The Current

Why 80 per cent of North Americans can't see the Milky Way

The stars of the night sky have disappeared for a significant number of people around the world. Today The Current looks at the implications of artificial light at night, the push for dark sky preservation zones and what's lost to humanity without the Milky Way.
Scientists say it's a huge environmental and cultural loss that so many people in the world can't see the Milky Way. (Anne Dirkse/Flickr)
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Thanks to light pollution, the simple act of gazing up at the stars is under threat. A new international scientific study reports that vast portions of the world's population now live in places where the stars are barely visible at night.

One of the study's co-authors with the U.S. National Park Service night sky programDan Duriscoe tells The Current's host Anna Maria that artificial light has taken away such a valuable experience. The lead author calls it "a cultural loss of unprecedented magnitude."

"It's kind of a future shock. People are growing up now without even knowing what they are missing."

In North America in particular, nearly 80 per cent of us can no longer see the Milky Way at night.

And in places such as Singapore and Kuwait, light pollution has obscured the dark of night entirely.

The Milky Way as seen from the rebel-held town of Douma, east of the Syrian capital Damascus, June 6, 2016, on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. ( Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP/Getty Images)

Duriscoe points to the growth of population, outdoor lighting for advertising and pedestrian shopping areas as reasons why visibility in urban areas are blocking out the starry sky. While there are places to go without artificial light, Duriscoe says it's not realistic people will travel to such lengths to experience the wonder above them.

"It is pretty much an unfair or unreasonable impact on the majority of people who live in cities to deprive them of this opportunity or make it really so hard to get to that most people don't have time."

Stars of the Milky Way near Petersdorf, northeastern Germany. A recent study shows that 60 per cent of Europeans can't see Milky Way because of man-made lights. (Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images)

But he does tell Anna Maria Tremonti all is not lost.

"There is hope that this trend of this increasing use of light could be reduced with new technologies and a little bit more judicial use of outdoor light."

Listen to our full conversation at the top of this post including Canadian astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar on why stars are critical to humanity and our relation to the universe. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith and Marc Apollonio.