Most Americans have never seen stars due to pollution

Nearly a third of people on the planet have never seen the Milky Way, due to artificial illumination in towns and cities. The situation is considerably worse in the United States, where 80 percent of people have never seen an unrestricted night sky view. 

We've got whole generations of people in the United States who have never seen the Milky Way 

Chris Elvidge - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

‘We’ve got whole generations of people in the United States who have never seen the Milky Way,’ commented Chris Elvidge, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and co-author of the Global Atlas of Light that was recently published in the journal Science Advances. ‘Seeing the stars is a big part of our connection to the cosmos and it is being lost at a great rate.’

As well as damaging our understanding of our place in the universe, light pollution has also been proved to be a threat to wildlife, particularly birds, as they can become easily disorientated by artificial light.

The NOAA team used satellite data to build the atlas, which you can view here. They discovered that apart from America, Singapore, South Korea and Italy are other nations that suffer particularly badly from light pollution.

Canada and Australia were found to be the nations with the most unpolluted night sky views, although it should be noted that both countries are made-up of large wildernesses, with population centres being concentrated around a particular area.

Comments 2

I joined the International Dark Sky Association 15 years ago to help stop light pollution. Frankly, good lighting design principles could do more than 50% of what needs to be done - but we can't stop it until we stop the crazy lighting of buildings, streets, highways and anything else. This is more than a technical or design question - it is a societal and cultural problem that won't be quickly or easily answered. Right now we're helping the Grand Canyon National Park rid itself of 100 years of bad lighting. Fortunately, the US National Park Service is committed to protecting the night sky as a valuable resource - why should we all not do the same?

The title is misleading. Nearly everyone has seen the brighter stars (such as Sirius). Come on, journalists, enough of the exaggerations. The rest of the article is correct; many people have never seen the stellar glow of the Milky Way. This is worth fixing.

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