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One Fifth of World's Population Can't See Milky Way At Night 612

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Cosmos Magazine: "Light pollution has caused one-fifth of the world's population — mostly in Europe, Britain and the US — to lose their ability to see the Milky Way in the night sky. 'The arc of the Milky Way seen from a truly dark location is part of our planet's natural heritage,' said Connie Walker, and astronomer from the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. Yet 'more than one fifth of the world population, two thirds of the US population and one half of the European Union population have already lost naked eye visibility of the Milky Way.'"
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One Fifth of World's Population Can't See Milky Way At Night

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  • Well... I could. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShadowBlasko ( 597519 ) <> on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:41AM (#28266443)
    And then they built that super Wal-Mart 1/4 mile from my house. Now I am lucky if I can see Sirus or anything of a less than amazing magnitude.

    Poor kids, I wish they could see what they are missing.
    • by Abreu ( 173023 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:48AM (#28266571)

      In our last vacation, my four-year old spent at least 30 minutes staring up to the night sky with his mouth open...

      • by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:52AM (#28266667) Homepage

        In our last vacation, my four-year old spent at least 30 minutes staring up to the night sky with his mouth open...

        I know what you mean. I took our daughters camping just a month ago, and the 2.5 year old asked what all the lights in the sky were. Despite that, being _my_ daughter, she was able to identify the Big Dipper and find Polaris, by herself (thank you Stellarium)! That, at two and a half!

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          There is nothing like driving at night in a truly dark area... my headlights seem to end about 20 feet in front of me and illuminate almost nothing. It is creepy at first but fantastic once you are familiar with it.

          • by ShadowBlasko ( 597519 ) <> on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:14PM (#28267087)
            I drove out west a few years ago. Took 140 out through southern Oregon. It was just BLACK. No moon, no lights, nothing but starlight.
            Once I got up in the mountains a bit I pulled off and just looked at the stars. It was amazing. I must have spent 4 hours out there just looking up.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by JWSmythe ( 446288 )

              I grew up about 100 miles from the nearest metro area, and we could see the stars beautifully. We could see the glow of two different metro areas on the horizon (each about 100 miles away), but that was it. Since being an adult, I've lived in metro areas.

              I was driving, either on I-10 or I-5, in either case I was running almost the full length of it. One trip, my girlfriend's daughter was with us. We stopped in the middle on nowhere at about 3am, where you couldn't even see

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by cayenne8 ( 626475 )
                About 5 years ago...a girlfriend and I rented a villa in Mexico, just about 70 mi north of Puerto Villarta (sp?)..right on the ocean. Our first night after getting there...getting some beers out of the fridge, just sat on the patio benches, overlooking the rocks down to the crashing sea...and then looking up and seeing the sky, with nothing but the moon and the stars. I remember commenting that "I'd not see anything like that since I was a kid due to all the light pollution these days.". It was amazing.


              • Alligator Alley (Score:3, Interesting)

                by falconwolf ( 725481 )

                I grew up outside of Orlando, now it's encompassed by the city limits but not city itself, and I used to be able to lay down in the yard for a terrific view of the starts. It was rural then but it's urban now.

                Of course, Alligator Alley has it's name for a reason. I grew up in rural Florida, and I knew the sound of alligators.

                One thing I miss since moving is going to a BBQ and having gator tail, frog legs, and wild boar.


            • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @02:32PM (#28269395) Homepage Journal

              I drove out west a few years ago. Took 140 out through southern Oregon. It was just BLACK. No moon, no lights, nothing but starlight.

