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Help NASA Identify All The Light Pollution Ruining Your Night Sky

After 15 years of circling the globe, the International Space Station has produced a massive library of night images of Earth. Can this catalog help us see the stars better from our own planet?

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We have a love-hate relationship with well-lit cities. On the one hand, illuminated landmarks are alluring and magical. On the other, they’re just wasteful and obscure the stars. One man’s light show is another’s light pollution.

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As the International Space Station orbits the Earth, it takes thousands of pictures of this artificial light. But, strangely, few of the photos are properly tagged. The aim of the Cities at Night project is to change that. It’s asking for online volunteers to go through its archive and identify places below.

After 16 years circling the globe, there are now thought to be some 500,000 images to work on. So the project–which is a joint venture between the space agencies of the U.S., Japan, Europe, and Russia–could do with your help.


The larger goal is to understand which places have the greatest light pollution, so advocates for less light can push for change. The slideshow presents some of the rough images. See many more mapped here.

Night pollution isn’t only an annoyance, however. It also disturbs sleep and wastes energy. The International Dark-Sky Association in Tucson, Arizona, says one third of all lighting in the U.S. is unnecessary, with an annual cost of 30 million barrels of oil and 8.2 million tons of coal.

Hong Kong is apparently the brightest, or most light-polluted, city on the planet. This is what London would look like if did away with its night lights. In a word, beautiful.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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