One Third Of Humanity Can't See The Milky Way In The Night Sky

The Milky Way over Dinosaur National Park. Dan Duriscoe

If you look up in the night sky, can you see the Milky Way? If so, then you’re luckier than one-third of the people living on the planet.

The situation is even more dire for people living in the west. According to an international team lead by Fabio Falchi from the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Italy, 60 percent of Europeans and 80 percent of people living in North America cannot see our galaxy at all.

Out of the 20 most industrialized nations, Italy and South Korea are those with the widest territory polluted by artificial lighting, while Canada and Australia are the least polluted.

If we take the very stringent constraint of light pollution to be the level of brightness at which artificial light substantially obscures any astronomical observations, then more than 80 percent of the world and almost 100 percent of the western sky is to be considered polluted.

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Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia in the New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness, as seen in Google Earth. Provided by Fabio Falchi et al

The project was presented in Science Advances as the New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness, and it has been carried out as voluntary work without any specific funding. This work is a significant upgrade on the original atlas produced by Falchi and colleagues over a decade ago. The new atlas uses new tools and includes data from the high precision satellite Suomi NPP.

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