Light Pollution Erases the Stars From Urban Night Skies

Oct 18, 2010· 0 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
The streets around Riyadh, Saudia Arabia's Kingdom Tower—where starlight never shines bright. (Photo: Ali Jarekji/Retuers)

Here's a simple at-home experiment.

Wait until nightfall. Walk outside. And look up.

What do you see?

If you happen to inhabit a major metropolitan city—say Los Angeles—you might see a passing airplane or a spotlight for some distant movie premiere.

What you probably won't see are any of the 400 billion stars populating the night sky.

A new image, generated by Stellarium software, reveals the growing problem of light pollution.

Which night sky do you fall under? (Photo: Courtesy of Stellarium)

Just how bad has the light pollution problem gotten? Well, if Vincent Van Gogh had been, say, a modern-day Clevelander, he never would have conjured up Starry Night.

Look at all that waste. (Photo: Courtesy of Stellarium)

Founded in 1988, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is the first organization to call attention to the hazards of light pollution. According to the IDA, light pollution is growing at an annual rate of 4 percent.

At this rate, there will be few dark skies left over the country by the year 2025.

The stars are out tonight, but who can tell? (Photo: NASA)

A 2008 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy estimated that, in 2007, stationary outdoor lighting consumed more than 178 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

As Treehugger asks: "This is low hanging fruit, why can't we fix this?"