Artificial light masks viewing of the night sky for 80% of Americans.
NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information in Boulder, Colorado, says there are whole generations of American citizens that have never been able to see the Milky Way in the night sky due to light pollution.
The Milky Way, a ribbon of stars that has been viewed by ancient humans and throughout all time, is now practically invisible to quite a number of people all across the globe. A group of Italian and American scientists have produced a map of light pollution that shows one third of all humans on today’s Earth are unable to see the stars in the night sky.
Chris Elvidge, a scientists with the center said, “It’s a big part of our connection to the cosmos – and it’s been lost.”
Elvidge is part of a team that just completed the atlas of light polluted areas, using high-resolution satellite data and precision sky brightness measurements. The new study has produced the most accurate view to date of the impact of light pollution on the planet.
Areas such as Singapore, Italy and South Korea, have the most intense light pollution, while Canada and Australia still have regions where the darkest skies are visible. Even in the spacious American west, nearly half of the open space experiences nightly light pollution, according to the study.
Co-author on the study, Dan Duriscoe of the National Park Service, adds, “In the U.S., some of our national parks are just about the last refuge of darkness – places like Yellowstone and the desert southwest. We’re lucky to have a lot of public land that provides a buffer from large cities.”
Light from artificially produced sources overwhelms the natural star light in the night skies, making visibility of the constellations difficult, but it causes more that just nighttime viewing issues. Animal species can become confused and disoriented by being attracted to artificial light.
Newly hatched sea turtles, for instance, use the light from the night sky to guide them to the safety of the ocean after birth, and some areas take steps to control artificial lighting as the hatching season nears.
An inter-active version of the atlas can be found here.