Some 99 percent of the world's skies are polluted with light, scientists say -- meaning some man-made form of brightness has overshadowed the night sky's brilliance across most of the planet. That means health impacts on plants, animals and humans, and, of course, an utter loss of natural beauty as we lose the ability to see the constellations.
But according to a new study published in the journal Park Science, national parks -- especially those far removed from urban areas -- could be the last bastion of true darkness we have left and a model for what humanity should aspire to.
Led by Robert Manning, a researcher at the University of Vermont, the study deems the night skies a "new" park resource that can draw visitors to protected spaces, like the 59 national parks currently operating in the U.S.
Only one-third of Americans can still see the Milky Way from their homes these days, so Manning and his team conducted a study at Acadia National Park to see how important seeing the cosmos was to visitors. Unsurprisingly, a vast majority said yes, night sky viewing is important, and the National Park Service should protect opportunities to see it.
"There is a growing consciousness in the U.S. about the disappearance of naturally dark skies that's kind of paradoxical," Manning told the Los Angeles Times. "It's one of those things that we start to notice only when it begins to disappear."
But what's to be done? Actually, a lot.
The study found quite a bit of light pollution comes from large cities, as expected. And lights pointed up toward the sky or sideways could be contributing far more to the problem than those pointed down at the ground. The researchers point toward a collaborative effort between Acadia and the neighboring town of Bar Harbor, Maine, to help cut back on intrusive light pollution into the park as a successful means of restoring peak darkness.
Simple acts, like cutting back on headlamps and flashlight use inside the parks can also make a big difference. Fortunately, unlike other environmental problems, light pollution is actually solvable.
"Night skies [are] a good example of where progress is being made and a lot more progress can be made," Manning said. "Unlike a lot of other environmental problems, light pollution is reversible."
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