Drones to keep tabs on light pollution
Astronomers at Nottingham Trent University have developed a light, low cost system, deployable on a drone, that could help everyone monitor and control light pollution. The team, led by undergraduate student Ashley Fuller, present their work at the National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Nottingham.
Excessive light is a pollutant in its own right, as is the energy, and carbon footprint, needed to generate it. The cultural and scientific impact is very visible, and recent studies confirm that light pollution prevents a third of the global population from seeing the Milky Way.
Dark skies are preserved in some designated areas, with parks, islands and other reserves offering places in the UK and around the world where the night sky is still relatively pristine. All these places though need continuous monitoring.
The Nottingham Trent team will present a new mount and operational platform carrying a Sky Quality Monitoring device (SQM), which operates autonomously, and can be used to map the sky without any specialist training. Fuller worked on its development for a final year project, with Dr Daniel Brown and Dr Rob Morris, both also at Nottingham Trent.
The new monitoring system is based on a microcontroller and standard servo motors, and the data it gathers is stored on an SD card. Fuller and the team see it being used by for example national park rangers carrying out their work on site. Crucially, it is light enough to be mounted on a drone, which will take the device to inaccessible areas, making it a lot easier to create a comprehensive map.
Fuller comments: “The night sky is a vital part of our heritage, and one we should strive to protect. With a drone-mounted autonomous system, we can quickly gather the evidence we need to show where the problem is worse, and on a more positive note, find out where people can see the best views of the stars.”
The team would like to see the new light pollution monitoring system, with its straightforward and low cost design, being taken up by schools and colleges. As an astronomy project, it could inspire young people to develop the skills in IT, electronics and physics that are needed for sustainability and that are so much in demand in the wider economy.
Dr Robert Massey
Ms Anita Heward
Dr Morgan Hollis
Dr Sam Lindsay
NAM 2016 press office
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Dr Daniel Brown
Dr Rob Morris
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Notes for editors
The RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2016 (NAM 2016) takes place this year at the University of Nottingham from 27 June to 1 July. NAM 2016 brings together more than 500 space scientists and astronomers to discuss the latest research in their respective fields. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the University of Nottingham. Follow the conference on Twitter via @rasnam2016
The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and the winner of ‘Outstanding Support for Early Career Researchers’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2015. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK by research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.
Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future.
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