The research team are inviting members of the public to study high resolution, colour photographs taken by astronauts on the International Space Station that show cities lit up at night.
Citizen scientists are being urged to help shine a light on one of the most significant, yet often neglected, environmental issues by using photos taken from space.
Experts from the University of Exeter are leading a pioneering new project, called Lost at Night, which studies the effects of artificial light pollution at night.
As part of the project, the research team are inviting members of the public to study high resolution, colour photographs taken by astronauts on the International Space Station that show cities lit up at night.
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 said: “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.”
Participants are asked to match unknown photos of cities to known ones in order to train a robot to automatically recognise and locate images.
By locating the images, they can be used by scientists to study the impacts and rate of change of light pollution on a global scale.
Dr Emma Rosenfeld, a member of the research team explained: “The problem is that many of the 1 million images in the NASA archive are uncatalogued, and do not have a location assigned to them. That is, we do not know whether they are, for example, an image of Paris, Milan, Moscow or New York City.
“Our simple and intuitive Lost at Night platform solves this problem, by using the power of citizen science to identify the locations of the astronaut’s photographs.
“This directly helps in the study of light pollution and how it affects us and other organisms that we share the planet with.”
Artificial light pollution is an often neglected environmental issue, despite a host of well-known negative effects.
Natural light provides essential information for plants and animals so artificial nighttime lighting has a broad range of impacts on both nocturnal and diurnal species. Lights at night can affect plant flowering times, birds and turtles can lose their way on migration, moths are attracted to light and can be eaten by bats and these changes lead to knock-on effects that can impact whole ecosystems. Furthermore nighttime lighting can affect people’s sleep and can negatively impact health.
Professor Gaston, the lead on the project says: “This is a case where lots of people can make a valuable contribution to the advancement of important science that is relevant to us all. We would really appreciate their help.”
To take part in the project, please visit https://lostatnight.org/