Milky Way Galaxy over the Infinity Ring sculpture by Charles Sherman at Fountain Lake.
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Bloom Photography 

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Fountain Hills named as an International Dark Sky Community


Tara Alatorre

FOUNTAIN HILLS –  Arizona just added its fourth official Dark Sky Community; Fountain Hills will now join Flagstaff, Sedona and Oak Creek Village for officially being recognized as a community that vows to preserve dark sites through lighting policy and public awareness.

The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) designated Fountain Hills as a Dark Sky Community earlier this January, making it only the second city in the nation to earn the title that is also located near a major metropolitan area.  Fountain Hills is approximately 30 miles northeast of the fifth-largest city in the nation, Phoenix, and is now one of only 17 cities in the world to achieve the official title.

“Today’s announcement of the accreditation of Fountain Hills, at the edge of one of the country’s most populous urban centers, is an important moment for the movement to preserve dark skies in the American West,” said IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend. “Given the explosive growth of Western cities in recent decades, this outcome is a significant and hopeful sign of progress.”

The community earned the achievement through the campaign efforts by the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association (FHDSA), a dedicated group of citizens and amateur astronomers that started pursuing the designation about three years ago.  The FHDSA worked with the town council and staff to update its outdoor lighting and sign ordinances, and educate the public on the proper LED lights that keep skies dark at night.

The town also updated its municipal lighting with special fixtures that turn downward, and the cost for installing the fixtures will be offset by the energy savings within a few years, according to town officials.

“We realized that if actions weren’t taken soon, our town would begin to have a night sky glow just like the rest of the Phoenix metropolitan area,” said Nancy Bill, FHDSA Co-Chair. “If that happened, we would no longer be able to enjoy the wonders of the night sky and the effect would be detrimental to both humans and wildlife.”
Research from studies conducted by Harvard and the American Medical Association suggest that exposure to artificial light at night can be harmful to humans and animals; particularly blue light, which is most outdoor LED lighting, computer screens, TV and other electronic displays.

“The most important point we emphasize is that we do not suggest that anyone have inadequate or no lighting at all,” explained FHDSA Co-Chair Joe Bill. “We only ask that outdoor lighting be shielded to avoid light trespass and that it be a warmer color temperature. LEDs are fine, just not the bright white ones.”

The town’s lighting strategy worked, not only did Fountain Hills become a Dark Sky Community, but a member of the Fountain Hills Astronomy Club discovered 47 asteroids, and named one of them Fountain Hills.

“It really is possible to do astronomy here,” said FHDSA Board Member Ted Blank, a NASA Solar System Ambassador and co-founder of the Fountain Hills Astronomy Club.
For Valley residents wanting to experience nighttime dark skies, the Fountain Hills Astronomy Club and the local library offer monthly star parties where people can experience the constellations, without the nuisance of light pollution.  The Fountain Hills Library offers three telescopes that can be checked out just like books thanks to a donation from FHDSA board member Dr. Craig Gimbel.

Fountain Hills is planning its first dark sky festival for April 21, 2018. Looking even further into the future, plans are underway to potentially bring a privately funded public observatory to Fountain Hills.

“The Town of Fountain Hills is proud to join the other communities in the world that have been awarded this distinct honor,” said Mayor Linda Kavanagh. “Town leaders have supported the concept of a dark sky community since the town’s incorporation in 1989.”