Globe at Night is an international citizen science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting citizen scientists to measure and submit their night sky brightness observations.
Nature of science focus: Online citizen science 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, Critique evidence, Interpret representations
Science focus: Light pollution, night sky, ecosystems
Some suggested science concepts:
- We see the stars most clearly when the night is very 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.
Four examples of learning outcomes:
- classify the night sky using the Magnitude Charts provided by the project
- discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the Globe at Night dataset
- examine the amount of light pollution in their own locality
- begin to assess the potential effects of light pollution within their own ecosystem.
About Globe at Night
Globe at Night participants make observations of the night sky at particular times of the year and submit data about the time, location and cloud cover and match what they see to charts provided in order to accumulate data about light pollution.
By participating in Globe at Night and taking as many measurements as you can from different locations, you will be promoting awareness and helping to monitor light pollution levels locally. The worldwide database is used to compare trends over time and with other datasets to determine the effects of light pollution, for example, on animals. All data is accessible, and you can look at and discuss worldwide data.
This project requires observations (which could be photos) to be taken at specific times. There is considerable easy-to-read instruction and support on the website including activity guides and an observation practice quiz.
Challenges are most likely to be around recording the data since this needs to be done outside of school hours (at night). Doing this project also relies on there being clear skies at the time of the teaching programme.
Discussion could focus on these aspects:
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of such a project?
- Can we make statements about global light pollution from this data?
- Do the Globe at Night results mean that countries like China or Russia have no light pollution?
How else could we find data on global light pollution?
Nature of science
This citizen science project allows you to develop rich discussions around the science capability ‘Critique evidence’, including what the global results tell us and what they miss out, and the strengths and weaknesses of the project itself. To support this discussion, students will also get to practise the science capability ‘Interpret representations’.
Teacher Melissa Coton used this online citizen science 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.
Loss of the Night is a free, easy-to-use app that helps users locate eight stars that should be visible in the local night sky. App users indicate how well they can see each star. The purpose is to monitor skyglow and light pollution.
There is 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.
This article uses Ururangi, a whetū in the Matariki cluster, to highlight the importance of the visible night sky to culture and wellbeing in Aotearoa.
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.
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.