The Milky Way’s luminous glow has inspired stories, paintings, songs, and poems for centuries: Japanese and Chinese folklore describe it as a river separating two lovers; in Greek legend, it is the spilled breast milk of the goddess Hera. Now, however, one-third of people cannot see Earth’s galaxy at night because of artificial lighting, which affects nearly 80% of the globe. The findings, part of a new atlas of worldwide light pollution, suggest that the problem is poised to get worse without regulatory action.
“This atlas is really a useful communications tool to open everybody’s eyes,” says Travis Longcore, a spatial scientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Longcore studies urban ecology, and was not involved in the study. “What a horrible thing to do to us as a species, to live in permanent twilight and never be able to see the stars.”
Light pollution has intensified in the past half-century, increasing about 6% each year in North America and Europe, according to research published using a previous atlas created 15 years ago by the same researchers. That atlas, and the new study, define “light-polluted skies” as having a luminance of 14 or more microcandelas per square meter—about 10% higher than normal night sky brightness levels.
The new atlas shows that now, more than 80% of the world experiences light-polluted night skies, which includes roughly 83% of Earth’s population, and more than 99% of Europeans and Americans. By population, Singapore has the world’s most light-polluted skies, followed by Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates—all densely populated countries. Africa has the dimmest skies; the top 10 least polluted countries are on the continent.To read more, click here.