Did you know, if you look up into the evening sky, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to see what your grandmother saw when she was a little girl? That’s because the earth is encased in an artificial haze of light which is blocking the night sky. Scientists call this “light pollution” and according to a new study, recently published in the journal of Science Advances, this pollution keeps up to one-third of humanity from viewing the Milky Way (80% of Americans and 60% of Europeans).

From the CNN article:
“An international team of scientists created a world atlas of artificial sky luminance that details how light pollution is permeating our planet. This light is obscuring our vision of the stars, celestial events and the Milky Way — the galaxy that contains our solar system.
Although there are a few patches of pristine dark sky still left in the world, 83% of the world’s population and more than 99% of the U.S. and European populations live under the bright glow of light pollution.”
The most light-polluted country in the world is Singapore. In fact, the entire population lives under skies that are so bright, the eye cannot fully dark-adapt to night vision. That means those living in Singapore never have the chance to experience true darkness. That’s unfortunate.
In the following countries, more than half of the inhabitants live under extremely bright skies, according to the researchers. The numbers indicate the percentage of the population that are affected by light pollution:
Kuwait (98%)
Qatar (97%)
United Arab Emirates (93%)
Saudi Arabia (83%)
South Korea (66%)
Israel (61%)
Argentina (58%)
Libya (53%)
Trinidad and Tobago (50%)
The countries least affected by light pollution include Chad, Central African Republic, and Madagascar. Luckily, more than three-quarters of these people live under pristine night sky conditions.
What the findings show is that light pollution is a global issue. But it’s not just our view of space that’s obscured by light pollution. Too much light can impact our culture and cause global ecological problems, pose public health issues and create wasteful energy spending, warn the researchers.
  • Artificial lights can negatively affect wildlife: streetlights near shorelines can cause baby turtles who have just hatched to become disoriented and wander inland instead of into the ocean, causing them to die because of dehydration or exposure to predators.
  • Artificial light also has a direct effect on human physiology and behavior. A 2007 medical study found that it can alter our circadian rhythm and affect production of some of our hormones. It can also disrupt our sleep cycle by suppressing the creation of melatonin and increasing cortisol levels (a hormone linked to stress).
To persevere the world’s limited patches of pristine night sky, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), an organization combating light pollution, started the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001. This program encourages communities to protect dark sites. In the last 100 years, artificial lights have transformed the sky to the detriment of millions of children- they will never experience the Milky Way. According to the IDA, light pollution “robs us of the opportunity to experience the wonder of a natural night sky”.
If you’ve not visited a dark park, you should. It is amazing:

More from CNN, “Some of these International Dark Sky Sanctuaries, which are the most remote and darkest places in the world, include the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy Observatory, which operates in the Elqui Valley of northern Chile and the Cosmic Campground, a site located in the Gila National Forest of western New Mexico.
The hazards of light pollution are slowly starting to be taken seriously by scientists, the study says.”

But we can help. Researchers suggest we keep the artificial light from overtaking our night skies by using minimum light for tasks, shutting lights off when areas are not being used and limit the use of “blue” lights which can affect circadian rhythms and even vision.

Source: CNN