Loss of the Night is an international citizen science project aiming to quantify the illumination of the night sky caused by artificial light. By monitoring how bright the night sky is over time, scientists are better able to determine the effects of changes in lighting technology over time.
URL: https://lossofthenight.blogspot.com/ – download the free app from the Google Play store. Note currently the app cannot be used on the Apple Store. If you have an iPhone, you can use the 'Dark Sky Meter' app to make observations (with the phone's camera, rather than your eye).
Nature of science focus: Online citizen science (OCS) projects can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science (NoS) substrands. Identify aspects of NoS that your students need to get better at or understand more fully and then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them.
Science capability focus: Gather and interpret data, Use evidence, Critique evidence, Interpret representations
Science focus: light, pollution, ecology, astronomy, technology
Some suggested science concepts:
- We see the stars most clearly when the night is really dark.
- Light pollution is excessive, misdirected or obtrusive artificial (usually outdoor) light.
- Light pollution can negatively affect plants and animals and disrupt ecosystems.
Many concepts could be learned – focusing on a few can often be more powerful. Develop your learning outcomes and success criteria from these concepts as well as the Nature of Science strand and the science capabilities.
Some examples of learning outcomes:
- relate a star map displayed on the app to the stars they see in the night sky
- discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this datagathering method
- explain some of the consequences of light pollution
- compare a range of lighting options and comment on their strengths and weaknesses.
About Loss of the Night
This app has been developed in conjunction with the Globe at Night OCS project. Loss of the Night is an interdisciplinary research project in which scientists are investigating the reasons for illumination of the night, its ecological, cultural and socioeconomic effects and the effects on human health. The aim is to help develop improved lighting concepts and sustainable technologies.
This app and blog could be used on its own or in conjunction with Globe at Night.
The app is free to download and has a very simple tutorial to follow. It locates you with GPS, then asks you to log information on eight stars in your night sky. The app interactively guides you to the stars using a target circle and arrow. Having found the star, it asks about how well you can see that star, then moves on to the next star. By determining what the faintest visible star is, the researchers learn how many stars are visible at that location and, by extension, how bright the sky is. The more stars you categorise in one session, the greater the accuracy of your data. Users can see their own entries but do not have access to a greater database of information.
The Loss of the Night blog does have some very useful graphs and images to create discussions and develop more understanding about light pollution.
While relying on being done outside of school time and on clear nights, use of this app would still have value as a homework activity and the basis of robust classroom discussions. It would be a great thing to use while on school camp or even after a class social occasion in an evening.
Nature of science
This citizen science app allows you to develop rich discussions around the science capabilities ‘Gather and interpret data and ‘Critique evidence’. By using postings in the blog and/or incorporating the Globe at Night OCS project, it can be used to explore and develop the capability ‘Interpret representations’.
Although she didn’t use this app, teacher Melissa Coton used the Globe at Night OCS project with her year 5/6 class as a way of highlighting a real application for the learning they had been doing about light and its properties. Read the case study and accompanying unit plan, with activities, to find out how she transitioned from learning about light to considering light pollution and its impacts. Her integrated unit is rich in activity ideas and contains a differentiated reading plan with journals and articles listed.
There is an opportunity to link knowledge of light and light pollution to the effects of light pollution within New Zealand by participating in projects such as Ahi Pepe MothNet.
Here are some planning tips for when you intend to use a citizen science project with your students.
The Royal Society Te Apārangi has a report about how increased levels of artificial blue light from lighting and digital screens are affecting our health, wildlife and the night sky. A fact sheet and supporting videos are also available.
Nanogirl Michelle Dickinson’s article in the NZ Herald considers the problems of night light for New Zealand moths.
This NZ Herald article explores the impact of lights from cruise ships on birds and how the Department of Conservation is getting involved.
The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand has a Dark Skies Group that advocates for minimising light pollution, arguing: “Outdoor lighting in New Zealand, as part of Urban Design, is in urgent need of review to ensure minimal wastage of energy and to minimise impacts on human health and natural and cultural systems.” Explore this view, as well as their information on light pollution and monitoring our night skies, which contains useful information about other methods for investigating light pollution.
With less light pollution, there are many great areas for stargazing in New Zealand. The areas below are of particular note:
- Aoraki-Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest gold standard International Dark Sky Reserve in the world. This gained its dark sky designation in 2012.
- Aotea/Great Barrier International Dark Sky Sanctuary – in 2017, this became the first island in the world to receive International Dark Sky Sanctuary status.
- Stewart Island/Rakiura International Dark Sky Sanctuary – the second island in the world to receive International Dark Sky Sanctuary.
- Wai-iti Recreational Reserve and Tunnicliff Forest, Nelson – in 2020, this became the first International Dark Sky Park in New Zealand.
- Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve – in 2023 this became one of just 21 International Dark Sky Reserves in the world, Aoraki-Mackenzie is the other one in New Zealand.
Find out more at The International Dark-Sky Association – the recognised authority on light pollution and one of the leading organisations combating light pollution worldwide, with a range of informative posters, brochures and infographics. Explore the locations of International Dark Sky Places around the world in this interactive map.
Listen to this 2023 RadioNZ podcast, Blinded by the light for stories about the stars and light pollution concerns in Aotearoa.
This 2020 New Zealand Geographic article Let there be night explores how artificial lights affect us and the environment around us.
You might like to also try out the NightLights campaign in your area, though most campaigns are currently organised in Germany, it can be used in other countries
This outline was written as part of Victoria University of Wellington's Citizen Scientists in the Classroom project funded by the Ministry of Education’s Teaching & Learning Research Initiative.