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Milky Way Can No Longer Be Seen By One-Third of Humanity Because of Light Pollution

Jun 13, 2016 09:00 PM EDT
The Milky Way Strikes
The Milky Way is nothing but a distant memory to one-third of the world’s population – and 80% of Americans – because of light pollution.
(Photo : Abdul Rahman / Flickr)

The Milky Way is now hidden to one-third of the world's population and 80 percent of Americans because of light pollution, scientists said.

According to a new global atlas of light pollution written by Italian, German, Israeli and American scientists, the glowing band of the Milky Way galaxy will no longer be visible to many people, including 80 percent of North Americans and 60 percent of Europeans because of the effects of artificial lighting.

The atlas shows that more than 80 percent of the world and more than 99 percent of the U.S. and European populations live under light-polluted skies. Light pollution is most evident in developed countries, where the ubiquitous presence of artificial lights has created a luminous fog that blots out the stars and constellations once visible during the night.

"We've got whole generations of people in the United States who have never seen the Milky Way," Chris Elvidge of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and co-author of the study said in a report published in Science Daily.

"It's a big part of our connection to the cosmos - and it's been lost," he added.

In the study, which was published in the journal Science Advances, researchers made use of high-resolution satellite data and precision sky brightness measurements to produce the most accurate assessment of the global impact of light pollution.

"I hope that this atlas will finally open the eyes of people to light pollution," Fabio Fachi of the Light Pollution Science and Technology in Italy and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The atlas made use of low-lighting imaging now available in NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, calibrated by thousands of ground observations, the Science Daily reports.

According to the study, light pollution is most prevalent in Singapore, Italy and South Korea. In Western Europe, only the night skies in Scotland, Sweden and Norway remain unpolluted. Canada and Australia retain their dark skies.

Almost half of the U.S. is covered in a veil of light pollution. Some of the remaining refuge from light are national parks like Yellowstone and the desert southwest, according to the researchers.

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