02May2013

Free App Helps Measure Sky Brightness.

Do you love technology? How about astronomy? If you’re fond of both, then you might want to take advantage of the new, free app developed for Android smart phones.

Created by researchers for the German “Loss of Night” project, the new tidbit can count the number of visible stars in the sky. Citizen science? You bet. The results will be used by scientists to help understand light pollution on a global scale.

“In natural areas you can see several thousand stars with the naked eye” says Dr. Christopher Kyba, physicist at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) and Freie Universität. “In Berlin, we can still see several hundred, but the situation in most large cities and world capitals is far worse.”

What does it do? The smartphone app will calculate skyglow and assist the current citizen science project “GLOBE at Night” in its study of the impact of light pollution. The data it collects can be then translated into maps which show the distribution and changes in sky brightness. Information of this type will help researchers determine any correlations with health, biodiversity, energy waste and far more.

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The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo with Southern Cross in the background. Photo by Fraser Gunn

It’s easy to use. The app asks users to verify certain individual stars and whether or not they are visible. By determining the faintest star, researchers can then surmise how many stars can be seen at that location and thereby determine how bright the sky is.

“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.”

“With this app, people from around the world can collect data on skyglow without needing expensive equipment.” says Fabian Kohler from The German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

The app allows users to compare the sky brightness at their home to other locations, and some of the testers found that without intending too they learned the names of several stars and constellations. It was developed in partnership with the firm Cosalux (Offenbach am Main), and is based on the widely used Google Sky Map application. The development of the app was sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education, as part of Science Year 2012: “Project Earth: Our Future”.

Use of technology such as this is very important for many reasons. Right now, satellites which observe Earth’s night sky can only measure the light radiated into the sky itself – not the brightness experienced terrestrially. This information can be used to create models which estimate skyglow, but the models need to be tested… and the new app will be able to help. Need more reasons to use the new app? Then know that satellite observatories aren’t sensitive to certain wavelengths – meaning areas lit by white LED light appear darker than they really are.

Do your part to help! The app “Loss of the Night“ can be downloaded in English and German at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.cosalux.welovestars. . It is free of charge and another triumph for citizen science!

Original Story Source: Berlin Institute News Release. Submitted by Tammy Plotner for “Dave Reneke’s World of Space and Astronomy News”.

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