Final Field Guide and Topic Two

The final-final version of my Field Guide is finally(!) available. I made some improvements to it based on my thoughts from my previous Field Guide Reflection post. Most importantly, I made it more clear who the intended audience is. In the introduction on the inside page, I added this:

Jumpstarting home ownership in low to middle income communities is an important component of community development that you as a community leader need to recognize. As you read this guide, consider how government policy can encourage home ownership and make it accessible to people who don’t have the resources to pursue it on their own. Critically, people need access to fairly priced mortgages and financial literacy information. Additionally, think about how government policy can confer the same benefits to renters and other people who don’t or can’t buy homes.

I think this improves it quite a bit because I make it more clear who I am addressing and that the content is intended for the development of low to middle income communities. Improving high income communities isn't something the people living there need help with beyond what they can accomplish on their own.

I also made some other minor changes to the wording in a few places.

You can download a printable version of the field guide if you are interested. Tomorrow I'll print out two color copies for me to give to Marina on Tuesday.

Topic Two: Light Pollution

For topic two I'd like to study light pollution. It is one of the ways we are destroying our planet but it is not a topic we spend as much time paying attention to. I noticed it isn't even mentioned in the latest Global Risks Report for 2018 published by the World Economic Forum, unless if you consider it to be a sub-category of another topic like climate change. Perhaps light pollution shouldn't be considered a high-risk issue. Besides its impact on astronomers, who is actually bothered by this? I happen to like being able to see where I am going when I walk home at night. I also trip over stuff less often.

All jokes aside, light pollution is actually important. The lack of proper darkness at night has been linked to cancer in humans. It affects our circadian rhythms, impacting everything from sleep to hormones to mood disorders. It also affects animals, particularly migrating birds and mammals. There's more to it than not being able to see a proper night sky.

There is a real problem here. One of the things I really like about this topic is the fact that it is one that not a lot of other people are paying attention to. That just means there are more opportunities for me to do something unique and make a real contribution. And there is a deeper concern here, which is care and concern for our planet. Raising awareness about this is also promoting care of planet Earth, and that helps many other causes as well.

Preliminary Research

A lot of information is available online. There is already an international group raising awareness about this issue called Globe at Night. Their website has a lot of useful information. A Google search for "light pollution map" turns up many data resources showing the severity of global light pollution, such as this one at In some cases the data is available for download. I found a very useful research paper titled The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness that builds models for quantifying the extent of light pollution everywhere in the world.

There are also some art projects that try to show what the world would look like without light pollution. In this video Imagine a world without Light pollution by David Oliver Lennon, the photographer took footage from his hometown in Tasmania, Australia, and combined it with footage from other major cities. The effect is stunning and gets the point across about what we are losing.

Another important resource is NASA. Through NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio I can obtain these high resolution skymaps showing all of stars above any location on earth.

Experiments and Project Ideas

I need to come up with some ideas for a general direction of where I want to go with this. What art experiments would I like to do?

One direction I could take is to make my own light pollution map, kind of like the one found at That could be interesting and would help raise awareness but it's already been done several times already. I could perhaps make predictions about the extent of future light pollution based on urban development models. That would be interesting. The previously mentioned research paper on artificial night sky brightness would be very helpful in making those predictions if I also could get data on expected urban development.

Another direction I could take is to make my own photographs or videos compositing New York City scenes with proper night skies. That's been done several times already also, and I don't have the ability to get my own footage from non-light polluted locations like Tasmania. Still, the effect is beautiful and would contribute to raising awareness. Alternatively I could use the skymaps from NASA instead of real footage. The sky footage would be synthetic but with some work it would look just as good.

I like the idea of using NASA's starmaps but I had an other idea that is even better: using the NASA skymaps to build a toolset for photographers and videographers to make their own compositions. I'd still make my own compositions, but then I will open-source the tools I build to create the compositions so other people can do the same. I think other photographers would want to do this, because I know I'm not alone in my appreciation of these kinds of compositions and I know I'm not alone in my inability to record my own footage from Tasmania. Other people will use this. And I think that will have a bigger impact than the compositions I could make on my own. If someone can use what I provide to make a realistic photo of the night sky of their own backyard it will have more of an impact on their thoughts about light pollution than watching a video of a big city they've probably never been to. It's an idea. If my tools are well documented they could reach a lot of interested people who would create pictures or videos that would reach even more people. That's a big impact and would make a difference.