The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History announced March 23 as the date it will open “Lights Out: Recovering Our Night Sky”, a new 4,340-square-foot exhibition about the global loss of the night sky to light pollution. The Arizona town of Fountain Hills and its beautiful view of the night sky is included in the exhibition.
“We are honored to have our community be one of only thirteen of the more than 200 designated International Dark Sky Places around the world included in the exhibit,” said Fountain Hills Mayor Ginny Dickey. “We’re also proud of that designation given how rare that achievement is when adjacent to a major metropolitan area.”
The new exhibit will cover the history of lighting, the connection between humanity and the night sky, the unintended consequences of excessive outdoor lighting, and the principles that can be used to reduce light pollution. “‘Lights Out’ will give visitors the opportunity to learn what is at stake as the stars and cosmos fade from our view at night,” explained Kirk Johnson, Director of the National Museum of Natural History.
Fountain Hills is included in the exhibition to show visitors that they can find ways to experience the night sky in their own communities, wherever they are. Due to its exemplary dedication to protection of local night skies through public policy, the promotion of quality outdoor lighting, and outreach to residents and visitors, Fountain Hills can still glimpse the Milky Way, even with skyglow from nearby Phoenix. It was accredited by the International Dark-Sky Association for these efforts in 2018.
U.S. Senator Mark Kelly is one Arizonan who has an insightful perspective on light pollution. “As a pilot and commander of the Space Shuttle, I’ve seen just how bright our planet is at night,” Sen. Kelly said. “And I’m thrilled that Fountain Hills is leading the way in showing how we can protect dark night skies while growing the Arizona economy.”
A recent report found that each year, astronomy and space science in Arizona generate as much economic activity as Super Bowl host cities can expect. Arizona skies are also a boon to its tourism industry, drawing visitors from around the world.
“Dark skies are an increasingly important part of our state’s tourism offerings,” said Arizona Office of Tourism Director Lisa Urias. “Fountain Hills admirably represents Arizona at the Smithsonian, and we look forward to welcoming visitors inspired by the exhibit to come experience all our night skies have to offer.”
Development of a nonprofit STEM-based International Dark Sky Discovery Center is underway in Fountain Hills. “We are delighted to have the Smithsonian open an exhibit with the same mission of educating people about the adverse impact of excessive lighting,” said Joe Bill, President of the Discovery Center. “Detailed design is nearly complete, and we have already raised one-third of the $25 million needed for this facility.”
The planned Discovery Center has five major components supporting its educational mission. These include a Dark Sky Observatory with the largest telescope in the Greater Phoenix area, a state-of-the art Hyperspace Planetarium, a highly interactive Immersion Zone, a 150 tiered-seat theater with 8K technology, and a hands-on Einstein Exploration Station to teach the physics of light. A narrated 3D flyover of the Discovery Center, support statements from leaders throughout the state, and much more are here: darkskycenter.org
In support of the mission of the Discovery Center, the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association hosts its sixth annual Fountain Hills Dark Sky Festival on Saturday, March 25, from 4-9 P.M. Events will be held at the Fountain Hills Community Center and surrounding outdoor area at 13001 North La Montana Drive. The festival includes nationally known speakers, virtual reality experiences, meteorite and live nocturnal animal exhibits, food trucks and beer and wine garden, laser tours of the night sky, and much more. For more information about the Festival, visit fhdarksky.com/events/festival/.