              I have never seen anything quite as beautiful as being on a Navy ship about 2 degrees off the equator and under a new moon, with no light from horizon to horizon but the sky and the phosphorescent bacteria we were churning up. It was one of those things that was so lovely that it almost hurt, as if you couldn't look at it and breath at the same time.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by bertoelcon ( 1557907 )
            That reason alone is why I like the vast nothingness of living in west Texas, you can see and actually use human night vision because there isn't anything around to be a light pollutant, downside being there is no major cities and have to drive nearly 40mi to work.
      • by zmooc ( 33175 )

        You should try staring at the sky for 30 minutes with your mouth closed - you need pitbull-jaws to achieve such a feat:-)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          The other trick is to lie on your back and look "upward". If you do it right, you can even get a sense of vertigo. Best way to watch sunsets too. Lie with your head towards the sun and watch it by looking up. Its probably because you can't see the horizon so well anymore, so the sky takes more of your field of view.

          Actually, I just came here to gloat, because where I live its trivial to get to a place where light pollution has minimal effect :). Heck during some powercuts its like being deep in the bush wit

      • I can't blame him (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:36PM (#28267479)

        I did pretty much the same thing. I went camping and saw the milky way for the first time. In my 30's.

        Honestly - my first words once I saw it were "What the hell is that?"

        • Re:I can't blame him (Score:5, Interesting)

          by davew ( 820 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @02:53PM (#28269721) Journal

          I did an evening class recently in astronomy. The tutor told us a story of a graduate student who went to South America to work at an observatory there.

          She was sent outside to check the weather. She came back in and said there was a huge cloud reaching across the sky.

          The guy in charge didn't think that sounded right at all, so he went out to check himself.

          It was the Milky Way. And the other astronomer had never seen it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by kklein ( 900361 )

          Me too. I went camping in the Boundary Waters (the lakes between US Minnesota state and Canada Ontario province) and thought it was a cloud. I'd never been so far out in the wilderness, and I found the light from the sky, without electricity for comparison, to be simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. I felt like something was really wrong up there, knowing that it wasn't.

          That was the lesson I took back--well into my adult life: Most humans do not live on earth anymore. We've created someplace else, and

      • by COMON$ ( 806135 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @01:11PM (#28267981) Journal
        In Nebraska here, you can get a spectacular view just 30 miles out of Omaha or Lincoln. If you want to be absolutely stunned you can go to Valentine (north central Nebraska) and that is where they have amateur astronomy conventions. In august the meteor showers are breathtaking. You know it is a good view when a falling meteor burns the retinas a bit.

        Even just outside Lincoln, not only can you see the Milky Way, but many college kids would ask me what the haze was amidst it...I would just reply, those are the rest of the stars...they always were stunned.

        Perhaps this is why kids now adays have such big egos, they don't have to look up and see how insignificant they really are.

    • by Fizzl ( 209397 ) <fizzl AT fizzl DOT net> on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:48PM (#28267667) Homepage Journal

      I live in a small town in Finland. Actually at the outskirts of the town. I just love the sensation, when on a clear winter night, I tilt my head back I can see the steam emanating from my body, illuminated by the moon. And after couple of seconds of adjusting can see a clear image of the milky way across the sky.

      After this I roll naked in the snow, take a shot of Koskenkorva, yell 'PERRRRKELE' and head back to the sauna. Amazing! =)

      (Haha, no need to thank for the mental image!)

  • by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:41AM (#28266447) Homepage Journal
    Oh, the Milky Way at night,
    Vastly over-rated sight.
    Better still the suds of morn,
    By which unsightly stubble's shorn.
    Burma Shave
  • Milky Way, hell... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:43AM (#28266475) Homepage
    Living in northern Philadelphia, I'm lucky if I can make out enough bright stars to see Orion or Ursa Major, let alone something like the Milky Way...
    • by justin12345 ( 846440 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:48AM (#28266591)
      I live in NYC, here you can't even see the sun.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcvos ( 645701 )

      I live in Amsterdam, and I'm happy if I can see more than just Venus and Jupiter.

      The first time I went on vacation to Africa (south-western Sahara) was a revelation! I didn't just see stars, I saw a gigantic haze across the sky. Cityboy had never seen anything like that.

      Cool detail about that vaction (to Timbuctoo, by the way): our group had a retired British nerd who'd worked for Brittish intelligence and could explain how to find various interesting stars when starting from Orion's belt. It was amazing is

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CRCulver ( 715279 )

        The first time I went on vacation to Africa (south-western Sahara) was a revelation!

