back to article One fifth of humanity deprived of Milky Way

One-fifth of the world's population is deprived of the pleasure of viewing the Milky Way in all its splendour - thanks, you guessed it, to light pollution. However, this for once is not a case of developing world citizens yet again being sold short, because the light-out specifically affects "two thirds of the US population …


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  1. Steve Foster

    Simple (and Green) Solutions

    * Let's turn off all the street lights between (say) 11pm and 4am.

    * ban retailers and offices from leaving their lights on when their premises are unoccupied/closed

    I wonder how much electricity we'd save?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is a splendid sight.

    I always wondered what all the fuss was about and then I went to a remote part of the USA and realised what I had been missing.

  3. Simon 24

    "natural heritage" WTF?

    Hee hee, well maybe we should slap some form of conservation order on it. Maybe put a fence around it to stop people trampling on it as well.

    Yes the Milky way is really pweety, but down here on Earth I would actually prefer to keep the lights on, it stops me from walking into things at night.

    I *was* out in the country once and saw the Milky way, it gave me a sore neck I recall.

    Anyhow I don't feel "Deprived", silly report.

  4. Leigh Smith
    Thumb Down

    Cancer? Yeah right!

    The scene - Two scientists sit in a office across the desk from a slimy looking individual in a cheap suit.

    Slimy PR Guy: "What can I do for you gentlemen?"

    Astronomer 1: "We can't see the stars because of all the light."

    Astronomer 2: "And our campaign to get people to see the error in annoying us and confusing moths is not working. Even calling it 'Light Polution' hasn't helped."

    Slimy PR Guy: "Well what you need to do is to create a spurious link to cancer. Something that sounds a bit scary but is vague enough you can easily deny it later. I'd make it a woman's cancer, that will really freak out the masses"

  5. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Cancer? Yeah right!

    I'm sure that's exactly what happened. No one's ever suggested low melatonin levels caused by night working/too much artificial light etc is linked to cancer before. Highly suspicious!

  6. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    Doesn't have to be as involved as astronomy...

    One of my fondest memories of camping with Mum and Dad right up on the north Scotland coast, around 1975. They woke me up one night, ask me to step outside and all I can remember is shivers down my spine as I looked up into the clear night sky and saw nothing but millions of stars.

    So sad that my kids will not get a chance to see anything like that unless we now go to the back of beyond.

  7. Michael Nielsen


    Nonetheless consider the amount of power wasted in cities where the neon lights are on, pretty much 24x7, and all the light that is sent skywards are wasted energy, as that light is not doing it's job.

    Not that I'm an advocate for androgenic climate change, but I do find it abhorrent to blatantly waste energy in this way.

    and I do like the beauty of the night sky.

    It is sad that you drive some 20km from the nearest town, and all you can see in the sky, is pretty much the street lighting, and a few of the brightest stars.

    Now this light pollution is not harmless to nature, in turtle breeding areas, they have problems with the hatchlings heading straight for towns, and busy roads, because they're programmed from nature's side to head for the brightest light - normally the dawn at the horizon over the sea, but with all our light pollution, the dawn isn't that bright, and the lights from nearby cities function as better magnets - just one real consequence of light pollution.

  8. Schultz

    Can't we ...

    just put some detailed photos on the intertubes? Then I won't have to adjust my lifestyle or get up from my chair.

    Problem solved, and an IT angle to boot.

  9. Kwac
    Thumb Down

    Simon 24

    Problem is the lights that you want to keep on you, that's perfectly reasonable.

    Its the amount of light you want to keep on you, and the amount of redundant light that goes nowhere but up.

    BTW you've got a faulty 'r' on your keyboard 'pretty' came out as 'pwetty'.

  10. Wize

    There are lots of poorly designed lights

    Some companies have fancy lights to illuminate the outside of their building. Other have street lights which do not direct all the light downwards. Perhaps a fee per amount of light released upwards would fix these people (a night-time google map equivalent would show them)

    Can we make the roads less reflective too?

  11. lasersage

    old news

    this was reported some time ago (weeks I believe) if only I could remember where.

    Has it not been shown that whilst CCTV reduces crime in city areas by 5% bright white lighting reduces it over 30%?

    I'm in favour of lights at night, lets face it, you don't really need them any other time. The point that should be made is that lights should have cowls to direct the light downwards, and appropriate wavelengths used.

  12. Master Baker
    Thumb Down

    We need the lights on at night

    To keep the Morlocks at bay.

    They mostly come out at night. Mostly.

  13. Annihilator

    Shocking shady science

    "Walker cited a 2008 study of 147 Israeli communities, published in journal Chronobiology International, which "found some evidence for an increased risk of breast cancer for women living in areas with the most light pollution""

    And further to the comments, how on earth did they find two identical places (save for the light pollution) to run a comparison? That's the beauty of these studies - there are a billion differences in surroundings to consider. Was this "light polluted" area Chernobyl by any chance?

    Angers me how this has become the norm in media today.

  14. zedee

    @Michael Nielsen

    "Not that I'm an advocate for androgenic climate change...."

    Climate change due to male hormones?

    Or perhaps anthropogenic.

  15. Simon 24


    Nowing wrong wiwh my keyboard ,wa.

    Hey why does my name have 24 added to it? Are there 23 other Simons on here or something?

  16. Slartybardfast

    Councils have a role to play

    I have two bright security lights that shine into my back garden from 500yds away. These are not your small household lamps but very powerful industrial ones. They appear to have no real use or function, I've complained to my local council but have had no response. They just aren't set up to deal with this. Until there is is route by which complaints can be accepted, moderated and actioned locally there will be little change.

  17. Xris M

    Say what!!!!

    "This was believed to be linked to "unnatural light at night affecting levels of hormones such as melatonin and estrogen"

    Is not the more obvious reason here the fact that people living in areas with high light pollution are living in the most developed areas. The same developed areas that will also contain much more of every other sort of pollutant possible, from vehicle exhaust fumes to chemically processed foods to electromagnetic radiation.

    Obviously not no, obviously a little bit of extra unwanted light at night is going to fuck us all up and destroy the world!

  18. Pollo
    Thumb Up

    @Simon 24

    "I *was* out in the country once and saw the Milky way, it gave me a sore neck I recall."

    I'm guessing it looked pweety(sic) awesome then if you were staring long enough to get a crick in your neck...?

  19. Tony 8

    rural lighting

    I used to work at a big place in a rural area - we had lights on at night for the night workers, but the local people complained about the light pollution. We therefore had to spend rather a lot of money changing the lights and putting shrouds on them to minimise the amount of light spreading out.

    2 weeks after we completed the work, 1 of the cottages nearby was burgled - within the month, another 3 had been done over. In addition there had been 2 road accidents caused by people not being able to see where they were going (no street lights).

    Someone then had the bright idea of going to one of the "no win - no fee" solicitors to try to sue us for reducing the light levels. (They didn't win, which really upset them)

    There are some people that you can never please!

  20. lasersage


    I'd recommend the good old air gun method :D

  21. Gareth Perch

    Dark times

    Half way between Adelaide and Melbourne, with no man made lights to be seen anywhere in the flat, hugely expansive vista*, I saw the most beautiful night sky I'd ever seen. I had to stop and look. It was the highlight of my (altogether fantastic) holiday.

    If anyone knows anywhere in England that allows such a clear view of the stars, I'd love to know.

    The "lights out" time to contemplate the sky would be great, except the scum types would all come out to mug you during the dark times.

    Dark times indeed.

    *not the MS kind

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    And the moon be still as bright

    "One of my fondest memories of camping with Mum and Dad right up on the north Scotland coast, around 1975" - later, they took you to see the martians, but in fact it was just the reflection of you and your family in a river. Spooky.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice map

    Dark Sky Scotland has a nifty map of European light pollution here:

    I'm in one of the white bits, so I get to see about four or so stars at night.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Milky what?

    Oh so that’s what this article is about, and there I was about to suggest that if you can’t see your Milky way bar, look at your Star bar or Mars bar instead, they’re probably a lot nearer

    "Walker cited a 2008 study of 147 Israeli communities..."

    All right, 147 Israeli communities wouldn't happen to 147 Kibbutz (Kibbutzes? Kibbutzen?) in some part of Israel where they’ve been throwing depleted uranium shells around for the past 40 years? That wouldn’t be a factor, would it?

    Paris, who has also spent some time studying the Milky Way

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Light Cancer?

    Which would require UV light. And quite a lot really.

    Damn idjots

  26. Martin 19

    I really, really, really don't care.

    Looking at the milky way gets boring far more quickly than not crashing the car/not being mugged/not falling down holes in the pavement does. I doubt that very much of the problem is light going upwards directly from the lamps, the scattering from ground-level surfaces is probably the culprit and can't really be avoided.

