Light Pollution Prevents Nearly 80 Percent of People in North America From Seeing the Milky Way

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The luminous glow of light pollution prevents nearly 80 percent of people in North America from seeing the Milky Way in the night sky.

That’s according to a new atlas of artificial night sky brightness that found our home galaxy is now hidden from more than one-third of humanity.

While there are countries where the majority of people still live under pristine, ink-black sky conditions — places such as Chad, Central African Republic and Madagascar — more than 99 percent of the people living in the U.S. and Europe look up and see light-polluted skies.

The country with the worst light-pollution is Singapore, where researchers found that “the entire population lives under skies so bright that the eye cannot fully dark-adapt to night vision.”

Other countries with large percentages of people living under skies this bright include Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

“We’ve lost some of our view into the cosmos,” says Chris Elvidge, a physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was part of the team that created the new atlas, published by the journal Science Advances. “There are still people that can remember when they used to be able to see the Milky Way when they would walk outside at night, but those are becoming fewer and fewer.”

He personally lives north of Denver, where he can see just a few stars. “You’d have to drive two or three hours, from here, to get out into a place where you can see astronomical features,” Elvidge says.

He worked on the first world atlas of light pollution, which came out about 15 years ago.

“It was an ambitious project then. It’s an ambitious project now,” says Dan Duriscoe, with the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division, another member of the research team.

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SOURCE: NPR, Nell Greenfieldboyce