        But even in the Sahara you've got to get well away from human habitations to see anything. Even in places like Daklha or Laayoune, surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of nothingness, there are some many powerful street lights you can't make out anything in the sky. This whole trend of identifying blinding light with modernity in urban development has to stop.

      • by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:57AM (#28266765)
        Amsterdam is blessed with sufficient nocturnal distractions that not being able to see the night sky is no great hardship.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by T Murphy ( 1054674 )
      I saw a video of the night sky where you could see the center of the Milky Way move across - if you showed me that eight years ago I wouldn't believe it was real. Due to living near Chicago most of my life, for the longest time I typically only saw a few dozen stars, and thought only a few hundred were visible with the naked eye.
    • by cream wobbly ( 1102689 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:02PM (#28266863)

      Living in Tucson, where the International Dark-Sky Association ("The Light Pollution Authority") is (was?) based, I'm lucky if I can see cyclists and pedestrians after sunset.

      Yes I can see the bloody Milky Way, but the Milky Way isn't likely to cross an unlit street in front of you, is it?

  • Don't you just have to look up to see it?
    • by cabjf ( 710106 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:48AM (#28266569)
      By that reasoning, I suppose you could look down and see part of the milky way too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CheddarHead ( 811916 )

      Yes we are in the Milky Way galaxy, so technically any nearby stars you can see are part of the Milky Way. However, the Milky Way they're referring to is a dense band of distant stars you see when looking towards the galactic core. It's visible as a band of white across the sky. There's some photo's in the Wikipedia article. []

      The fact that you seem to not understand what they're referring to clearly illustrates their point. (I'm assuming that your question was serio

    • Just because you can see some of the trees doesn't mean you're seeing the forest. The Milky Way is (traditionally) a diffuse band across the night sky which is lighter than the inky black of space. We call our galaxy the Milky Way because that band is made up of countless distant stars from that galaxy.
    • by Itninja ( 937614 )
      Yes we are. But on a dark night you can look up and see a faint band of stellar bodies in the sky. You are looking into the core of the spiral galaxy we call the Milky Way. On a really dark night you can even see the peanuts and caramel.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:44AM (#28266497)

    I live in Los Angeles. One day I went up to Yosemite to hike Half-Dome. It's a long hike, so we started at 3 in the morning. When we broke out of the trees, I looked up and shit my pants.

  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:45AM (#28266519) Homepage Journal

    I looked up and said to a friend. This town is so corrupt even the stars have left it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I looked up and said to a friend. This town is so corrupt even the stars have left it.

      They all went to North Korea. []

      Seriously, I see this as more of a factoid than a problem. Greedy capitalist pig that I am, I kinda like not getting mugged in parking lots and being able to see the road at night. YMMV.

  • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:46AM (#28266545) Homepage Journal

    2/5ths of Americans can't see their own toes.

  • by gubers33 ( 1302099 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:47AM (#28266549)
    When I originally moved into my house years ago, I was surrounded by farmland, but in the past few years my area got built up with Shopping Centers, Neighborhoods and whatnot. The light pollution has become so bad that I don't even bother bringing out my telescope anymore on summer nights. The convenience of having many stores close is nice, but everything it comes with price and I think this one is a little bit too much. I originally moved to the area to get out of Philadelphia, now it's not much different in terms of the sky.
  • I can see about 20 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by riffzifnab ( 449869 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:47AM (#28266557) Journal

    I just recently got a new DSLR camera so now I'm playing around with all it's fancy features. I figured I would see if I could get a picture of the Milky Way from my deck in Cambridge MA. After processing the heck out of it I got about 20-30 stars... it was really kinda sad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by chaim79 ( 898507 )

      I've never had any luck doing any 'long exposure' shots with DSLR, I've got an old German 35mm that I use instead, especially for Lightning, DSLR's just can't get a good lightning shot.

