Scientists describe cultural loss of unprecedented magnitude as global atlas reveals extent of light pollution in the worlds skies
It has inspired astronomers, artists, musicians and poets but the Milky Way could become a distant memory for much of humanity, a new global atlas of light pollution suggests.
The study reveals that 60% of Europeans and almost 80% of North Americans cannot see the glowing band of our galaxy because of the effects of artificial lighting, while it is imperceptible to the entire populations of Singapore, Kuwait and Malta.
Overall, the Milky Way is no longer visible to more than one third of the worlds population.
Lead author Fabio Falchi from the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Italy said the situation was a cultural loss of unprecedented magnitude.
Chris Elvidge of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a co-author of the study, added that the times he has seen the Milky Way have been magical experiences.
Through our technology weve cut off that possibility for large numbers of people for multiple generations now, he said. Weve lost something – but how do we place value on it?
Described by John Milton as a broad and ample road whose dust is gold, and pavement stars, the Milky Way is so obscured by the effects of modern lighting that it is no longer visible to 77% of the UK population, with the galaxy masked from view across nearly 14% of the country, including regions stretching from London to Liverpool and Leeds.
Further afield, areas around the cities of Hong Kong, Beijing and a large stretch of the East Coast of America are among those where a glimpse of the galactic band is out of the question – a situation also found across much of Qatar, the Netherlands and Israel. In Belgium, it cannot be seen in 51% of the country.
Humanity has enveloped our planet in a luminous fog that prevents most of Earths population from having the opportunity to observe our galaxy, the authors write.