The Blackout That Showed Los Angeles Residents a Sky They Had Never Seen Before

In 1994, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake rumbled through Los Angeles at 4:30 a.m. The shaking woke residents, who discovered the power had gone out citywide. Some left their houses or peered outside to check on the neighborhood. It was eerily dark — no streetlights and few cars at that late hour. They looked up at the sky and it was flush with cosmic bodies that had been invisible up to that point — twinkling stars, clustered galaxies, distant planets, even a satellite or two. Then some people became nervous. What was that large silvery cloud that trailed over the city? It looked so sinister they called 911. It turns out that the cloud was actually the Milky Way and residents had never seen it before because of the lights of the city. According to the International Dark Sky Association, the sky glow of Los Angeles is visible from an airplane 200 miles away. Places like this mean that a full two-thirds of Americans living under orange domes of artificial light have lost the ability to see the Milky Way. There are some trade-offs to limiting light pollution. Without electric light, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy outdoor baseball games on summer nights and we wouldn’t have Las Vegas. On the other hand, we’re losing our mythical and ancient connection with the night sky.