If we looked for a quality that is fundamentally human and universal, our curiosity about the world that surrounds us would probably be it. This feeling peeps into young minds, it grows and flares, pushing us to know more, to break our limitations, to rise up from the ground into the shining eternity of the Universe. On this quest we might sometimes feel small, lost or bewildered, but we can also envision humankind as one people, united in a journey through the cosmos on this one-of-a-kind spaceship called Planet Earth.
As astronomers, here at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey everything we do is based on collecting light from cosmic objects. So we have been pleased to celebrate the International Year of Light, and especially the Cosmic Light Theme, supported by the IAU.
As a small contribution to this celebration, every month in 2015 SDSS had a special blog post talking about the different ways we use light. Here’s a roundup of what we talked about through out the year.
Activities on light in indigenous communities at the Amazon, a big fair on science and light in Brasilia, with about 100,000 visitors, mostly children and young people, interactive exhibitions in public places in Rio de Janeiro, mobile science activities in the slums of large cities, experiments on light and solar energy in small villages in Minas Gerais or in the inner cities of the Northeast, conferences and debates on light based technologies in universities and schools. Many such activities were held in Brazil, throughout the year, to celebrate the IYL 2015.
People have looked up to the sky at night for millennia. Some have searched the stars for the answer to the question “where are we going?” sometimes figuratively (astrology), and literally (for navigation). In the 20th century, the stars started to disappear from the night sky, as glow from electric lights in cities outshone them. These days, some citizen scientists are looking to the night sky to find out whether the widespread adoption of LED lighting is making the problem of skyglow worse or better.
In many citizen science projects, the main or only role of participants is to collect data. We wanted to change that for our project, and put the data and tools to analyze it back into the hands of the public. Our new web application, my sky at night, does just that.
The image below shows skyglow data collected in Europe from four different sources: visual observations from our Loss of the Night app (LON), visual observations from the Globe at Night project (GAN), observations with the Dark Sky Meter app for iOS (DSM), and observations taken by citizen scientists with a Sky Quality Meter (SQM). You can filter by year and project to decide which data to show in your browser (selecting all data will take a while to download, clicking on “load only displayed area” will help speed this up).
On December, 2nd it is celebrated in Brazil the “Day of Astronomy” in honor to the anniversary of the emperor Dom Pedro II (or Peter II, in English) the second and last ruler of the Empire of Brazil, and the patron of arts and sciences of the country.
Pedro II became emperor in 1831, at age of five and reigned Brazil for over 58 years. He had a lonely childhood and adolescence, spending most of the time studying in preparation for rule. So much time spent in between books has made Pedro II an enthusiast of culture and sciences which was greatly valued by his people. He was fluent in 14 languages, including Tupi, a language spoken by a group of Brazilian natives and was friends with Richard Wagner and Louis Pasteur, among others scholars and intellectuals of his time. He became the first Brazilian photographer and had himself, in his palace located at São Cristóvão neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, one laboratory devoted to photography; another to chemistry and physics; three libraries containing over 60,000 books and an astronomical observatory.