May, it has been used by thousands of people” Dr. Christopher Kyba of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.) in Berlin, said in a statement. “Data is coming in from around the world, but most frequently from Germany and the USA. Since we want to understand worldwide trends, we wanted to make the app more accessible.”

The Loss of the Night app works by directing users to individual stars, and asking whether they are able to see the star or not. Researchers will be able to use this data to see what the faintest visible star is, helping them learn how many stars are visible in that region and also finding out how bright the sky is.

The team said some users have found that they learned the names of several stars and constellations by using the app without intending too.

Satellites that observe Earth at night measure the light that is being radiated into the sky, but these instruments do not measure the brightness experienced by people and other organisms on the ground. The researchers say while models can use satellite data to provide estimates of how bright the sky is, the models need to be tested with data from around the world to work.

The scientists said another drawback of Earth observing satellites is they are not sensitive to certain wavelengths of light, such as areas lit up by new white LED lights. These areas appear to be much darker from space than they really are from the ground.

Loss of the Night scientists are using the project to investigate the reasons for the increasing illumination of the night, as well as its ecological, cultural and socioeconomic effects. The team will use the results from this study to develop improved lighting concepts and sustainable technologies.