Vanishing Dark Skies

It’s currently estimated that 80% of the world’s people and more than 99% of the US and European populations live under light-polluted skies. Remember the Milky Way? It didn’t suddenly vanish into a giant black hole. Like our ancestors, we should still be able to gaze up at the night sky and, with our naked eyes, see our majestic galaxy. But today, most of us around the world are unable to view this enchanting solar-system formation. And that is directly correlated to the artificial-light pollution we’ve created down here on Earth.

Fortunately, light pollution is a reversible problem. The International Dark Sky Association recommends the following simple steps:

  1. Check the lighting around your home, and illuminate only what you need.
  2. Shield outdoor lighting, and direct lights downward to minimize light trespass beyond your property lines.
  3. Use automatic timers and motion detectors to limit light use to times the you really need it.
  4. Choose warm, white lightbulbs.
  5. Talk to your neighbors. Explain that poorly shielded fixtures waste energy, produce glare, and reduce visibility.

This map displays Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), and World Atlas overlays to show the effect of light pollution. We encourage you to move the map around, zoom in/out, and compare the effects of light pollution in your area and throughout the world. Don’t forget to use the menu in the top right of the map to check out the past light levels (hint: use the sliding number scale to the right of each Light Pollution Overlay to make the overlay lighter or darker).

You can read more about the effects of the perpetual light we surround ourselves with in our Go Paleo special issue.

Use of map courtesy of Jurij Stare,
VIIRS/DMSP data courtesy of  “Earth Observation Group, NOAA National Geophysical Data Center”.
World Atlas data from “Falchi, Fabio; Cinzano, Pierantonio; Duriscoe, Dan; Kyba, Christopher C. M.; Elvidge, Christopher D.; Baugh, Kimberly; Portnov, Boris; Rybnikova, Nataliya A.; Furgoni, Riccardo (2016): Supplement to: The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness. GFZ Data Services.
Falchi F, Cinzano P, Duriscoe D, Kyba CC, Elvidge CD, Baugh K, Portnov BA, Rybnikova NA, Furgoni R. The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness. Science Advances. 2016 Jun 1;2(6):e1600377.