Research published earlier this year shows that only one-third of humanity has access to night skies dark enough to see the Milky Way.
Fabio Falchi of the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Italy and his colleagues mapped the entire globe to show how much brighter artificial light makes the night sky. Their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, showed that 60% of Europeans and 80% of North Americans can't see the Milky Way from where they live.
So, using Falchi's new atlas, BuzzFeed News decided to take a closer look at the situation in the UK.
Unsurprisingly, you have no chance of seeing the Milky Way in central London.
London and the South East of England
The colours on these maps indicate how much brighter a sky is than it would naturally be. Dark grey means a pristine sky, with no light pollution, and white means the sky is 41 times brighter than it would be naturally.
Blue and green areas are light-polluted, but it's still possible to see the Milky Way there. If you live somewhere yellow, you might be able to see the summer Milky Way but not the fainter winter one. If your town is orange, even the summer Milky Way won't be visible to you. And if you're red, pink, or white, you're totally out of luck.
As you can see, London is not the only place that's very light-polluted.
"We also have a very polluted area – it's almost a triangle – in the centre of England," Falchi told BuzzFeed News. "This is one of the widest polluted areas where the Milky Way is lost in the world, along with Belgium and the Netherlands, and the Padana plain in northern Italy, for example."
This kind of area happens when you get a bunch of cities really close together, because light pollution spreads further than you probably think. Even lights as far away as 200 kilometres can brighten up the horizon and affect your view of the night sky.
This new atlas of global light pollution is more advanced than the original version Falchi and colleagues published in 2001. As well as taking into account light pollution as seen from satellite images, it also looks at how light some distance away would affect your view of the night sky in a particular place.
The North of England
You can see this in the wide light polluted area in the middle of the country. The triangle's points are Liverpool, Leeds, and Birmingham, but Manchester, Sheffield, and Nottingham all contribute too. Light from each urban area bleeds into the surrounding areas, so if you live somewhere among all of those cities, even if you're out in the sticks, you're not going to ever get a very dark sky.
The satellite images the map is based on are from 1am or 2am, too, so the situation is likely to be bleaker earlier in the evening, when more people are likely to be out stargazing.
But it's not all bad. Scotland is one of only a handful of countries in western Europe that has some patches of pristine sky where the Milky Way would definitely be visible.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
"You have a pristine sky in the north west of Scotland. And also you have a large part of Scotland that is dark, almost pristine," Falchi said. "There are other places like the South West and Wales too."
The South West of England
Emma Marrington, senior rural policy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, told BuzzFeed News: “The light pollution spilling out from our towns and cities means many people have never experienced the beauty of a star-filled sky nor seen the Milky Way. It’s a sad fact that many children are growing up without ever having seen the majesty of a truly dark starry sky.
“There’s increasing evidence which shows that light pollution harms wildlife, by interrupting natural rhythms like reproduction, migration, and feeding patterns. It has a negative effect on people, too, with light shining into homes causing stress and disrupting sleep."
Falchi thinks losing access to dark skies is like losing access to other natural wonders, like the Grand Canyon, for example.
"We've lost the connection with the universe," he told BuzzFeed News. "We are much more aware of what is outside our Earth in theory, with discoveries from big telescopes like those in Atacama in Chile, or La Palma in the Canary Islands, but we have lost the real sky that we can – could – see every night from our homes.
"People living in the middle of countries have lost this gradually. They were not aware of this loss. And now a new generation is growing up with this normal sky that is very light-polluted."
Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
Contact Kelly Oakes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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