      Though I'm no expert, I think the big problem is that the DSLR is too intelligent with long exposure, it's trying to average the light values over the entire x seconds that the shutter is open, and when a lightning strike happens the brilliance is averaged out until you can barely see it.

      As for stars, I've never been able to

  • by i_want_you_to_throw_ ( 559379 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:47AM (#28266563) Journal
    from the light pollution to really realize what you're missing. The two times I have been been in awe of the night sky were,
    1. In the middle of the Atlantic on a boat
    2. In the desert in Mauritania

    Also on your astronomical to do list, head to the southern hemisphere. There's a whole different set of stars there. (Besides Nicole Kidman)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Red Flayer ( 890720 )
      On an Alaskan mountaintop... in late summer, when you actually have full dark for an hour or two (depending on latitude) but it's still fairly warm.

      Bonus points for the aurora borealis on the horizon if you happen to get lucky at that time of year.

      You've got to be lucky anyway (or in the interior) to avoid overcast skies anyway...
  • by Kalendraf ( 830012 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:48AM (#28266567)
    I can almost always spot the Milky Way.

    It's usually right next to the Snickers.
  • Stars at night (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lymond01 ( 314120 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:48AM (#28266579)

    No, I won't continue with the Texas theme song.

    But I will say that having lived on Nantucket Island, New York City, and now California's Central Valley, I definitely appreciate going back to the sandbar and seeing what a night sky really looks like. I did spend a night in the Badlands of South Dakota -- and I think that is the most stars I've ever was like the entire sky wasn't black with pinpoints of light, but more of a fuzzy white with brighter spots. Truly amazing until the buffalo attack... (kidding)

  • No, no.... Look *UP*, stupid!

  • by Bluesman ( 104513 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:51AM (#28266657) Homepage

    100 Hidden Constellations He Craves!!!

    Look great to the naked eye!

    Steven Hawking - fun and fearless!

  • At least we can still see the Triffids []...for now.

    Speaking of the bright side, keep your eyes peeled for bright comets.

    No, wait, scratch that.

    I mean, scratch the directive, not your eyes. Just keep your eyes down.

  • Well at least with the constelations becoming hard to see, we might see a decline in astrology.

    Though it's an incredible lose to not be able to go outside and just gaze up at the cosmos, with it's billions and billions of stars and galaxies, and to just feel awed by the beauty of nature.
  • by esoterus ( 66707 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (suretose)> on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:55AM (#28266729) Homepage

    If we could start getting in the habit of focusing our lights down through the use of hoods and lamp covers we could probably make fast, cheap improvements on this problem. Light is wasted going up, with the exception of cool satellite shots showing the Earth at night. I for one would love to be able to see more than magnitude 1 and brighter stars from my rooftop in Brooklyn.

    • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:23PM (#28267275)
      Except that most citizens consider darkness a "problem" that needs to be fixed.

      They like their lights - it gives a sense of security, although in practice, a well-lit area probably just helps burglars and assorted baddies to see how to break into your house - rather than having to draw attention to themselves by carrying torches, tripping over things they couldn't see - or even being able to tell if there's a large dog waiting for them, in silence.

      I don't know if it's due to a generally depressed demeanour, but most people prefer to look down, at their feet, rather than up at the sky. I've even had arguments with people who were so uncaring about their surroundings that they didn't know the moon was visible during the day.

    • Example of fixable (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spectrokid ( 660550 )
      The cycle path behind my house is illuminated with low-hanging LED lights. Sensors at every crossing switch off the lights on those parts of the path which is not in use. There are tests and ratings available to judge how much light specific models of lamp posts send upwards. Write to your city official!!!
  • Camping in the high desert of northwestern Nevada years ago, the call of nature awoke me about 2am. I crawled out of the tent to a moonless night that revealed a sky literally full of stars - I couldn't find a dark spot anywhere. The Milky Way looked like a river of light stretching from horizon to horizon.

    I may never travel to space, but I think I know what it looks like now.

  • This is goofy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:57AM (#28266769)

    I take issue with a number of things here...

