Innovative software ideas needed for #darkskies2010

Posted On January 29, 2010

Filed under #darkskies2010 General, Mashups

Comments Dropped 7 responses

UK Snow map by Ben Marsh

UK Snow mashup by Ben Marsh

This is an open invite to software & mashup people to provide some innovative software ideas for #darkskies2010.

The principle is this. Twitter works well when people are in trending mode and create a groundswell of comment & chat. But comments tend to disappear in a flash. How do we make things work for #darkskies2010?

I was impressed by the #uksnow exercise run by Ben Marsh. You need to recognise that in much of the UK, snow is a significant news & chat item. What Ben did so brilliantly was to give Tweeters a way of structuring their comments, and showing the results online. The tweet formula was this:

#uksnow SY4 8/10 Yey! I love this!

#uksnow is the hashtag that gets the attention of the mashup. SY4 is the first part of a UK postcode/zip. 6/10 means heavy snow. The rest is social. Further details are here The map changes in real time (sorry if it is not snowing as I write this!).

Can we produce a map that is perhaps less responsive in real time, but builds up a pattern of light pollution from tweets?

How do we do this worldwide? A mashup to show tweets on a geolocation basis will be good. Individual countries could have individual maps. We are open to all ideas. Please post them here or email them to

Thank you very much



7 Responses to “Innovative software ideas needed for #darkskies2010”

  1. carllegge

    Hi Andy

    Some ideas on metrics, display and campaigning as I’m not a software expert. Hope these are useful even if only to knock them down.

    It seems to me that there are two key pieces of information (in addition to location) that need to be captured to come up with an intuitively correct representation of how visible the night sky is. These are cloud cover and the second the highest apparent magnitude star that is visible.

    Traditionally in aviation and meteorology believe that cloud cover is measured in ‘octas’ or eighths. So 0/8 would be clear adn 8/8 completely covered. And magnitude could be stated as tenths say from mag 7 through 0 to 2. So fantastic dark sky could be 10/10 and rubbish 0/10. So a tweet could read [location], [cloud x/8], [mag y/10]. So LL53, 4/8, 7/10.

    We might need to help people with standard candles (to misuse and existing term) of key stars in easy constellations. So ‘if you an see Sirius but not Arcturus your around 2/10’.

    Then on the map a circle could define the position with cloud graded as a percentage grey scale in proportion to the octas and a percentage hue of say yellow, or orange underneath this to represent how ‘bright’ the sky is. You’d then have a intuitively visual representation.

    I suppose you could say from another perspective it’s counter-intuitive because the brightest areas on the map would be the darkest in reality. So you could take the reverse of the brightness. No doubt greater minds than mine would be able to suss that.

    One final thought was how you could use the product of the single ‘event’ to further promote the dark skies campaign generally. I think that TV and many on line organs appreciate moving rather than static images. Would it be possible to ‘record’ the event as a ime lapse and then compress it in time so that 24 hours becomes a minute or two of video showing the waves of data and light and dark circling the globe?

    This may all be fevered Sunday ramblings – if so I apologise.


    • sadiqhuq

      I would agree with Carl. Like we do it in the aviation met, the sky can be defined in Octas. I like the format [location], [cloud x/8], [mag y/10]. However I have two suggestions

      1. “fantastic dark sky could be 10/10” i think dark sky should be [0/10] as the magnitude of the light pollution is 0.

      2. An input for time should also be included in the tweet syntax.

      Perhaps a tweet app could be developed with simple input fields, that should be helpful for those who are technically less inclined.


  2. valdary

    It would help if you could make tweet formula as simple as possible because some people will see tweets & if they like idea will copy what is being done without necessarily seeing these blog posts.

    • darkskies2010

      Thanks for these suggestions. I’ll try and roll out some detailed thoughts at the weekend, but a sudden outbreak of work is occupying at the moment.
      My general guidance is that we should keep it simple. Our main aim is perhaps is not to measure light pollution but to increase awareness of it. And of course to celebrate its converse, the beauty of dark skies that so many people have forgotten, or indeed have never known.
      This was the success of #uksnow. It was a graphic illustration of what was happening, more timely, more engrossing, but obviously less precise than the information from the Met Office.
      Perhaps we might use reference photos like these photos on Wikipedia?

