Light Pollution Makes it Difficult to See the Stars

Do you know how to find the North Star? Where is it?

Light pollution drastically affects the depth of space and stars you’re able to see, no matter if you’re in the city, suburbs or more rural locations. Growing up on the outskirts of towns, only a few have faintly glimpsed the band of the Milky Way stretched across the night sky. It’s one of the most severe environmental alterations that humans have contributed to the planet.

In this luminescent fog, one-third of humanity, 60 percent of Europeans and 80 percent of Americans are blindfolded from the true brilliance of the Milky Way. Many children born into the newest generation will never see it. Will they even look for it?

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Fighting Light Pollution

In an effort to preserve the sacredness of the night sky, many national parks and other locations around the world aim to become designated dark sky areas and keep out light pollution. In a truly dark place, you connect to the cosmos and the night sky births nebulae before your eyes. The band of the Milky Way is bold and evident, and you’re reminded of your small yet miraculous existence on this little blue planet.

Even with a buffer of public land, light pollution threatens to leak in, as lights get bigger and brighter and human needs become bolder. Dan Duriscoe, from the National Park Service and co-author of a new study for Science Advances, was surprised how far the glow of artificial light stretches into the outskirts of cities and unpopulated areas. The study presents a world atlas of artificial sky luminance, using satellite data and new precious sky brightness measurements, revealing that more than 80 percent of the world lives beneath light polluted skies.

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No Truly Clear Night Exists

For most, there is no truly clear night. As far from light pollution as possible, 2,000 to 2,500 stars may be seen in the night sky on average, as stars fade into the horizon. You’d have to travel deep into the mountains or to a remote California desert to see the true depths of the universe. In a small city with hundreds of thousands of people, you’d be lucky to see a dozen to a few hundred or so stars as your eyesight adjusts.

As you move away from the city, the bright glow of light will make it seem as if the world is on fire or the sun is rising. Slowly, in a less light polluted suburb or rural area, a faint band of the Milky Way emerges and you can see more stars. Even for photographers who travel between cities and darker places, the transitional leak of light pollution is obvious and saddening, yet inspiring for the miraculous wonder you finally witness. It makes a trip to see the polar lights and Milk Way a bucket list must. It inspires the need to preserve what’s left of humanity’s night sky for future generations.

milky way no light pollution

Fortunately, organizations like the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) enable people to search an interactive map and find a dark sky location close to them to witness the remaining inspiring beauty of the Milky Way. If you’re able to camp out, you’ll realize the need for night sky preservation is integral to human health. After all, light pollution negatively affects the health and sleep cycles of both humans and animals. Though you can find constellations and zodiac signs through educational stargazing applications, no app can replace the true night sky.

Access to the inspirational depth and natural brilliance of the night sky is necessary for human existence and reflection. With such data on the negative effects of light pollution, hopefully, the night sky will be preserved for future generations. Can you find the North Star? Do you see the Big Dipper?

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