The Malta Independent 27 May 2019, Monday

Milky Way no longer perceptible from 89% of Malta because of light pollution

Saturday, 18 June 2016, 09:30 Last update: about 4 years ago

An international scientific paper released on Friday has found that Malta suffers so heavily from light pollution that the glowing band of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is no longer perceptible from 89% of Malta.

The report — which appears in the journal Science Advances — is based on new satellite data and special software.

According to the report, “The countries with the largest part of their territory where the Milky Way is hidden by light pollution are Singapore and San Marino (100%), Malta (89%), West Bank (61%), Qatar (55%), Belgium and Kuwait (51%), Trinidad and Tobago and the Netherlands (43%), and Israel (42%).”

More than one-third of the world's population can no longer see the Milky Way because of man-made lights.

Among those also missing out on awe-inspiring Milky Way views are nearly 80 percent of North Americans and 60 percent of Europeans.

More than four-fifths of Earthlings now live beneath skies polluted by artificial light, which blocks out the Milky Way for more than a third of them, according to the research.

"I hope that this atlas will finally open the eyes of people to light pollution," lead author Fabio Falchi said in a statement. He is with the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in northern Italy.

Tiny Singapore is the most light-polluted country; the entire population loses out on seeing the true night sky. Kuwait and Qatar are close runners-up. On the opposite end of the spectrum — countries whose populations are exposed to the least light pollution — are Chad, Central African Republic and Madagascar.

Falchi and his team members warn the problem affects more than astronomers. It's profoundly altered a fundamental human experience, namely that of pondering the night sky.

Co-author Christopher Elvidge, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information in Boulder, Colorado, bemoans the fact that "whole generations" of Americans have never seen the Milky Way.

"It's a big part of our connection to the cosmos — and it's been lost," he said in a statement.

The situation is even worse for some animals. Artificial light can confuse insects, birds and sea turtles, with deadly results. There's also the waste of energy and money, the researchers point out.

The National Park Service's Dan Duriscoe, a co-author, noted that some national parks in the West like Yellowstone are among the last refuges of darkness in the U.S. Urban light a few hundred miles away or more can spoil night-time vistas, even in pristine federal land like Death Valley National Park in Southern California.

 

Malta: just a glow from space

In 2012 NASA released night time imagery of the central Mediterranean region shot by astronauts on board the International Space Station.

The photo shows the Italian peninsula and the night lights of Rome and Naples as well as those of Palermo and Catania in Sicily are instantly recognisable. And so are Malta and Gozo, to the lower left of the image.

Alexei Pace, for the Light Pollution Awareness Group of the Astronomical Society of Malta said at the time that we should be ashamed that Malta is seen as one big glow from space - aerial photos at night illustrate the sheer waste of energy from our over-illuminated buildings and roads. “Floodlighting should be directed downwards and not into the night sky.  Countryside roads should not be lit but good use of reflective cats’ eyes should be made in all ODZ areas,” he said.

Mr Pace also said that non-essential lighting (churches, sports grounds, buildings etc.) should be switched off after a few hours.  This will save energy, reduce carbon emissions, bring back the night sky into the cities and limit the development of ODZ areas.  Action is required from the authorities to protect our dark-sky heritage in the few pristine areas left in North West Malta as was done in Gozo and Comino in the 2006 local plan.

The night-time panorama of much of Europe was photographed by one of the Expedition 32 crew members aboard the International Space Station flying approximately 240 miles above the Mediterranean Sea on 18 August 2012.

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