The Central Arkansas Astronomical Society has expressed concern that light pollution from the new airport’s rotating beacon could interfere with its River Ridge Observatory.

The observatory, a few miles south of the airport property on the other side of the Arkansas River, has a classroom, a "club house," an amphitheater and four telescopes, two of which are robotic, and plans to build a fifth in a joint venture with Arkansas Tech University that may be used by colleges. School groups and scouts regularly have trips there, and public events are regularly held.

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It’s not under a "pristine" dark sky, club membership chairman and Little Rock attorney Bruce McMath said, but the location on West Southridge Road is a good compromise between remoteness and Internet access needed to operate the robotic telescopes. Because of development restrictions in the Lake Maumelle Watershed, the property and the sky above it haven’t changed much since the club bought it in the 1980s.

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"This is a unique public resource that has been put in place with a lot of effort by a lot of people, donations and volunteered time," McMath said. "We are concerned that the proximity to the airport, if it is fitted with a continuously operating rotating beacon, could seriously damage the utility of the River Ridge Observatory, if not destroy it. It’s not clear where we could find another location that would offer this combination of reasonably dark skies and internet access."

One of the observatory’s ongoing studies involves observing variable stars (stars with varying light emission for a number of reasons) and the flashing light of the beacon would probably disrupt any attempt at measuring the small variations in starlight, McMath said to describe one example of how the beacon would disrupt observatory operations.

The solution proposed by the astronomical society in an email sent to City Engineer Ronnie Hall is to install a beacon that is remotely activated by pilots via their airplane’s radio.

Hall said that the city was looking into the suggestion.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at joe.lamb@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)