    A) Is this 1/5th immobile? Can they not hop a commuter train to the suburbs or something? I'd really like to know. I know that when I go out to see Dad in Wyoming the difference is absolutely noticeable, but I've always assumed that the same could be gained by finding some road-side location out in 'the sticks'.

    B) When is light 'pollution', and are we okay with (what I assume is) a situational definition of that word? Is light 'pollution' when it comes out of your headlights? Or only when Wal-Mart uses it to light their parking lot? Is there some measurable standard of 'enough' light, and the excess is 'pollution'? Or is it only 'pollution' when you want it to be dark? I'd honestly like to know...

    C) What does 'the arc of the Milky Way seen from a truly dark location is part of our planet's natural heritage' mean, exactly? Are we really weighing the advantages of light at night against 'natural heritage'? Because, from where I sit, 'living in a cave, eating only what you can kill with a pointy stick' is also our 'natural heritage'. The rest is technology at work, for better or worse.

    It just strikes me as weird, and I'd love to hear voices from the other side of it.

    • by DdJ ( 10790 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:23PM (#28267283) Homepage Journal

      B) When is light 'pollution', and are we okay with (what I assume is) a situational definition of that word? Is light 'pollution' when it comes out of your headlights? Or only when Wal-Mart uses it to light their parking lot? Is there some measurable standard of 'enough' light, and the excess is 'pollution'? Or is it only 'pollution' when you want it to be dark? I'd honestly like to know...

      Well, I'd probably call it "light polution" when it started to have measurable negative impact on the ecosystems that it's being poured into.

      For example, do you know about the interactions between exposure to light and melatonin (not melanin) production? And how some animals (arguably including humans) use that to regulate their circadian rhytms? And how other animals use differences in that to measure the change of seasons, and undergo metabolic changes based on that measurement? About how that can impact fertility in some species?

      Also, do you know about how light interacts with migration instincts? Do you know why Japanese fishermen light up the sea at night?

      The "milky way at night" is an aesthetic thing, and I can see folks using it for PR purposes, and also to make what's going on into something people can directly relate to. But don't conclude from that that it's the only argument available, the only reason to think about "light polution". That might be natural to conclude at first, but it's like concluding that the only problem with littering is that styrofoam containers by the roadside are ugly to the eye, just because that's an argument you hear someone making.

    • by OctaviusIII ( 969957 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:29PM (#28267377) Homepage
      To address your points: A) Generally a road-side location in the sticks isn't going to get you the Milky Way. Generally, you need to go a ways away from civilization - including roads - if you want to see the band.
      B) Light pollution is, in my understanding, any photon that goes up rather than down. It's most noticable when the city is overcast and it's bright enough to read by because of all of the light reflected back down by the clouds. Thus, it's both your headlights and Wal-Mart, but I'd argue that you would get better returns for limiting it at the Wal-Mart than your car.
      C) The advancement of technology and the departure of us humans from our natural state is not a consistent good. It is often good, yes, but not always. One should always be mindful of what should and should not be left behind. Turning off all the lights is not a good solution to this particular problem, but there are ways to mitigate the side-effects.
    • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:34PM (#28267431) Homepage
      A) If you look at a photo of Earth at night [], you'll see why a clear view of the night sky is not just a train-ride to the suburbs away. Huge swaths of land are blanketed in artificial light. By the logic you're presenting here, it wouldn't matter if we cut down all the trees as long as we had tree museums for people to go visit.

      B) Pollution is pollution, regardless of the source. Lower levels are more tolerable than higher levels, but it all detracts from the view of the sky (along with other negative effects). All sources of light pollution should be minimized.

      C) Seeing the wonder of the universe is a good thing. Living in a cave is not. Is that distinction so difficult to comprehend? "The rest is technology at work, for better or worse." Oh, so maybe you do grasp the point! Except that we don't have to just accept technology "for better or worse"; we can choose to use technology in ways that makes our lives better and not to use technology in ways that makes it worse.
    • by johannesg ( 664142 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @01:04PM (#28267883)

      I take issue with a number of things here...

