Light causes fight in Arizona Sarah Conant, creative specialist at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., adjusts one of the telescopes on the campus Wednesday, March 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca/Jake Bacon /The Daily News-Sun via AP)
Light causes fight in Arizona

Arizona has long been a haven for astronomers who take advantage of its mountain peaks and vast stretches of dark, desert sky to gaze at stars and planets. The state is also home to a thriving billboard industry, whose signs light up a vast network of freeways.
The two industries have long clashed, and they are in the midst of another fight in the Arizona Legislature.
A bill would allow electronic billboards to shine in two counties in the western part of the state, where they have been banned under a 2012 agreement. The deal designates a corridor for dark skies to limit light pollution around observatories.
Astronomers say the exemption will threaten dark skies, but billboard makers don't believe it will hurt the industry. The House passed the bill on a 32-26 vote, and it now moves to the Senate.
Just what is Arizona's dark sky corridor? It is a zone created to protect the night sky from street lights, electronic signs and other sources of excess artificial light, known as light pollution. It is basically a buffer surrounding the state's main observatories.
Astronomers and others use the corridor to observe the night sky for research, stargazing, GPS monitoring and even national defense purposes, said Jeffrey Hall, director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.
The 2012 agreement allows electronic billboards in Phoenix and some western parts of the state along Interstates 8 and 10. Phoenix billboards were exempt because the metro area already emits vast amounts of light, so a change would not make a difference for dark skies.
Arizona is home to three of the country's largest telescopes - at Lowell Observatory, Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson and Mount Graham National Observatory near Safford.
The astronomy industry has capital investments totaling $1.3 billion in Arizona as of 2008, and it spends an additional $250 million annually, Hall said.
Hall says the measure would renege on the 2012 compromise and could lead to fewer limits on light pollution in the future.
"It sends a very bad message to future, potential investors that Arizona is slowly loosening its restrictions that the Arizona dark sky community depends on," he said.
The proposal would allow electronic billboards along the Interstate 15 corridor in the northwest corner of the state that could impair a park with a dark sky designation, said John Barentine, program manager with the Dark-Sky Association.
Dark sky advocates are concerned light that the signs emit could affect the sensitive technologies used to look at distant celestial bodies.
Concessions made in the 2012 agreement force the billboard industry to dim their displays at night and shut them off after 11 p.m.
Billboard companies, including industry giant Lamar Advertising, now want to loosen some of those restrictions. Tim La Sota, who represents the company, said Mohave and La Paz counties fall outside the buffer zone for observatories and were largely left out of discussions on the deal.
La Sota said dark sky advocates don't have to worry about electronic billboards in rural areas.
"People aren't going to put these billboards out on an untraveled country road. It doesn't make any commercial sense," he said.
Billboard companies would most likely build new electronic signs along Interstate 40, Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 93 around Kingman and Bullhead City.

Filed Under:  
Assigned 19 times
Why is there so little light pollution in Arizona?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • ryand-lam
    3/11/2016 - 10:50 a.m.

    There is so little light pollution in Arizona because they have restrictions on the amount of light around these corridors and such and because it is an open and in some places uninhabited land. It also has a flat and dry dessert land making it very very good for telescopes and such.

  • daned-lam
    3/11/2016 - 10:51 a.m.

    I can see why there is so much light pollution, many buildings and signs use maybe too much light to attract customers or to see outside when dark, but it could be a bad thing, it could throw people off their sleep patterns if it gets too bright.

  • cassidyl-pla
    3/14/2016 - 08:48 a.m.

    This article is about the fight going on between astronomers and billboard companies in Arizona. Arizona is a great place to observe the stars, but with the light up billboards taking over scientists are having a harder and harder time being able to observe them. A bill was passed in the house and is now moving to the senate about restrictions on billboard companies so they can't interfere with the scientist's work as much, such as making the billboards dimmer and turning them off after 11 pm. This relates to civic engagement because it's an argument between science and billboards. While billboards are fighting that they need to advertise and it's their right to have the light-up billboards, scientists are arguing that they want to be able to view the stars and the billboards mess with their sensitive equipment. This has been done maturely, however, with them taking legal measures to try to get the billboards regulated instead of other ways.

  • emilym2-pla
    3/14/2016 - 10:23 a.m.

    This article is talking about how in Arizona the brightness of billboards crashed causing a new bill trying to pass through the legislature. There are many astronomers in Arizona that depend on the dark desert skies to see the stars. With the bright billboards trying to be placed on country roads the darkness will be lost. Commercially putting a billboard on an untraveled country road makes no sense. It involves civic engagement because it effects astronomers in Arizona, businesses, and the people because these billboards are banned in one part of Arizona. Also astronomers won't nearly have as good of sky as they need to conduct studies on stars. All of this would cause debates within the citizens of Arizona because the people have somewhat of a say in the placing of the billboards.

  • lizv-pla
    3/14/2016 - 11:51 a.m.

    Summary - Recently astronomers and the billboard industry have been colliding in Arizona over the mountain reigns where there are highways. The astronomers are afraid of the "light pollution" from the lights from the billboards. Previously strict limitations on the billboards were upheld but now the billboard industry wishes to loosen the reins for business reasons.
    Civic Engagement - This shows though the government may not be directly involved in the beginning of the issue it is now being brought to their attention. This leads up to questions of maybe this issue could have been avoided if the government did not agree to build a highway in the area that is most invested by astronomers who need the dark for their research. This shows the importance of the need to stay updated and informed about our what is going on in our politics because often before states insert a highway they hold open meetings for the community to express their opinion and also because as a democracy we are in control of who we put into office so we must be aware of what they value and make sure it fits with our own.

  • matts-pla
    3/14/2016 - 09:46 p.m.

    The billboard industry has purposed a bill in Arizona to put up electric billboards in two counties. Although local astronomers are afraid that thee signs will disrupt the current dark sky corridor which is currently set in place so that Astronomers can study the night sky,as well as GPS monitoring for national security. As citizens of the United States this is an issue that all people should engage themselves in because this is directly related to our technological advancement as well as our national security.

  • 20-sam-mar
    3/15/2016 - 11:43 a.m.

    The reason why there is so little light pollution is because the astronomers observe space from Arizona and they want clear sky's so they can observe easier.

  • 5-sidni-mar
    3/15/2016 - 11:48 a.m.

    There is so little light pollution in Arizona because they limit the lights used at night. Because they limit the lights uses in the evening you can see the stars and night sky better because there are no other lights all around you. Its like when you look out the window and the light are on you mostly see you, but when the lights are off you can clearly see outside. In the article it says "Arizona has long been a haven for astronomers who have taken advantage of its mountain peaks and vast stretches of, dark desert sky to gaze at stars and planets."

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    3/15/2016 - 05:52 p.m.

    Having too much light can be both a good and a bad thing. It can be good for businesses attracting customers. It can be a bad thing when people are up all night due to bright lights shining in their eyes.

  • farisp-pla
    3/18/2016 - 01:54 a.m.

    For numerous years, the astronomers of Arizona as well as the billboard industry have been clashing with the availability of advertising space out on highways between counties. The astronomers argue that putting up more bill boards on the selected highways between counties will increase the amount of light pollution,therefore decreasing the visibility of the night sky and its stars.
    The billboard industry representatives resent that argument, saying the putting up more billboard advertisements will not enforce more light pollution to distract the astronauts from there studies. For civic engagement, I do believe this issue should also be taken to the public my favorable vote. The environment is a precious commodity and we should decide with the input of everyone what to do with it. This issue may also get people to be more involved in their community, have everyone do research into the environment and the best way to use it.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment