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The name of our galaxy, the Milky Way, comes from its appearance. It's a milky white band of glowing light that stretches across the night sky. But a new study says that nearly 80 percent of people in North America can't see the Milky Way because of light pollution. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has more.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Dan Duriscoe grew up near Los Angeles, where it never really got dark. That's why he vividly recalls one time in the 1960s when his family was driving out of Death Valley at night.
DAN DURISCOE: We just sort of stopped the car and got out and were just amazed at total absence of artificial light.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Duriscoe now works for part of the National Park Service that's devoted to protecting the scenery of the night.
DURISCOE: Daytime, you might go to the Grand Canyon and be disappointed if there was a veiling haze in front of your view, and the same is true at night.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Duriscoe was part of a team that wanted to map out how bad light pollution is around the globe. They used new satellite data, observations from the ground and computer models. What they found is that more than one third of humanity can't see the Milky Way. There are a few countries where most people live under ink-black skies, like Chad and the Central African Republic. But in the U.S. and Europe, more than 99 percent of people have their view of the heavens obscured by light pollution. The study appears in the journal Science Advances.
CHERYL BISHOP: It's really one of the most thorough studies that we have to date on light pollution across the globe.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Cheryl Ann Bishop is with the International Dark-Sky Association, which fights light pollution.
ANN BISHOP: The fact that we're bathing our planet in artificial light at night is a relatively new phenomenon, and it is essentially akin to a human experiment that we're only just beginning to understand the ramifications of.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Simple fixes can make a big difference. Chris Elvidge is a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who worked on the new atlas. He says in his home state of Colorado, new streetlights are designed to point all the light down.
CHRIS ELVIDGE: I think that is a result of public campaigns to reduce light pollution.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Even so, where he lives, north of Denver, he can only see a few stars. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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