      A) Is this 1/5th immobile? Can they not hop a commuter train to the suburbs or something?
      I'd really like to know.

      Ok, first take a look here []. Now look carefully on the western edge of Europe, in the country of the Netherlands. See that extremely bright spot stretching along the cost? I live right in the middle of that. Now look around that: everything is equally bright. The nearest darkish spots are to the south, in France, about 350km away.

      Let's say I go to France, then. The train to Paris will take me there in about four hours, but I don't want to go to Paris, I want to head out into the dark spots. Have you ever noticed a train stopping in total darkness, in the absolute middle of nowhere-without-a-light? Right, neither have I. They stop in places with high enough population density to make a train stop useful. Those places typically have lots of light as well. So even if I were to make the additional train ride to get to an area that is at least semi-dark, I would still need to get out of the city I'm in and into the countryside to have any benefit.

      I hope this explains to you why I have seen the milky way precisely _once_ in my entire life... And it was an unforgettable sight.

      I know that when I go out to see Dad in Wyoming the difference is absolutely noticeable, but I've always assumed that the same could be gained by finding some road-side location out in 'the sticks'.

      I'll skip the obvious joke about your dad, but for some of us "the sticks" is two countries to the south...

      B) When is light 'pollution', and are we okay with (what I assume is) a situational definition of that word? Is light 'pollution' when it comes out of your headlights? Or only when Wal-Mart uses it to light their parking lot? Is there some measurable standard of 'enough' light, and the excess is 'pollution'? Or is it only 'pollution' when you want it to be dark? I'd honestly like to know...

      I don't know about the precise word "pollution", but it is certainly undesirable when it deprives us of something of awesome natural beauty - even if it serves some purpose in our industrial society.

      C) What does 'the arc of the Milky Way seen from a truly dark location is part of our planet's natural heritage' mean, exactly? Are we really weighing the advantages of light at night against 'natural heritage'? Because, from where I sit, 'living in a cave, eating only what you can kill with a pointy stick' is also our 'natural heritage'. The rest is technology at work, for better or worse.

      It just strikes me as weird, and I'd love to hear voices from the other side of it.

      What purpose does the grand canyon serve? Why not just make it the largest landfill in the world? What purpose does yellowstone serve? Why not build a city there so people can use the geisers for natural heating? What purpose does the arctic wildlife reserve serve? Why not dig the whole thing up and draw out every last drop of oil?

      The sky is no different from that - even if you've never seen it with your own eyes.

  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:09PM (#28266999) Journal
    you could always go to North [] Korea [].

    Granted, there are a few other problems you'd have to deal with, just not light pollution.
  • by kraut ( 2788 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:11PM (#28267043)

    When did Britain get moved to a different continent? Or did we get upgraded?

  • by bill_kress ( 99356 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @12:22PM (#28267247)

    I'm selling my house in Spokane. You can generally see the milky way, and hang out with the deer and elk while you do it.

    Nice spot, 10 acres of farmland within viewing distance of a lake (barely), miles of bike trails along the river, ... but I couldn't take the trade-off.

    You see, to get all that you have to live in Spokane.

  • by Chazerizer ( 934553 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @01:14PM (#28268017)
    While it is a sad fact that you can't watch the night sky a lot of places (and it is - I remember taking a road trip from Chicago up to Wisconsin one night to watch a meteor shower), it seems to be an unfortunate necessity. Here's an analogy for those who don't get the point. If you've ever been camping, you know that if you want to stargaze, you have to wander away from the campfire. If its a group of 5 or so people camping, its a small fire, and it doesn't take you long to meander away, look up in awe, and wander back. Now increase your camp size. Now its fifty people. You have bigger fires, and probably more than one. You have enough people that at least one fire is burning all night. Increase size by another factor of ten and you find more fires. Now you probably qualify as a community. You probably have specialized fires for a blacksmith or other craftsman. You likely have dozens of fires, a good many of which will burn throughout the night. The distance you must walk increases proportionately. Now we're going to make the jump. With 10,000 times the residents of our hypothetical community, a large city would have 1000s of fires (now electric lights) to provide security. At this point - one has to travel a significant distance to really get a good look at the sky (from downtown Chicago, the distance is approximately 80 miles if you're traveling north). Yes it's sad - but in order to maintain dense civilizations that give us all the things that better the human condition, we must sacrifice some of those things. And as others have pointed out, it's not as if those things are completely gone. Take a bus or a train ride. Drive out to the middle of nowhere.
  • difficult dilemma (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @01:39PM (#28268447) Homepage

