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Since 2003, when an astronaut figured out how to snap a clear photo of the view from orbit, hundreds of thousands of amazing urban photographs have piled up in archives.

A new website is attempting to find volunteers to identify each of those cities—not just because the shots are beautiful, but because they can help scientists better understand the problem of urban light pollution.

  • International Space Station & NASA

Not long ago, the local author Jonathan Raban pointed out to me that the daytime view from the windows on the second floor of his home, which faces Ballard and Fremont, make it look like he lives in the middle of a great forest. But at night, when the lights of human life emerge, the windows reveal that he does indeed live in a big city. Something similar happens with the view astronauts have of our planet from space. During the day, planet earth is all nature—green forests, blue seas, brown deserts, white mountaintops and clouds. But when the sun goes, nature vanishes with it, and the only thing we see is a planet of humans. We belong the to the city, we belong to night.