A report of the World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness published on June 10 in the journal Science Advances reveals that one-third of people around the planet has never seen the Milky Way. What was once enjoyed by many could soon be a thing of the past thanks to light pollution.

The artificial lights make a bright fog that blocks the stars and different constellations in the sky at night. Based on satellite data, the study reveals that light pollution, among the most common form of environmental alteration, has caused 60 percent of Europeans and 80 percent of people in the US to not see the Milky Way.

“We’ve got whole generations of people in the United States who have never seen the Milky Way,” adds Chris Elvidge, a scientist at National Centers for Environmental Information of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado. “It’s a big part of our connection to the cosmos — and it’s been lost.”

Milky Way

Light pollution now blots out the Milky Way for eight in 10 Americans. Bright areas on this map show where the sky glow from artificial lighting blots out the stars and constellations. Credit: Falchi et al, Science Advances; Jakob Grothe/National Park Service, Matthew Price/CIRES/CU-Boulder.

The team found that Singapore, Italy, and South Korea experienced the most extensive light pollution. On the other hand, Australia and Canada are the top two countries that still enjoy a dark sky.

Few European countries, including Sweden, Scotland, and Norway, remain largely unaffected by light pollution. Moreover, the findings show that half of the US experience light pollution and several of the States’ national parks, including Yellowstone, remain to be the nation’s last haven for darkness to get a glimpse of the galaxy.

Lead author Fabio Falchi from the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Italy hopes that the study will open the eyes of everyone to light pollution. Apart from blocking the night sky, light pollution can also cause confusion among insects, birds, sea turtles and other wild animals, which can put them in harm’s way.

To curb light pollution, the team suggests limiting artificial lights to the area of concern or limiting the lighting to only the amount necessary. The simplest method of controlling light pollution is switching them off.