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Assessing the Impact of Light Pollution on Urban Environments: A Case Study in Pōhutukawa Coast

Skylabs NZ is thrilled to announce its new collaboration as a science partner with Maraetai Beach School. Together, we are embarking on a groundbreaking research project funded by Curious Minds South Auckland (Te Hononga Akoranga COMET).

This partnership represents our commitment to fostering curiosity, innovation, and scientific exploration within our community. We are incredibly proud to support the young minds at Maraetai Beach School and contribute to a brighter future through science and education.

The Milky Way over Maraetai, near Magazine Bay. Bortle 3-4. Credit: Jordi Blasco (Skylabs NZ).

Light pollution, a growing concern worldwide, not only obscures our view of the night sky but also has profound effects on human health, wildlife behaviour, and the environment. This research project aims to assess the extent of light pollution in Pōhutukawa Coast and its impact on the surrounding urban environment. Light pollution data will be collected and analysed using low-cost ground sensors to determine the intensity and spatial distribution of artificial light sources. Additionally, surveys and interviews will be conducted to gauge public awareness and perception of light pollution. The findings of this study will provide valuable insights into the effects of light pollution on urban environments and inform future strategies for mitigating its adverse effects. Light pollution is a hot topic in multiple scientific fields, from medicine, astronomy, and ecology to psychology.  Several countries have already defined a plan of action to reduce the impact of light pollution and preserve dark skies.

Assessing the impact of light pollution is important for several reasons, including:

  • Health Impacts

  • Ecological Effects

  • Energy Waste 

  • Astronomical Observations

  • Quality of Life

By assessing the impact of light pollution, local councils, urban planners, and communities can implement strategies to reduce its effects and promote sustainable lighting practices. 

Through this research project, we aim to raise awareness among students, whanau, and the wider community about light pollution, while also sparking an interest in astronomy and science. To promote this, Skylabs will organise a series of free stargazing events to generate community interest.

Students at Maraetai Beach School will also receive training on how to independently use and manage a Dobsonian telescope. Telescope observations will provide qualitative insight into light pollution by observing emission nebulae with and without light pollution filters. We will explain why the light pollution filters don’t work for some other objects, such as planets, asteroids or comets. We will also introduce concepts like wavelength and spectrum and explain how light pollution affects astronomical discoveries. This hands-on experience will reinforce the mathematics and physics concepts taught in class as part of the curriculum.

There is a growing concern about the underrepresentation of girls in STEM fields. Maraetai Beach School will use this opportunity to invite young female researchers and engineers working in STEM to visit the school or deliver a talk. Similar initiatives overseas have successfully increased girls' interest in STEM, and we hope to replicate this success. 

Furthermore, the technologies and disciplines taught to students are in high demand worldwide. Historically, New Zealand has relied on importing talent to meet these demands. However, we believe that exposing children to these concepts early on can significantly impact their interest in STEM fields, especially within the growing STEM-based industries. By nurturing this interest from an early age, we aim to cultivate a future generation of skilled professionals who can contribute to both local industries and the global scientific community.

Jordi Blasco from Skylabs NZ introduced the project to students and parents on Friday, May 31st, 2024. The slides below offer an overview of the project.

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