Milky Way now hidden from one-third of humanity 

Posted: June 12, 2016 by oldbrew in Uncategorized

The Milky Way in the night sky over Black Rock Desert, Nevada [image credit: Steve Jurvetson / Wikipedia]

The Milky Way in the night sky over Black Rock Desert, Nevada [image credit: Steve Jurvetson / Wikipedia]

What do we see when we look at the night sky? For a lot of people the answer is ‘light pollution’. Another effect of the ever-increasing urbanisation of the world.

The Milky Way, the brilliant river of stars that has dominated the night sky and human imaginations since time immemorial, is but a faded memory to one third of humanity and 80 percent of Americans, according to a new global atlas of light pollution produced by Italian and American scientists.

Light pollution is one of the most pervasive forms of environmental alteration. In most developed countries, the ubiquitous presence of artificial lights creates a luminous fog that swamps the stars and constellations of the night sky.

“We’ve got whole generations of people in the United States who have never seen the Milky Way,” said Chris Elvidge, a scientist with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Boulder, Colorado. “It’s a big part of our connection to the cosmos — and it’s been lost.”

Elvidge, along with Kimberly Baugh of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, is part of a team that just updated a global atlas of light pollution published today in the journal Science Advances. Using high-resolution satellite data and precision sky brightness measurements, their study produced the most accurate assessment yet of the global impact of light pollution.

“I hope that this atlas will finally open the eyes of people to light pollution,” said lead author Fabio Falchi from the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Italy. The atlas takes advantage of low-light imaging now available from the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, calibrated by thousands of ground observations.

Light pollution is most extensive in countries like Singapore, Italy and South Korea, while Canada and Australia retain the most dark sky. In western Europe, only small areas of night sky remain relatively undiminished, mainly in Scotland, Sweden and Norway. Despite the vast open spaces of the American west, almost half of the U.S. experiences light-polluted nights.

“In the U.S., some of our national parks are just about the last refuge of darkness — places like Yellowstone and the desert southwest,” said co-author Dan Duriscoe of the National Park Service. “We’re lucky to have a lot of public land that provides a buffer from large cities.”

Light pollution does more than rob humans of the opportunity to ponder the night sky. Unnatural light can confuse or expose wildlife like insects, birds and sea turtles, with often fatal consequences. Fortunately, light pollution can be controlled by shielding lights to limit shine to the immediate area, reducing lighting to the minimum amount needed — or by simply turning them off.

Source: Milky Way now hidden from one-third of humanity — ScienceDaily

  1. Bloke down the pub says:

    A couple of years back, a street light was making astronomy observations difficult in my back garden. I contacted Glos county council and a very helpful chap said he’d see what they could do. Shortly afterwards, a cherry-picker turned up and the engineer sprayed over the side of the light facing my property, vastly improving the situation. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

  2. p.g.sharrow says:

    I once lived in the Alaskan bush where the midnight starlight on new snow made the reading of a newspaper possible.

    Never could understand why anyone would want to live near or in a city, but most do. Their loss…
    The only limit to my view of the night sky are the trees on the near horizons…pg

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  5. Adam Gallon says:

    During the past 3 1/2 weeks in Vietnam & China, I’ve seen just The Moon, Mars & Jupiter, plus a couple of the brightest stars.

  6. oldbrew says:

    Up to 80 percent of Americans and 60 percent of Europeans can’t see the Milky Way due to light pollution.

  7. oldbrew says:

    ‘The sky used to be full of stars – where have they all gone?’

    Report: ‘only 22 per cent of England remains untouched by light pollution (compared with 57 per cent of Wales and 77 per cent of Scotland).’—where-have-they-all-gone/