IMAGES: Blinded by the Light

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Science  24 Aug 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5534, pp. 1407
DOI: 10.1126/science.293.5534.1407a

The Milky Way has vanished. Not because of some cosmic upheaval, but because the bright lights of our sprawling cities obscure the stars of our galaxy from the view of most Europeans and Americans. This flood of artificial light grieves astronomers because it can interfere with their observations. A new atlas compiled by scientists in Italy and the United States charts global light pollution for the first time.

Those familiar maps of white lights dotting continents at night only show the lights' location, says team member Chris Elvidge of the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. To give stargazers a more meaningful view, Elvidge and colleagues at the University of Padova in Italy used brightness measurements from U.S. Air Force satellites to calculate how far artificial light spreads as it's scattered by the atmosphere. The site includes continental maps and a few more detailed ones, for example, showing star visibility from different parts of Europe.

www.lightpollution.it/dmsp

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