Monday, January 11, 2016

Do you want to translate the Loss of the Night app into your language?

I currently have offers to translate the Loss of the Night citizen science app into 3 additional languages. When I have at least 5 additional languages, I can arrange a new release. Please let me know if you are interested in helping by volunteering to translating two XML files and the text for the play and app stores into your native language. You can expect the job to take about four hours of translation time, plus about 20 minutes verifying that the translation works correctly in the app.

The app is already translated into: Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Spanish, and Turkish. If you are interested volunteering a new translation, please send an email to Christopher Kyba.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Top 5 posts of 2015

Here's the top five most read posts from this blog last year:

1) A brief introduction to the project - Hurrah for brevity!

2) The Globe at Night revisit project - Help us re-sample locations to see how the sky has changed.

3) Effect of a single floodlamp in a natural area - If you haven't seen the photo yet, check it out now!

4) Citizens push back on LED lighting - Want good lights? Talk to city hall!

5) Amazing new photos from the International Space Station - High-res photos of cities at night.

Thanks for reading! The current moon-free period runs until about the 10th. Help us track how the sky brightness were you live is changing with our app, Globe at Night, or the Dark Sky Meter app! Once you've made an observation, you can view it at My Sky at Night.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Amazing new photos from the International Space Station

The astronauts on the International Space Station have recently taken some absolutely outstanding photos of cities at night. Let's start with my former home of Berlin:

Berlin, Germany

That's quite possibly the best photo of Berlin I've ever seen taken from the ISS!

The orbit of the ISS limits it to a band of latitude from about 52° S to 52°N. During a recent pass, the ISS reached its northern limit as it flew over North America. That allowed the astronauts to snap:

Tacoma, Washington, USA

Seattle, Washington, USA

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

I don't know which town this is, it's somewhere near the Atlantic coast.
If you know, let us know in the comments!

You can click on the names above to get access to the full resolution images.

These are some of the best nighttime photos I've ever seen taken from the ISS. Here's a zoom in of the Calgary photo to show just how amazing it is in full resolution. You can see the pattern on the ground from the individual lights, and the outline of buildings with illuminated surrounding areas:

Zoom in of the Calgary image

I accessed these images from the NASA website, who ask that if you use the image you provide this caption: "Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center". However, I'm not sure which astronaut took the photos, so thanks may also be due to one of the other space agencies, and getting such imagery is only possible thanks to the European Space Agency's Nightpod instrument.

If you like looking at images of cities at night, you can help out our research by classifying images and identifying cities! We will use your classified images to understand the sources of light pollution, and to track changes in lighting technology to understand whether cities as a whole are really saving energy or not with the transition to LEDs.

I'd also like to thank Alejandro Sanchez de Miguel (leader of the cities at night project) for forwarding me the links to the Berlin and Calgary images.

UPDATE Dec 11, 2015: Alejandro passed on another amazing image of Frankfurt:

Frankfurt, Germany

Check out the amazing detail of Frankfurt Airport:

Zoom in of Frankfurt Airport

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ideas for future app releases

How can we improve the app?

Your feedback helps us improve the app. Since we're in the process of releasing an update (it is out for iOS, but not quite yet for Android), I wanted to re-post the list of outstanding ideas for improvement. For reference, here are the older lists (first, second).

The changes made in the last release were mainly technical. I hope that if we can obtain funding we can do one final change to the method, and then fix it for a long period. If you have more suggestions for how to improve the app, please let me know in the comments.

Things to change/improve in a future version of the app

Star search

  • Further improve star selection based on app data (preferentially use easier stars)
  • Make more use of "pointing stars"
  • Allow search to start with Venus or Jupiter
  • Allow the user to change the sensor settings (speed and/or damping)
  • When screen is frozen, allow navigation by sliding finger 
  • Shaking the phone unlocks the locked circle (goes back to arrow) 
  • Try to work out that the user is standing on a balcony, and don't suggest stars in that direction 
  • Allow the user to adjust the number of stars displayed on the screen to match a given skyglow level? (we don't want to do this, as this could potentially cause biased observations)


  • Figure out what causes the occasional crash on startup
  • Better way to deal with very bright locations
  • Strategies for classifying areas with NELM>5
  • Interface to allow advanced users to submit what their estimate of the limiting magnitude is
  • New "constellation mode". Highlights a single constellation, and the user has to click on a star to declare it visible (turns from dot to star) and click a second time to declare it invisible (turns from star to empty circle or x), click third time for "just at visible limit"
    •  Or extend this mode to cover several hundred stars over the whole sky, and the observer can just pick which ones she wants to label?
  • Arrange "my measurements" by date
  • Manual way to calibrate the compass to remove azimuth error 
    • Add a compass-free option in "settings" menu for places with weird magnetic fields
  • Investigate behavior of auto brightness on Android (does it turn to full on app startup?)
  • Allow "SQM only" install for phones without gyroscope/compass


  • Badges - you've observed 7 stars, you've repeated an observation at the same location ~1 year later, you've done 10 observations, 5 times in a single city, 5 locations, etc...
  • Guide users to locations that we particularly need measurements (e.g. repeat measurements from previous years).
  • Incentivize good data: Have a friendly competition where the best quality and quantity is rewarded (with a visit to the closest telescope and a personal lecture from an astronomer). Reward observations in particularly important locations

Extra features

  • A "talking" tutorial that tells you how to find the stars, asks you to turn in different directions, etc.
  • Video tutorial
  • Find a way to calibrate the compass within the app (on Android, iOS already has this)
  • Port to WindowsPhone and Blackberry
  • Allow observing below 45 degrees and making maps of the stellar visibility on the full sky dome (expert mode)
  • Check the clock using GPS and warn the user if their phone's clock is off by more than 2 minutes (and then exit app). Prevents records having a false time
  • Allow option of displaying user's location on a map to make sure it is correct


  • Start looking for GPS location on app start up, verify again before star search
    • Especially for SQM report, GPS should run in the background while typing value
  • Reduce the size/thickness of the circle during the star search on Android
  • Better messaging in "Not dark enough" menu during high latitude summer 
  • Allow users to add SQM serial number, and SQM-L or SQM

My Sky at Night

  • Allow users to customize font size and color, and background color

Now it's your turn. What other changes should we make to the app?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Putting citizen science data back in the hands of citizens!

I'm very pleased to announce that our new web application for viewing skyglow data taken by citizen scientists is now online, at!

It allows you to view where data has been taken:

Skyglow observations in Europe and northern Africa

It lets you view individual Loss of the Night app observations:

A single Loss of the Night app observing session by a citizen scientist

It allows you to do trend analyses to see how skyglow is changing:

Trend analysis for Globe at Night data in Tucson, Arizona
 And it also allows you to access all of your own data, using the "My Measurements" tab.

It will take a few years of observations before the trend analyses start to be really useful, so go out and observe your night sky often! Bur right now, head over to, and have some fun exploring the data collected by tens of thousands of citizen scientists from around the world!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gift idea

Here's a chance to give someone a gift and do something to help conserve the night at the same time: give them an IDA t-shirt!

There are 3 different styles to choose from (the one pictured here is my favorite), and the proceeds from all three will go to support IDA's work, such as managing the International Dark Sky Places.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Submitted photos

I have some photos to share taken by friends of the blog. First, a photo of the skyglow caused by poorly shielded lamps at the Great Leighs Racecourse in Essex, United Kingdom:

Skyglow from Great Leighs Racecourse is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Click for more dramatic photos of the skyglow and lamps.

Liz Perkin (@riverperkin on twitter) snapped this photo of lamps that don't prevent animals from getting inside:

Spiderwebs in a lamp by Liz Perkin, originally posted on instagram
This of course slightly reduces the light that gets to the ground, and also greatly increases the amount of light that gets emitted into the sky. In the worst case, lamps that let arthropods inside can get downright gross.

Lastly, a photo by Roland G. Dechesne of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada: