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More than a third of humanity can no longer see the Milky Way

Sadly, third of the world lives in places considered polluted by light, meaning most of us can’t even see the massive spiral galaxy we call home: the Milky Way. 

More than 100,000 light years in diameter with more than 100 billion stars and at least as many planets, the Milky Way is arguably the most impressive feature of the night sky you can see with the naked eye. But actually seeing it these days? Well, that requires a little more effort than simply craning your neck.

New research claims that more than a third of humanity cannot see the Milky Way anymore, because artificial lights have made the night sky too bright to view the galaxy.

The study, called "The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness." claims that 60 percent of Europeans and almost 80 percent of North Americans can't see the collection of stars and planets anymore. The planet has, according to the paper, been hidden behind a "luminous fog that prevents most of Earth's population from having the opportunity to observe our galaxy."

The Milky Way contains more than 100 billion stars and at least as many planets, including Earth. Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Singapore was deemed the most light-polluted country, and I am not surprised that my incredibly well-lit home country ranks so highly. San Marino, Kuwait, Qatar and Malta join Singapore on the list of places where people can't see the Milky Way at all.

According to the researchers, light pollution causes myriad problems, from wasting money and energy, to a loss of biodiversity and culture. These problems can be "instantly mitigated (by turning off lights)," they say. This seems like a no-brainer, but the team is also proposing several bigger changes.

The Milky Way Galaxy seen from Earth: Time-Lapse - YouTube

In addition to recommending people use the minimum amount of light for their tasks and strongly limiting blue light that interferes with circadian rhythms, the paper suggests installing shielding to prevent light from being sent at or above the horizon level.

If you live in one of the light-polluted regions and still want to see the Milky Way, consider trekking out to Chad, the Central African Republic or Madagascar, which the study says are the least affected. Or, if you don't want to leave your desk, check out this giant zoomable image of the galaxy. You won't have to turn off your lights.

Source: Science Advances, shutterstock

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