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

  • 11 endangered wild elephants rescued from mud in Cambodia

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Eleven endangered wild elephants were rescued in Cambodia on Saturday, four days after getting stuck in a 3-meter-deep mud hole, officials said. The animals were rescued in northeastern Mondulkiri province, home to about 250 wild elephants, said Wildlife Alliance official Bothmroath Lebun. Source
  • How lasers, environmentalists and Google combine to reduce methane emissions

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A new project has brought together university researchers, an environmental organization and Google to help find and track methane leaks in U.S. cities. Methane, a natural gas, is commonly used as an energy and heating source, but also makes up about 25 per cent of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Source
  • Another reason to flip the off switch for Earth Hour: light pollution

    Tech & Science CTV News
    For the 11th year running, cities worldwide will turn their lights off Saturday to mark Earth Hour in a global call to action on climate change. But the moment of darkness should also serve as a reminder, activists say, of another problem that gets far less attention: light pollution. Source
  • Black hole gets unusual 'kick' out of galaxy core thanks to gravitational waves

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A team of international researchers got a bit of a shock recently when a supermassive black hole — something that normally anchors the centre of a galaxy — was spotted speeding away from its home. The reason? Gravitational waves, says the research team. Source
  • Bad breath: Study finds array of bacteria when orcas exhale

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SEATTLE -- When the mighty orca breaks to the surface and exhales, the whale sprays an array of bacteria and fungi in its his breath, scientists said, some good, and some bad such as salmonella. Source
  • Trump's proposed NASA cuts take aim at Earth science

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Officials at NASA were delighted that U.S. President Donald Trump's budget proposal allocates $19.1 billion for the agency, down only 0.8 per cent from last year, but the proposal also cuts several programs to study the Earth. Source
  • 'Call of Duty' gamers converge on Toronto for national championship

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TORONTO -- Many people have a go-to tool at work. For Andrew Ivers, it's a KBAR-32 this weekend. The 19-year-old from Toronto is a professional gamer who hopes to use his virtual assault rifle to help Team GIRG win the Cineplex WorldGaming "Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare" tournament final Sunday. Source
  • Apple: Software flaws in latest WikiLeaks docs are all fixed

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Apple said purported hacking vulnerabilities disclosed by WikiLeaks this week have all been fixed in recent iPhones and Mac computers. The documents released by the anti-secrecy site Thursday morning pointed to an apparent CIA program to hack Apple devices using techniques that users couldn't disable by resetting their devices. Source
  • Spacewalking astronauts prep space station for new parking spot

    Tech & Science CBC News
    ?Spacewalking astronauts prepped the International Space Station on Friday for a new parking spot reserved for commercial crew capsules. The 402-kilometre-high complex already has one docking port in place for the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner, which should start carrying up astronauts as early as next year. Source
  • Skin powered by the sun? Prosthetic limbs with better sense of touch being developed

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Amputees with prosthetic limbs may soon have much a better sense of touch, temperature and texture, thanks to the energy-saving power of the sun, British researchers said on Thursday. While prosthetics are usually fully powered using batteries, a new prototype from University of Glasgow researchers opens up the possibility for so-called "solar-powered skin," which would include better sense capabilities than current technology. Source