      We could perhaps have five of these, from zero light pollution to total obscurity?
      It’s a thought, and I welcome further contributions. Oh, and also can anyone write a mashup for the data?
      Thanks, from an 8/8 cloudy night in Shropshire

  3. darkskies2010

    Having thought this through, I think our primary aim is to raise awareness and participation in enjoying dark skies and campaigning against light pollution. Technically accurate measures of light pollution are therefore less important to this event. This leads me to two suggestions:
    (1) We go very informal and just let people rate light pollution on an emotive scale. For example from “No problem” to “outrageous”.
    (2) We use a scale that is visual but not too formal. For example,
    Approach (2) attracts me more than (1). I quite like the scale used but would like to reverse the images. Also, is Orion suitable at all in the Southern Hemisphere on 20 March?
    However, we are launching #darkskies2010 via Twitter and informality may rule the day. I’d like to have a range of views before coming to a decision.
    Let me know what you think and any other ideas you have for #darkskies2010.

  4. carllegge

    From the primary aim we want:

    (1) people to hear about the 20th March ‘event’ and be interested enough to take part or witness it and/or be conscious of the issue;

    (2) as many as possible of those people to continue to be involved at some level in future awareness/campaiging;

    (3) for the ‘event’ to generate media attention/comment/debate so that legislators/regulators can be engaged in the issue;

    (4) to gain some valuable data about (i) levels of public interest/care about the issue and (ii) about actual perceived levels of light pollution.

    Points (1) to (3) do not of themselves require ‘accurate’ measures. However, if the data is very informal then the credibility of the survey may be reduced which may harm the making of the case.

    On point (4) we’re not realistically going to get ‘scientifically’ valuable data. What we need is data that can tell a story to the public and the media that is comprehensible and cohesive.

    Now I’ve got that out of the way…

    I feel that the very emotive scale will not help – there’s not a sense of shared perception however vague. That is, I couldn’t know whether your ‘outrageous’ was my ‘OK’. As a result the data would lack credibility.

    The visual magnitude scale is better, it uses the idea of ‘standards’ to measure magnitude I mentioned in my first post. We could choose other constellations for the southern hemisphere and I’ve come across this from the International Dark-Sky Association as a further illustration.

    The downside with this approach is using apparent magnitude as a proxy for light pollution. In the case of the lettherebenight school project, the readings were taken on a range of ‘clear’ nights across a March. For this event, we’ll be relying on a single day where seeing could be affected by a range of factors.

    I wonder whether between us we could simplify the explanation of the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale sufficiently so that a simple key could be put alongside the map a la the snowflakes on Ben Marsh’s mashup. Here’s a link to the original article for the Bortle Scale

    Some more thoughts generally…

    If we were to take the lettherebenight project as a model – would it be better to make the ‘event’ a month long one from 20 March to 19 April? We could then use apparent magnitude on ‘clear’ nights.

    How much of a communications plan have we got to take this forward? Here I’m thinking specific audience/message/media locally/nationally/internationally? How many spokespeople could we put up if the media got interested? Can we mobilise the astronomically famous including astro twitterati and astro-celebrity? Does this have active support from the existing campaign groups in the field. If we were REALLY successful, what would we want to happen? Feed supporters into existing groups? Change in planning laws, local campaigns of letter/email to regulators and legislators?

    More questions than answers there 🙂 I’m happy to help with putting together answers.


  5. darkskies2010

    Thanks Carl for this thoughtful contribution. It has help crystallise my thoughts greatly.

