Phoenix's Strip Mall Signs Are Going to Ruin Our Dark Skies

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P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF
  • P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF

The Arizona Republic ran a frightening article over the weekend about light pollution and the greater Phoenix area. The basic premise? In ten years, there will only be a few places in America where you will be able to see the Milky Way in the night sky and Tucson won't be one of them:

That's why Tucson, among other Arizona cities, implemented dark-skies-friendly lighting codes decades ago. Tucson hasn't gotten brighter in 30 years even though the population has increased 59 percent since 1980, said Katy Garmany, an associate scientist at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory outside Tucson, which just completed a study of Tucson's skyglow.

But scientists at the National Observatory on Kitt Peak estimate that if the Valley continues to brighten, they've got about 10 years left, said Garmany.

Then astronomers will have to travel to Hawaii or Chile to do certain research, such as trying to spot planets outside our solar system.

"It keeps getting brighter and brighter," Garmany said. "It's just really hard to do the cutting-edge stuff, and you have to go ... where it's darker. (Scientists) have ways of eliminating extra scattered light in the sky, but there's only so much they can do."

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