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    Articles > September 2001
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  The Problem of Light Pollution
Last month Italian and US astronomers released the first World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness. The atlas shows the extent and severity of artificial sky glow, or light pollution -- a problem caused by inefficient outdoor nighttime lighting. The scientists found that half of Europe, two thirds in the US and a fifth of people in the world live where they could not see the Milky Way with the unaided eye. Also, about 99% of the US and European population and about two thirds of the World population live in areas considered light polluted.

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The problem of light pollution is an unintended consequence of poorly designed outdoor lighting fixtures and ill-conceived lighting practices in the later part of the 20th century. Rather than direct light towards the ground where it is required, many lighting fixtures allow excessive amounts of light to spill sideways and up into the night sky. This causes the artificial sky glow that hangs over populated regions that in turn washes out humanity's greatest natural wonder -- our view of the Universe. For the first time in history, inhabitants of major cities are being cut-off from the beauty of the night sky.

It has been estimated that 30% of all US outdoor lighting is directed skyward as waste light at an annual cost of $1.5 billion dollars in wasted electricity, energy that required the burning of 6 million tons of coal to produce in the first place. Waste light is wasted energy that serves no useful purpose and needlessly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Light pollution is a problem for all of us, not just astronomers. You can help solve this problem!

Light-pollution activists in Connecticut were behind that state's recent decision to replace over 180,000 of its existing streetlight fixtures with glare-free, energy- and sky-friendly light fixtures as the old ones wear out.

Organizations such as the International Dark-Sky Association and the Campaign for Dark Skies (UK) raise awareness of the problem and educate communities worldwide about practical solutions. The IDA Web site at http://www.darksky.org is an excellent source of information and news on the subject. Visit the IDA Web site and support their endeavors by becoming a member. Join now!

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