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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.

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, is presenting its 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 University team is presenting 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. Ashley worked on its development for a final year project, with Dr Daniel Brown and Dr Rob Morris, of the University's School of Science and Technology.

The night sky is a vital part of our heritage, and one we should strive to protect
Ashley Fuller, Nottingham Trent University

The new monitoring system is based on a microcontroller and standard servo motors, and the data it gathers is stored on an SD card. Ashley 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.

Ashley said: “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 worst, 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.

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    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

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    The Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education was awarded to Nottingham Trent University in November 2015. It is the highest national honour for a UK university and recognises the institution’s world-class research. Pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula, and to combat food fraud, led to the prestigious award.

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Drones to keep tabs on light pollution

Published on 28 June 2016
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology

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