Since the start of the industrial age, light pollution has gradually turned the night sky into a brighter scene that increasingly darkens our view of stars, constellations and other planets. Artificial lighting emanating from streetlights, burning buildings, dazzling advertisements, and a host of other sources can cause an extreme glow that radiates into the night, producing what scientists call “sky glow.” About a third of the world, including 80 percent of Americans, cannot properly see the massive bright arc of the Milky Way galaxy due to sky glare. None of this is new, but it’s happening surprisingly faster than we thought possible.
A new study led by an international team of researchers found that light pollution causes sky brightness to increase by about 7 to 10 percent each year; this is faster than the 2 percent increase per year that satellite measurements initially suggested. The average person who can see about 250 stars in the night sky today will likely only see about 100 stars in less than two decades.
Findings published Jan. 19 ScienceIt was compiled from analysis of data from the Globe at Night, a collection of 51,351 naked-eye observations made by citizen scientists scattered in 19,262 locations around the world from 2011 to 2022. the world’s continents are increasing roughly 10.4 percent each year.
Infographic showing the effect of light pollution on our ability to see stars and other objects in the night sky.
Increased light pollution – and therefore sky glare – makes the night sky look worse. The numerical scale is similar to that used by the study participants.
NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, P. Marenfeld
The disappearance of the starry image of the night sky is more than just an emotional loss. The negative effects of light pollution on wildlife are well documented. For example, newborn sea turtles rely on the stars as a true lodestar to tell them to head for the ocean after hatching. Other animals need the curtain of night to hide from predators. Most, including humans, rely on a dark night to help them regulate their own sleep patterns, which helps regulate a number of different physiological behaviors.
What’s more, astronomers using ground-based instruments are finding it increasingly difficult to conduct their research, thanks to a brighter night sky.
Although the study included participation from around the world, most of the observations were made in North America and Europe; This means that the progress of light pollution in other parts of the world is not so well known. The study’s authors note that sky-brightening is occurring more rapidly in developing regions of the world, perhaps largely thanks to the current popularity of LED lights for outdoor lighting.
Ultimately, however, the study’s greatest impact may not really be in its impact, but in its methodology. The involvement of more than 50,000 participants in a civic science project is remarkable, pointing to the potential to garner as much support as possible for the implementation of solutions that can help reduce the worldwide thunder glare.
But all of these solutions converge in the same approach: reducing artificial lighting. And it is not yet clear whether there is enough appetite in the public for aggressive policies to pass. in an accompanying article Science, Spanish astronomers Fabio Falchi and Salvador Bará wrote: “Most people associate artificial light with road safety and personal safety, these links are not well supported by evidence.” Eliminating light pollution may actually require a greater rethinking of our relationship with light itself.
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