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600Dark Skies: 50 year celebration

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  • Robert Blake
    Apr 16, 2008
      from: Arizona Daily Sun

      Dark skies at 50: All win

      Tuesday, April 15, 2008

      Fifty years ago, Flagstaff adopted a pioneering outdoor lighting
      ordinance aimed at preserving the dark skies essential to the
      continued viability of area observatories. Our town was the first in
      Arizona to take such action.

      As the population grew over the years, Flagstaff strengthened its
      lighting ordinance and Coconino County enacted a very similar and
      closely coordinated measure. Flagstaff astronomers are deeply
      grateful for the support of the City, the County and our fellow
      citizens. We should not forget, however, that the benefits of the
      lighting ordinances extend beyond the observatories. For example, as
      the Dark Sky Coalition has often noted, it is not just astronomers
      who appreciate the beauty of the night sky. Unlike their urban
      cousins, our kids grow up experiencing this spectacular component of
      our natural environment.

      In addition to esthetic benefits, the Flagstaff area derives an
      ongoing financial return on its dark skies investment. Since 1958,
      Lowell has grown from approximately 15 employees to more than 70. Our
      annual operating budget of about $5 million is fueled by funds that
      primarily originate outside and are spent inside the community. The
      same can be said about the budget of the U.S. Naval Observatory
      Flagstaff Station (USNOFS).

      Encouraged by the community commitment to dark skies, both Lowell and
      USNOFS have continued to make major capital investments in Northern
      Arizona. According to a study by NAU's Center for Business Outreach,
      Lowell's Discovery Channel Telescope, now under construction near
      Happy Jack, will deliver an economic benefit to Coconino County, over
      the useful lifetime of the telescope, of nearly a half-billion
      dollars. The Navy Prototype Optical Interferometer at Anderson Mesa
      is a project of similar scale.

      Flagstaff is widely known as a community of dark skies and
      observatories. This is a rare combination that sets our town apart
      and helps draw a growing number of visitors. Last year, just under
      76,000 people visited Lowell. Most were from out of town and about
      half took part in our evening and nighttime programs. These people
      eat in Flagstaff restaurants, buy gas at our filling stations, and
      shop in our stores. Many spend the night here.

      Flagstaff has demonstrated that astronomer-friendly outdoor lighting
      is safe, attractive, and effective. It also is cost-effective. A
      recent study by Chris Luginbuhl and Wes Lockwood estimates that, if
      Flagstaff's current lighting standards were achieved throughout
      Arizona, energy consumption would be reduced by 360 million kilowatt-
      hours per year at a cost savings of $30 million annually. Nearly
      200,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide would go into the atmosphere.

      Indeed, it is essential that better outdoor lighting controls be
      enacted statewide. The burgeoning population growth in the Valley and
      in Pinal County is already adversely affecting Kitt Peak National
      Observatory west of Tucson. Even from Anderson Mesa, on any clear
      dark night, one can easily see the ominous glow from the Phoenix area
      climbing above the southern horizon. At stake is the state's widely
      acknowledged premier position in optical astronomy and the
      corresponding large contribution in dollars and jobs to Arizona's
      economy. (Visit the website of the Arizona Arts, Sciences, and
      Technology Academy for details.) This story will have a happy ending
      only if Arizona's political and business leaders engage this issue
      seriously and soon.

      Let's all take pride in Flagstaff's designation as the First
      International Dark Sky City and give thanks for the wisdom of City
      and County leaders who, over the past half-century, took important
      steps to preserve the glory of the nighttime heavens for us all.

      Bob Millis is the director of Lowell Observatory.

      PS: I used to know Bob Millis as a nodding acquaintance---years after
      I had given the tours for a year during my masters work at Northern
      Arizona University. I don't shop at much at the uphill Basha's
      grocery anymore. R Blake