Why Is It So Difficult to See the Milky Way?

Before the advent of electric lighting, Earth’s inhabitants were treated to a nightly display of illumination from the Milky Way galaxy. The brilliant wash of stars splashed across the night sky provided dazzling inspiration for the early Egyptians, who likened it to a “pool of cow’s milk,” and for the Hindu poets, who saw the mass of stars as a dolphin swimming through the sky. However, nightly viewings of our galaxy have largely become a thing of the past, as light pollution now obscures the Milky Way from 80 percent of Americans, and one-third of the world's population as a whole.

Back when the stars came out at night:

  • Research by Italian and American scientists -- published in the journal Science Advances in 2016 -- produced the most accurate assessment yet of the global impact of light pollution.
  • “We’ve got whole generations of people in the U.S. who have never seen the Milky Way,” said scientist Chris Elvidge. “It’s a big part of our connection to the cosmos, and it’s been lost.”
  • Light pollution is extensive in countries such as Singapore, Italy, and South Korea. Canada and Australia still have relatively extensive "dark sky" areas.
More Info: Astronomy magazine

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