Dark Sky: Busting some common myths

When Fountain Hills earned its designation as an International Dark Sky Community, it was only the 17th community in the world to do so. From its inception, the town’s lighting code did much to minimize excessive light pollution. In addition, its protection from the lights of the Phoenix metro area by the McDowell Mountains has given Fountain Hills a unique opportunity to curb light pollution into the foreseeable future.

In the year since becoming a Dark Sky Community, many questions have been raised that deserve to be answered. Misinformation is the king of social media and too many inaccurate conclusions have been drawn about what being a Dark Sky Community actually means. There are seven myths that regularly paint the wrong picture about our prestigious designation:

Myth #1: There are no lights in the Fountain Park playground because we are a Dark Sky Community. This playground has been around much longer than the one year since the designation. If the town were to place lights in the playground, it would not be a problem so long as they were compliant with Town Code.

Myth #2: We don’t have street lights because we are a Dark Sky Community. Again, this decision is older than the designation. If the town feels more street lights are needed, they could be installed without hindering our designation, so long as they were compliant with Town Code.

Myth #3: If I don’t leave my outdoor lights on all night, my property will be more susceptible to crime. There is no scientific evidence that increased lighting deters crime. A Chicago Alley Lighting project showed a correlation between brightly lit alleys and increased crime. Some crimes, like vandalism and graffiti, thrive on nighttime lighting. Smart nighttime lighting, such as spotlighting and motion lights, offer smarter solutions and minimize light trespass.

Myth #4: The Dark Sky people don’t want any lights in our town. In no way does the Dark Sky Association advocate no or inadequate outdoor lighting. It’s all about smart lighting. This includes properly shielded lighting in the amber color range – Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) of 3,000K or less – and lighting with adaptive controls (motion and timers) so that lighting is only on when it’s needed. Following these important guidelines eliminates light trespass, which is always greatly appreciated by neighbors.

Myth #5: Being Dark Sky means we might not be allowed to have holiday lights or light our athletic fields. Not true. Lighting controlled by timers or for special events, such as the lighting of the fountain, ball fields, holiday lighting, etc., is not affected by the Town’s lighting code, nor is it a concern of the Dark Sky Association.

Myth #6: Dark Sky designation will discourage new people from moving to Fountain Hills. On the contrary, a significant number of people have bought homes here because of our beautiful dark skies. Several residents moved here so they could build backyard observatories to pursue their hobby of astrophotography. In fact, the late Dr. Charles Juels discovered 475 asteroids from his backyard, one of which has been named “Fountain Hills.”

Myth #7: Light pollution only affects astronomers. Unfortunately, light pollution affects all living things. It disrupts bird navigation, has a big impact on pollinators, causes devastating loss to the sea turtle population, and negatively affects the overall health of nocturnal animals. Bright white outdoor lights also adversely impact human health by causing sleep disruption (which leads to a wide range of health issues) and is why the American Medical Association recommends that outdoor lighting have a CCT of 3,000K or less and of course be properly shielded.

The Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association and the Town of Fountain Hills have partnered to preserve our view of the night sky for generations to come. Our children will be able to look up and see the streak of the Milky Way on a summer evening, or locate the fainter stars of Gemini in the winter. They will be able to look through binoculars and marvel at the bright and clear craters of the moon and point telescopes at Jupiter and observe some of its moons.

Learn more about efforts to reduce light pollution and preserve the night skies at the Second Annual Fountain Hills Dark Sky Festival on Saturday, March 30. Get more information at fhdarksky.com.