How bad is light pollution? Ask an astronaut
A new 'Lost at Night' platform needs you to identify the locations of astronaut’s photographs.
Share to facebookShare to twitterShare to linkedinOne of the Expedition 35 crew members aboard the Earth-orbiting International Space Station exposed this 400 millimeter night image of the greater New York City metropolitan area on March 23, 2013.NASA
Citizen scientists are being asked use their smartphones to look at images of Earth at night taken by astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) to see just how bad light pollution is.A new project at the University of Exeter called Lost at Night
, which studies the effects of artificial light pollution, is inviting members of the public to look at high resolution, colour photographs taken by astronauts that show cities lit up at night and pinpoint their location.Nighttime view of the Nile River and its delta. On September 2019, the International Space Station was flying 400 km above the border between Sudan and Egypt around 1 am local time when an Expedition 60 crew member photographed this oblique view of
ESAAstronauts often talk about the Cupola (Italian for dome), an observatory module of the ISS that has seven windows and allows photography of Earth, and over the years, a very many photographs have been taken.ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on the International Space Station 3 February 2015 during her Futura mission.
ESA/NASA“These images from the ISS are uniquely able to demonstrate the true extent and impact of light pollution, as they are the only current large survey images taken of the Earth that are full colour, something that has not been available before and allows us to identify lighting types,” says Dr. Alejandro Sanchez de Miguel, postdoctoral researcher on the project and who is based in the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus.
“The ISS is the best observation point humankind has for monitoring Earth at night,” adds Kevin Gaston, project leader ofLost At Night.After matching unknown photos of cities to known ones in order to train an artificial intelligence to automatically recognise and locate images, the researchers will be able to study the impacts and rate of change of light pollution on a global scale.
Lost at Night uses the power of citizen science to match images and identify the location of the astronauts’ photographs online. Users are presented an image from an unknown city and they must try to find the best match by comparing it with severalLost at Night
images in the NASA archiveare uncatalogued, and do not have a location assigned to them,” says Dr. Emma Rosenfeld, a member of the research team. “We do not know whether they are, for example, an image of Paris, Milan, Moscow or New York City. “This directly helps in the study of light pollution and how it affects us and other organisms that we share the planet with.”
While computer algorithms have trouble distinguishing between stars, the Moon and cities, people have no trouble. “We don’t know which direction the astronauts pointed the camera from the Station. We only know the time it was taken and the area of Earth they were flying over,” says Sánchez de Miguel.
Iberian Peninsula at nightNASAOver 30,000 images have already been processed, but the researchers need more help to complete their work.Why is light pollution bad?It’s not much talked about. but for amateur astronomers and stargazers the ever-increasing levels of light pollution is a matter of huge sadness because it bleaches the night sky and makes the Milky Way and deep sky objects impossible to see. However, artificial light pollution—which has become rampant since the invention of cheap LED bulbs—is also known to be detrimental to:
biological clocks of nocturnal and diurnal speciesplant flowering timesmigration times and navigation for birds and turtlesinsects are attracted to light so are more easily preyed onpeople’s sleepAll of these have knock-on effects that can impact entire ecosystems.
Those who take part in theLost At Nightproject will see an image from an unknown city on their smartphone, and they must try to find the best match by comparing it with several options. Each photo will get catalogued by five people and it’s hoped that 90,000 images will be catalogued by citizen scientists, which is enough to train the AI.
Wishing you dark skies and wide eyes. Read more: Forbes »
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