What you can see when you look up at night varies drastically depending on your location. And if you happen to live in a dense urban area, you might not see any stars at all. This is the result of light pollution, the effect of artificial light spilling into the environment and blocking out the natural light of the night sky.
In the above video, photographer Siram Murali documented different levels of light pollution across California (along with one location in Oregon), revealing how modern civilization has dramatically changed what we can see at night.
Murali picked the locations in the video based on their Bortle scale ranking, which classifies night sky visibility from level one (excellent) to level nine (inner-city sky). The first shot shows the view from San Jose, with a level eight ranking, and works up through locations at each level, eventually culminating with an epic view from Death Valley, a level one. Seeing the progression of visibility from one site to the next makes the images of a clear night sky all the more impressive.
What’s also striking is how far light pollution reaches. Even the remote locations of Lassen and Crater Lake national parks rank a two and a three, respectively. This is a reminder that some 80 percent of the world’s population can’t see the Milky Way, and a whopping 99 percent of U.S. and European Union residents experience some amount of light pollution.
If there is a positive to take away from Murali’s work, however, it’s that a clear view of the night sky is still accessible. While we don’t all have a Death Valley in our home states, if you can’t look up from your back porch and see the stars, a short drive can at least bring you to a place with less light pollution.
It’s perhaps a bit ironic that by stepping out of the light, we can actually see more.