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Keywords:

  • scattering;
  • atmospheric effects;
  • light pollution;
  • site testing

We present the first World Atlas of the zenith artificial night sky brightness at sea level. Based on radiance-calibrated high-resolution DMSP satellite data and on accurate modelling of light propagation in the atmosphere, it provides a nearly global picture of how mankind is proceeding to envelop itself in a luminous fog. Comparing the Atlas with the United States Department of Energy (DOE) population density data base, we determined the fraction of population who are living under a sky of given brightness. About two-thirds of the World population and 99 per cent of the population in the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) and European Union live in areas where the night sky is above the threshold set for polluted status. Assuming average eye functionality, about one-fifth of the World population, more than two-thirds of the United States population and more than one half of the European Union population have already lost naked eye visibility of the Milky Way. Finally, about one-tenth of the World population, more than 40 per cent of the United States population and one sixth of the European Union population no longer view the heavens with the eye adapted to night vision, because of the sky brightness.