    There is a huge amount of dark skies activity online, more than I thought than when we started talking about this event. I’ve been reviewing it over the last couple of days from my hotel room in light polluted Warsaw. I’ve also talked to a lot of Polish people in Warsaw. Dark skies are not on their horizon. This is as true for scientists as it is for the bar tender, as it is for the guy managing the 24 hour Internet café. The only person who has talked keenly about dark skies to me happens to be a geologist who has a cabin in the woods rather south of here. There is no light pollution there. Therein lies the explanation for the apathy on dark skies in Warsaw (on my anecdotal evidence). The people of Warsaw simply can’t see the beauty of the stars and the Milky Way so they don’t know what they are missing. Dark skies are off their cultural landscape.

    The cultural aspects of dark skies intrigue me. Much of the focus of the dark skies movement is focused on astronomy and a scientific perspective. Yet a huge variety of artists, including potters, painters, poets and photographers have been inspired by dark skies. A starlit sky is part of our cultural landscape, a landscape that has infinite permutations around the world. So our #darksies2010 event should be concerned with reclaiming our cultural heritage of dark skies, as well reclaiming sight of the astronomical beauty of the universe. Astronomy and art are two sides of the same dark skies coin.

    Steve Owens @astronomy2009uk rang on Monday. He has give useful contacts and very useful advice. It is great how much people are contributing to this ad hoc event. Thank you all. From all the emails, posts and tweets, I think the event is shaping up like this.

    1) #darkskies2010 is primarily a social event.
    By this I mean it is about celebrating dark skies as our cultural and scientific heritage, and raging against the loss of starlight for so many of us. It is only secondarily about the science of dark skies, that is measuring light pollution. Our theme should be “reclaiming our cultural heritage of dark skies”. This might be a strap line to go alongside our initial statement: “20 March 2010: a worldwide celebration of starlit skies and protest against light pollution”.

    2) We still need to estimate light pollution. We need to provide Tweeters with a common language for talking about the degree and location of light pollution. This was one of @benmarsh’s achievements with #uksnow, which created an easy to use framework for communicating the intensity of snowfall. I think the Bortle-Scale is a little too complex for a social event. The scheme used by and others would suit, with the addition of 0 for total light pollution (charts: These charts are for the northern hemisphere, we need a southern equivalent. We also need to allow people to report “total cloud”.

    3) It will be very useful to map the light pollution. Mapping will draw in more people, because you fell you are contributing to something. It will also be a lot of fun. Again the #uksnow mashup excels here. But so far we have no one to write a mashup for #darkskies2010, either for the UK or worldwide. Help!

    4) We should celebrate dark skies as cultural heritage. Stars have influenced poets, artists, Shakespeare, musicians, and photographers. For me, it is impossible to talk about dark skies without thinking of their huge contribution to cultural heritage. So let’s celebrate it. Some ideas:
    a) Music. British Sea Power are supporting us with “Lights out for darker skies”. We have permission to stream it from the website. And perhaps dark skies have inspired others to music and song. I hope we will hear from them.
    b) Artwork. Perhaps we should mount a gallery of artwork inspired by dark skies? We are using Van Gogh as a provisional logo but there must a be lot of original modern artwork inspired by dark skies, perhaps even by light pollution. I hope we see some of it.
    c) Poetry and short prose. Starlit skies have inspired centuries of writers. Perhaps we might have poems and prose by tweet and on the website? This could both be new material and quotes from earlier writers.
    d) History. We have a commitment from one historian to write a blog about dark skies in Georgian London. Any more on historical perspectives on dark skies? I have one short contribution from the 1820s to write up. The more the merrier.
    e) Science fiction. Shorts stories, sci-fi anecdotes inspired by dark skies?
    f) Photography. I have left photos to last because it is so obvious. But it is certainly not the least important. We should set up a gallery on Flickr for photographers around the world to contribute.

    Of the above, getting mashup maps of tweets is perhaps the most urgent. I can see how its done in general terms but do not have the skills to implement it. This is where we need the most help. The rest can be organised fairly easily.

    Everyone please let me know your views on all of this. We need to start banging the drums loudly for this event Saturday next, 20 February.

    Andy Boddington, Shropshire

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