U.S. astronomers, billboard companies clash over electronic signs

PHOENIX -- 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.

See Full Article

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 Tuesday, and it now moves to the Senate.

Here is a look at the battle between billboard makers and astronomers:

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.

WHAT'S AT STAKE FOR ASTRONOMERS?

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.

WHY NOT ALLOW ELECTRONIC BILLBOARDS?

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 lobbies for 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.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • U.S. authorities warn virtual kidnapping scams are on the rise

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- The caller who rang Valerie Sobel's cellphone had a horrifying message: "We have Simone's finger. Do you want to see the rest of her in a body bag?" Then came the sound of her daughter, screaming in terror. Source
  • Google Street View goes where no Google Street View has gone before

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Google has taken its cameras where few cameras have gone before, capturing images aboard the International Space Station. It's a first for Street View Imagery. With the help of French astronaut and aerospace engineer Thomas Pesquet, who returned to earth last month after a six-month mission, Google has charted life beyond the blue planet, collecting images of life aboard the space station. Source
  • Earth's 2017 resource 'budget' will be spent by next week: report

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Humanity will have used up its allowance of planetary resources such as water, soil, and clean air for all of 2017 by next week, said a report Tuesday. Earth Overshoot Day will arrive on August 2 this year, according to environmental groups WWF and Global Footprint Network. Source
  • 'MS Paint is here to stay': Microsoft says app will be available for free

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Fans of MS Paint will be tickled pink to find out that Microsoft is not getting rid of the program just yet. "MS Paint is here to stay," Microsoft said in a statement Monday evening following an "incredible outpouring of support and nostalgia" for the app. Source
  • Beekeepers on alert after hive-destroying beetle invades N.B.

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Beekeepers in the Maritimes are on alert after the discovery of an invasive species that can destroy beehives. The Small Hive Beetle, which is native to Sub-Saharan Africa, has been spreading in North America and was recently discovered in northern New Brunswick near the border with Nova Scotia. Source
  • Concerns raised over secretive spyware company's rumoured sale

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A prominent digital rights group is sounding the alarm after reports that a controversial developer of government-grade spy software may be up for sale. The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, whose researchers have authored multiple reports on the the misuse of spyware developed by a company called NSO Group, sent a letter to the company's rumoured buyer on Tuesday with a list of questions and concerns. Source
  • NAFTA talks: U.S. proposal for cross-border data storage at odds with B.C., N.S. law

    Tech & Science CBC News
    One of the American targets in the upcoming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement appears on a collision course with privacy laws in British Columbia and Nova Scotia. In negotiating objectives published last week, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said it wanted to "establish rules to ensure that NAFTA countries do not impose measures that restrict cross-border data flows and do not require the use of installation of local computing facilities. Source
  • Cyber staff: Wisconsin company offers to microchip employees

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A Wisconsin company is offering to microchip its employees, enabling them to open doors, log onto their computers and purchase break room snacks with a simple swipe of the hand. Three Square Market, also known as 32M, said more than 50 employees are voluntarily getting implants Aug. Source
  • Health officials warn of toxic blue-green algae in a New Brunswick lake

    Tech & Science CTV News
    FREDERICTON - Health officials in New Brunswick are warning of a blue-green algae on Nashwaak Lake in the western part of the province. Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey, the regional medical officer of health, says water from the lake should not be used for drinking or cooking, since boiling it will not remove the toxins. Source
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk clash over artificial intelligence

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Billionaire CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are trading jabs online over the future of artificial intelligence. In a Facebook Live broadcast from his backyard on Sunday, Zuckerberg, the social media network’s CEO, suggested that Musk is “irresponsible” for highlighting the dangers of AI. Source