    I have in-laws in suburban Phoenix, and there is an "anti-light pollution" ordinance in effect there. NO STREETLIGHTS. It is very eerie and strange, driving around dense suburbs, in near total darkness. You see the headlights of the other traffic, the endless banality of the lighted signs at strip-malls, but aside from the safety lights in the parking lots, no lights on the street.

    In contrast, I (very fortunately) live in a fairly rural area in California; though we DO have streetlights. And the view of the stars at night is better in Phoenix. I have to drive about a half hour away from home to get a decent view of the night sky.

    Now: compared to where I grew up - Chicago. . . I remember being disappointed when Haley's Comet came around. I couldn't even see the damn thing on a clear night. And that was after an hour's drive out into the "country".

    Light pollution ordinances seem to be a very fascistic way to address this; public-safety is really more important than everyone being able to see stars from their backyard. It's an old notion that is apparently dying for us. It's sad. But as we (humanity) breed faster than cockroaches, I don't really see much alternative.

  • Perspective (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doug Neal ( 195160 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @01:44PM (#28268529)

    For me the best thing about being able to see the Milky Way is the sense of perspective you get from the realisation of what it is you're looking it in relation to where you are. Next time you get to see the Milky Way, think about how the galaxy is in a flat-ish plane, and how you and the band you are seeing are both in the same plane. Once you think about it, you mentally orientate yourself in this plane and it starts to mess with your perception of what's "up" and what's "down". The discrepancy between the local "up and down" that you experience on Earth and the bigger "up and down" you see from the Milky Way puts things into perspective in quite a powerful way, in that you stop seeing the sky as a big mass of stars and start to see how you + the Earth fits in to the bigger picture. Of course this may all be obvious to a lot of people here on /. but it isn't to most non-nerds, so if you're on a camping trip and want to impress your mates (or a girl..), try this, it works great ;)

  • The problem is... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HikingStick ( 878216 ) <> on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @02:00PM (#28268801)
    The problem is that some people just don't get it. They don't take the time to look at this universe in awe and wonder and simply don't care about being able to see the Milky Way at night. They're not bad people. They're just ignorant.

    If you live in a smaller town and even suggest the concept of "light pollution", people look at you and assume you are some sort of left-leaning-environmental-wacko. It doesn't matter how conservative your politics are--some people hear you discuss "light pollution" and they lump you into the same camp as all of the "tree huggers", "greens", "liberals", "communists", or whatever other groups they hold as "the enemy". I've even advocated just going a few nights a year without lights, coinciding with various meteor showers. Again, I must be a "nut job". After all, there's "no such thing as light pollution".

    Of course, it doesn't help if you live in a town that is home to a major manufacturer of lighting components for public spaces and industry, either. Then such "light pollution" comments are viewed as attacks on the town's economy, too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Well, I was with you, sorta, until that last paragraph. Attacking a town's livelihood isn't going to win you any friends no matter which nation you're in. You'd be better off driving out into the countryside and find a dark spot, instead of trying to impose your will on your fellow citizens (who, by your tone, are simpletons and idiots who can't see the obvious supremacy of your ideas). Frankly, this is the one characteristic that all treehugger nutjobs share.
  • by jhfry ( 829244 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @02:05PM (#28268881)

    The statistic should be that 1/5th of the world's population lives in population dense cities that produce too much light pollution to observe the milky way at night.