    Somebody above mentioned making the roads less reflective; that would make things worse, they would be less visible to motorists (which is the point of having the lights in the first place) and would need more wattage to achieve the same subjective illumination. Also this would increase solar heating of the road surface, contributing (in a small way) to global warming.

    And @Slartybardfast; have you tried knocking at the door of the premises in question? Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but a lot of people (perhaps not including yourself) seem eager to complain to some authority about things when a friendly word would suffice.

  27. SmallYellowFuzzyDuck, how pweety!

    No longer Simon 24

    Oh ok, we all need to update our details.

    The word "Pweety" is now going to haunt you forever as part of my login name.

    Sorry off topic, quick I need to make an on-topic comment. Yeah I prefer Mars bars to Milky ways, etc

    (That should get this comment accepted by Ms Bee, snigger)

  28. frank ly

    @laserage re. @ Slartybardfast

    For those big industrial fittings, you'd need a proper rifle; or multiple hits from up close with a legal limit .22 pellet.

  29. Anonymous Coward


    "Climate change due to male hormones?"

    Let's face it if there is anthropgenic climate change that's pretty much why.

    Sorry off topic, but made me laugh - yup long day...

  30. Jason Croghan

    @Sarah Bee

    Sarah, are you suggested taking LSD and smokine weed are going to reduce the amount of cancer? They both produce very high melatonin levels...

    I've an idea - let's leave on the lights at night and make night workers smoke reefers to combat their breast cancer!

    I'm with Leigh Smith actually - people throw the words 'cancer' and 'global warming' into anything they want to draw attention to these days - then the following day all the tabloids make their own version of the story with headlines such as "Street lamps cause breast cancer."

  31. JohnG

    From the tilte of the article...

    ...I thought you meant a fifth of people didn't have change for the vending machine.

  32. Britt Johnston

    what about old-fashioned smog pollution?

    If you point light sources skyward, the light disappears (into space). Light pollution disturbs your view when particles reflect the light, or if you look at a light source, like the moon, the horizon, or an aircraft. If horizon glow were a problem, waiting 6 hours puts the milky way overhead. So, while water vapour and air do some light scattering, the main culprit is smog.

    For this reason, most star gazers would like to live in a pre-industrial society. The best they can do is live miles away from civilisation atop the Chilean Andes.

  33. Anonymous Coward

    sorry for all the whingers

    But I really really like the inky black sky with billions upon billions of stars visible and no light from surrouinding city or whatever to ruin it. You don't even know what you're missing or you're such a sorry git you can't appreciate it.

  34. Slartybardfast


    In answer to your insightful post and question: Yes.

    BTW if you "really, really, really don't care" why did you bother to comment.

  35. Law
    Thumb Up

    Government are missing a trick

    Just stick motion sensors on all street lights (providing they don't sit above tree's etc)... it works for most households using spotlights. It will allow those who walk at night light, it will also allow them to save money. And it will allow the rest of us to see the stars. I once took a camping trip to Wales - was fairly remote - was the first time I'd ever seen any real stars in the sky - the sky was packed with them, nice pretty colours and stuff, and then we got our binoculars out and saw even more... eventually we realised we could even see the occasional satellite go past too. Never seen sky like that since dispite having lived around north, south and east of UK at different times. I'd love to see em again! :)

  36. Kevin 6


    you mean to tell me there are actually little lights up in the sky? I call BS as we can clearly see from the Apollo moon landing pictures there are no little lights in the sky. There is only the blackness of space as seen from the ground in majorly overpopulated cities like I live in.

    on a serious note I do miss looking up and actually seeing the stars.

  37. P. J. Isserlis

    Frightened and incompetent?

    Lights all night? Accidents? Never heard of headlights and driving according to the conditions? Simple torch for those dark lanes when walking? Try drinking less so you can see the pavement. I notice that every rabbit warren seems to have big, orange lights all night. Whatever for? Just so we can all pay more taxes to use more electricity ...?

    Funnily enough, most crime occurs during daylight hours, including burglary: criminals need to see where they are going and a lot of houses are empty during the day, plus a car speeding along a country lane at night is rather more remarkable than during the rush hour.

    Sarah and others, you need to get a broader education: there are reams of papers on the various, mainly harmful effects of shift work, lack of light and too many hours of light. Of course, the serious stuff may require a bit more than wikipedia and some ability and patience to read and understand a scientific paper.

