Twinkle, twinkle fading stars: Hiding in our brighter skies

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. dim / dɪm / (adj.) – not shining brightly

    Compared to light bulbs, candles give out a dim light.

  2. amateur / ˈæm əˌtʃʊər / (adj.) – done as a hobby not a job, and usually by untrained people

    A lot of amateur artists became famous because of YouTube.

  3. twilight / ˈtwaɪˌlaɪt / (n.) – the period just before it completely gets dark in the evening

    As a kid, I used to play outside the house until before twilight.

  4. locality / loʊˈkæl ɪ ti / (n.) – a specific place or area

    The new train station will benefit the nearby localities.

  5. constellation / ˌkɒn stəˈleɪ ʃən / (n.) – a group of stars that forms a pattern or shape and has been given a name

    It’s easier to find constellations when it’s really dark.


Read the text below.

Every year, the night sky grows brighter, and the stars look dimmer.

A new study that analyzes data from more than 50,000 amateur stargazers finds that artificial lighting is making the night sky about 10% brighter each year.

That’s a much faster rate of change than scientists had previously estimated looking at satellite data. The research, which includes data from 2011 to 2022, is published in the journal Science.

“We are losing, year by year, the possibility to see the stars,” said Fabio Falchi, a physicist at the University of Santiago de Compostela, who was not involved in the study.

“If you can still see the dimmest stars, you are in a very dark place. But if you see only the brightest ones, you are in a very light-polluted place,” he said.

As cities expand and put up more lights, “skyglow” or “artificial twilight,” as the study authors call it, becomes more intense.

The 10% annual change “is a lot bigger than I expected — something you’ll notice clearly within a lifetime,” said Christopher Kyba, a study co-author and physicist at the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam.

Kyba and his colleagues gave this example: A child is born where 250 stars are visible on a clear night. By the time that child turns 18, only 100 stars are still visible.

“This is real pollution, affecting people and wildlife,” said Kyba, who said he hoped that policymakers would do more to curb light pollution. Some localities have set limits.

The study data from amateur stargazers in the nonprofit Globe at Night project was collected in a similar fashion. Volunteers look for the constellation Orion – remember the three stars of his belt – and match what they see in the night sky to a series of charts showing an increasing number of surrounding stars.

Prior studies of artificial lighting, which used satellite images of the Earth at night, had estimated the annual increase in sky brightness to be about 2% a year.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Scientists are hoping that policymakers would do more to curb light pollution. If you were to make laws, how would you address this (ex. residential areas should be less bright, lights on the 5th floor and above should be turned off when no one is around)? Discuss.
  • There is a steady annual increase in sky brightness. How do you think this will affect future generations? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • The article said that every year, the night sky grows brighter and the stars look dimmer. Have you noticed this in your area? What have you observed? Discuss.
  • Do you prefer a dimmer night or a bright night? Why? Discuss.