Lights seen from space tell the story of the pandemic
By: Evan Mei
Deep in New York, at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, Times Square still flashes its blaring advertisements as usual. It’s a comforting sight to some; who could stay optimistic if one of New York’s landmarks went completely blank? George Lence, a spokesperson for the sign operators for Times Square, said it showed “New York’s strength and resiliency.”
In general, however, after several photos from weather satellites were taken, there were several changes in terms of the lighting of the whole Earth. Lights have been in the same place for many days as people stubbornly stay home. Major roads and highways whose lights were visible from space have nearly vanished into thin air. Hotspots for light have completely been wiped off the map faster than one could snap. New hotspots are in residential areas.
In China, a scientist named Qian Liu noticed that residential areas were brighter than usual ever since the lockdown, which meant more and more people flocked to their own houses. Christopher Eldvidge, a researcher who researches light sources at the Colorado School of Mines, saw similar results in the US using the same satellite that Liu used.
However, these views don’t necessarily give the full picture. According to Christopher Kyba, a researcher at the German Research Center for Geoscience, “We can’t necessarily say, ‘Okay, this was advertising lighting that turned off,’ or, ‘People went to bed earlier,’ or, ‘There’s less traffic.’”
Italians have had to turn off lights in certain commercial areas in order to save energy. Scientists even asked Italian residents to start waving their cell phones in order to collect data on light pollution. People were encouraged to turn off lights in order to see the stars.
Unfortunately, a light show for morale doesn’t always end well. In the UK, blue beacons are shined to honor healthcare workers, however as a result, birds have been lured away thinking it was migration season. “Light can make people feel good and bring people together, but we need to think carefully about when and where we use it,” Kyba says.