Milky Way Lost & Found

Have you seen the Milky Way?

You may think that you have, but are you sure?

Unless you live in an extremely remote area, or you’ve visited one, then you probably haven’t seen our own galaxy, the Milky Way, very well, or at all.

Worse yet, you may not even realize that it’s missing.

The New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness was published back in 2016, and it was used to demonstrate that vast swaths of people have never seen the Milky Way due to Light pollution. Here’s a Newsy video and some links to articles about the the atlas.

Light pollution limiting night-sky views (Brady Dennis, Portland Press Herald/Washington Post)
The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness (Fabio Falchi et al., Science Advances)

You can learn a lot more about the unexpectedly scary effects of light pollution on animals and us in a longer, more in-depth video from Seeker.
Light Pollution Is More Dangerous Than You Think

Since the atlas was published in 2016, the problem has only gotten worse. Here’s a recent 360° video from CNN that discusses the problem and explains how a group called the International Dark Sky Association is trying to improve the situation by establishing Dark Sky Places in remote locations like Utah’s Zion National Park.

Earlier this year there was also a viral video that showed how the sky over New York City would look without the glow of lights blocking out the view. Here’s a story that includes the original Vimeo video that went viral.
Here’s What the Stars Above NYC Would Look Like If We Could See Them (Talia Avakian, Fortune)

That viral video was the work of filmmakers Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan, and it was just the latest addition to their Skyglow Project. They were inspired by the Dark Sky Movement, and they’ve published similar videos featuring Los Angeles and other places. Here’s is a video from Wired that explains more about their work.

Now, back to how well you have seen the Milky Way.

First, it’s useful to know about the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale (Wikipedia). It’s used to rate the sky’s brightness on a scale of 1 to 9. Here’s a beautiful film entitled Lost in Light by Sriram Murali that shows the night sky as seen at different levels of the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale. Notice the Milky Way is increasingly prominent as it gets darker.

Now that you know how to quantify what you can or can not see, here’s a great Interactive Light Pollution Map where you find out how well you can see the sky from where you are now or where you’ve been. To learn about how it works, check out the Help.

If you find that you have lost the Milky Way where you are, then you can figure out the nearest place to find it by using the International Dark Sky Association’s list of International Dark Sky Parks and their handy dandy Dark Sky Place Finder.

Finally, while I was doing research for this post, I tripped over this folksy music video about light pollution. Enjoy, and don’t forget, turn the lights down, or better yet, off!

Find out more about our galaxy