    You lot need to get out a bit, find out that you have got surprisingly good night vision. Where lights are useful, why direct so much at the sky rather than where it may be useful. I suppose the trouble is, rather than be responsible for oneself, too many want a nanny state to keep them warm and safe at any price.

    And the egotism of those dismissing the "loss" of the night sky: just stay in the centre of some grim metropolis and allow the rest of us to imagine we are not yet just city drones. No doubt when, by accident, you find yourself in the country, you complain about the mess made by falling leaves, the lack of safety rails on steep hills and cliffs, the shocking and unlit state of mountain paths. Ugh.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Sure you don't mean "seratonin"? That's generally what the happy stuff messes with.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    Deprived of Milky Way?

    personally I prefer Mars

  40. paulc

    the problem with air rifles etc.

    is that they leave evidence behind...

    what you need to do is shoot pellets of ice so the evidence melts away...

  41. Stevie


    So...street lamps cause breast cancer? How? Due to all the cancer-causing Zod Rays they emit? And only in women? A bit...*selective* innit?

    Colour me skeptical on this piece of "evidence" (although, as a male I obviously have a vested interest in stamping out uppity women with these space-age deathray street lamps).

    Not only that, why has no-one pointed out that the Milky Way is blotted out for hours at a time even in the most remote locations by that most inconvenient of over-bright light sources, The Sun?

    And clouds. Out in Arizona I don't suppose they see them often, but I'll bet clouds do for Milky Way Vistas just about anywhere there are people too, even if they turn off the lamps of Death. I wonder if they cause breast cancer like street lights do but the sun, apparently, doesn't?

    I have often called on astronomers to stop wasting time renaming and reclassifying things and actually do some astronomy, but if this carcinogenic, sex-specific street light theory is the sort of stuff they're going to start coming up with perhaps we should let them go back to deplanetifying Pluto, arguing where mercury will be in 200 years and other pointless flimflammery.

  42. Bucky 2
    Thumb Down

    REALLY old news

    I remember being cautioned about light pollution in grade school -- which would be the '70's, for those of you keeping score at home.

    The new twist is just a "won't someone think of the children" dodge. Except they replaced the weak, defenseless children with weak, defenseless ... women?

    Am I the only one who's seriously offended by this nonsense?

  43. Dick Emery

    Wonder of the universe

    I've only seen it once. It was whilst I was In St George in Greece as a teenager. It was amazing to see. Since then astronomical viewing has been very restricted due to living in the city and the UK in general having crappy skies.

  44. Quirkafleeg
    IT Angle

    Re: what about old-fashioned smog pollution?

    “If horizon glow were a problem, waiting 6 hours puts the milky way overhead.”

    Let's see… we're approaching the summer solstice, there's a bluish tinge to the sky and a noticeable glow to the north (and this is at 1am)… no, I don't think that waiting for six hours would help :-)

  45. Garret Cotter

    You don't need smog...

    Simple Rayleigh scattering off nitrogen and oxygen molecules is fine. Frex, the light from Sydney is clearly visible on a dark night at the AAT, in the middle of country NSW 400km away. And, yes, the light going straight up from traditional streetlamps is more significant than that reflected from the ground - the ground is reasonably "black". Virtually all streetlamps in Hawaii are now down-pointers and it makes a difference.

    @Stevie - what are you going on about re: Pluto. A small fraction of the world's astronomers spent an even smaller amount of time worrying about classification within the Solar System. You insinuate that most astronomers send their time arguing about angels on the head of a pin instead of doing "real" astronomy (which you apparently have some authority to define?). Classification is very labour-light and experience tells us that it usually helps delineate the underlying physics.

  46. Pablo

    It Doesn't Get Dark Here Anymore

    I always thought that would be a good title or opening line for a distopian sci-fi novel. Unfortunately it's also a pretty accurate description of where I live (near Los Angeles). Any time of night the sky just *glows*.

  47. southern skies

    Starlight reserve

    At Tekapo in NZ there is work underway to create a world heritage starlight reserve. This small town has lighting standards for street and business lighting designed to offer minimal light pollution to the nearby observatory.

    A fabulous place to view the milky way...

  48. Allan Dyer 1

    Tourist spots for stargazing

    I've heard that North Korea has really low levels of light pollution - just don't book a return ticket...

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