Atlas shows where you’ll miss the Milky Way

Image: Night sky atlas
A Google Earth visualization shows the effect of light pollution on night-sky viewing in North America. Darker colors indicate lower light pollution, while warmer colors indicate higher levels. (Credit: Falchi et al., Science Advances; Jakob Grothe / NPS; Matthew Price / CU-Boulder)

Eighty percent of Americans can’t see the Milky Way from where they live, according to a new analysis of light pollution’s effect on the night sky. The global dark sky atlas, produced by an international team of researchers, suggests there’s only one spot in Washington state that’s untouched by the effect of artificial light.

“I hope that this atlas will finally open the eyes of people to light pollution,” Fabio Falchi of Italy’s Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute said in a news release. Falchi is the lead author of the analysis, published today by Science Advances.

The atlas is based on readings from the Suomi NPP satellite, which was launched in 2011 and is managed by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Suomi’s main purpose is to provide weather data, but it’s equipped with imagers that can pick up low-light readings at night.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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