    MOST places in the US and Europe offer spectacular views of the night sky, including the Milky Way. Fortunately the population is not very dense except in the big cities.

    When 1/5 of the world has too much light pollution to observe the Milky Way, then I will worry. 1/5 of the worlds population, no big deal. Hell, I'd guess that most of the other 4/5's of the population wish they had that problem, cause then it might mean that they have the power to run their wells, clean their water, refrigerate their food, compete for the next big call center, and maybe stop burying 1/4, or 1/3, or even 1/2 of their children before they see 18.

    While I agree that it would be nice if we industrialized nations could dim it a little in our big cities so our spoiled kids can see a few stars, I don't consider it a cause for concern.

  • by Thumper_SVX ( 239525 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @02:07PM (#28268929) Homepage

    Seriously, to me this is sort of old news. Let me tell you a story;

    When I was young, I grew up in a small town about 50 miles from London in the UK. We rarely left the area because we really couldn't travel much. When I was in a little older, we lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland... and finally when I was 18 I lived in London for a few years. This is significant because the first time I truly traveled outside of major metropolitan areas in my life, I was 21 and I went to Oklahoma. I was staying with friends in Chickasha, OK... and one night, I think it was my fourth night in the area we drove out to Lake Louis Burtschi [], as poor college students do when they can't afford to go out and do stuff. Anyway, I recall distinctly stepping out of the car and literally had my breath taken away. My friends said I stood dead still for almost a minute, and I remember the feeling of vertigo, the feeling of depth as I stared into that starry night sky, the Milky Way clear above my head as I had seen it in books.

    All my life, I had grown up seeing these pictures in books of mountains with the Milky Way shown clearly there... and all my life I had believed truly that those pictures were in some way faked to make a dramatic point. Sure, I had vaguely seen the "fuzz" of the glow of the galaxy across the sky on the clearest nights I can remember in Belfast, but never in my life before had I seen anything like it. I had never even suspected that I was able to see the sky that clearly from any vantage point on Earth except perhaps the tops of the tallest mountains... even then I doubted it looked like that. I just had no idea until I saw it first hand.

    That night I stood there for the better part of 5 or 6 hours, taking in the majesty of a night sky I had never suspected I would ever see in my life, thinking that the only place I could see that would be out the window of a space shuttle (something I knew I would never do).

    I'm 36 now, but that night is still vivid in my memory. It's still incredible, and still so unbelievable to me that I had the chance to see that. I have been back there since, and though it's not as clear now as it was 15 years ago, it's still an awe-inspiring sight for someone like me who has lived most of my life in suburbs. Today I live in St. Louis... we're lucky to see Betelgeuse most nights because of the light pollution of our metropolis. I know I can drive a few hours out of town and get a better view, but Missouri is too humid for a view like I got in Oklahoma.

    I know how the younger people feel today... and they really don't know what they're missing. It's a sad state of affairs, and yes... one that can be rectified by getting away from the large cities if possible. But remember my example; I didn't even consider that getting away from the cities would afford me that much better a view... because I had never seen it and never encountered it. Cities are so densely packed in Britain that you'd be really hard-pressed to find a single location where you're far enough from light pollution to see that clearly. Sure, maybe the highlands of Scotland... but having been up in the highlands a few times I can say that you'd be damned lucky to get a night that wasn't overcast in most of those mountains.

    I'm somewhat reminded of the people of Krikkit [] in Life, The Universe and Everything: They lived their entire lives surrounded by a dust cloud that obscured the night sky to the extent that it never even occurred to them that there was anything beyond that dust cloud... or even that there was a sky, as such. I think in some ways I felt when I saw the Milky Way clearly for the first time that I had spent my entire life obscured from the real night sky and as such had never even considered it's existence in the way I have since.

  • what milky way? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by amoeba1911 ( 978485 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @02:18PM (#28269081) Homepage
    Now that they built a giant Lexus dealer with stadium lighting I can't even see the moon anymore.

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