Citizen Science

Sometimes what we lose can be just as important as what we gain. The loss of something that has influenced our culture for millennia can change our culture’s perspective of the world around us. Yet if change happens slowly, we may not realize we have lost anything. Case in point: what if a starry night sky had never inspired Van Gogh to paint “Starry Night” or Holst to compose “The Planets” or Shakespeare write sonnets that encompass so much astronomy.

Citizen-science is a rewardingly inclusive way to bring awareness to the public on important issues like the disappearing starry night sky, its cause and solutions. Citizen-science can also provide meaningful, hands-on, minds-on “science process” experiences for the general public and students in particular. One such program that does both is Globe at Night (www.globeatnight.org), an international campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by having people measure night-sky brightness and submit observations from a computer or smart phone. Students can use the data to monitor levels of light pollution around the world, as well as understand light pollution’s effects on energy consumption, plants, wildlife, human health and our ability to enjoy a starry night sky. Projects have compared Globe at Night data with ground-truthing using meters for an energy audit as well as with data on birds, population density, satellite data and trends over time.

Public involvement in research experiences like these make the point that we have to be better stewards today and teach our children to be better stewards for tomorrow. We have to learn to light more responsibly and that the solutions are simple and feasible. To make these opportunities for research happen in the next year, we will need more Globe at Night data. The IYL Cosmic Light thematic cornerstone will be a conduit to get more Globe at Night data by creating inviting opportunities that entice the public to participate in the citizen science program.

Globe at Night is every month for 10-days a month in 2014 and 2015. The campaign started as once a year for 10-days a campaign and ran that way until three years ago when we held the campaign twice in 2011, four times in 2012 and five times in 2013. Altogether, participants have measured over 110,000 vetted data points from 115 different countries. A couple of papers have been written in the last year verify the database’s validity for use in scientific research.

To entice the public to participate in Globe at Night during the International Year of Light, each month will target an area of the world we know habitually contributes during that time. Special concerns for how light pollution affects that area and solutions will be featured on the Globe at Night website (www.globeatnight.org), through its Facebook page, in its newsletter or in the 365DaysofAstronomy.org podcasts we do. Twice a year we will have a special Dark Skies Awareness day, which will most likely coincide with the global Flash Mob events in mid-March and mid-September, where the public will be invited to take night sky brightness measurements en mass. The International Dark-Sky Week hosted by the International Dark-Sky Association will be featured in April (www.darksky.org/int-l-dark-sky-week-main). We will partner with The World at Night to host for a sixth year the International Earth and Sky photo contest (www.TWANight.org/contest). We will also hold a contest that involves taking Globe at Night data – a City of Lights contest for the city with the most measurements.

Please join us!


The Author:

Connie Walker is an Associate Scientist at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, Arizona, USA. For the past 14 years at NOAO, she has enjoyed managing several education outreach programs for the public, students and teachers on hands-on general astronomy, dark skies preservation, optics and solar research. A highlight of her job is directing the popular international light pollution citizen-science campaign, Globe at Night (www.globeatnight.org). To help make a difference, she is an officer on the Boards of Directors (BOD) for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the BOD of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), and the International Astronomical Union’s commission on light pollution, as well as manages the Dark Skies Awareness programs for Astronomers Without Borders’ “Global Astronomy Month”. For her efforts in bringing dark skies awareness to the public, the IDA awarded her their Hoag-Robinson award. Her amazing astronomer-husband, daughter (19), son (16) and cat (7) thankfully tolerate her interest in the dark side of astronomy.

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