Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Night Sky

Turn off or shield your outside lights downward 
Left unshielded, they ruin the starry night sky and annoy your neighbors. Light glare going upward doesn’t help deter crime. Keep the night sky available for everyone.

April 2017 night sky

—Charlie Christmann

Dark skies:

It seems we are getting some new residents in Placitas. Welcome—the night sky is beautiful out here. But with these new residents moving to the quiet country, there seem to be some lingering city habits. Often newcomers can be found guilty of leaving their outside lights on when they are not outside using them.

In just March, I received two emails and a phone call asking how to get the neighbors to either properly shield their lights, or get them to turn them off. The first step, of course, is to politely talk to them, perhaps even offer to help them with acquiring new fixtures. The next thing to try is to remind them that New Mexico does have a Dark Sky law: the New Mexico Night Sky Protection Act (NMSA Chapter 74, Article 12). Unfortunately, Sandoval County does not yet have city ordinances to help frustrated neighbors. Perhaps it is time to lobby our elected representatives for some help. Contact County Commission Chairman Don Chapman at:; Rio Rancho Mayor Greggory Hull at 891-5000; or Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres at:

According to Dark Sky NM (, “In 1999, the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance declared the New Mexico night sky one of our state's most endangered cultural resources.” The law states that compliance with the NSPA is required by the New Mexico Electrical Code. Enforcement of the Night Sky Protection Act is the responsibility of the Construction Industries and Manufactured Housing Division of the State of New Mexico's Regulation and Licensing Department. You can contact the  Division Director, Mr. Pat McMurray, at 476-4700, or the Electrical Bureau Chief, Mr. Kelly Hunt at 476-4679.

The Preservation Society’s statement has certainly shown itself to be true in Placitas where the lights of Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, and Bernalillo are spewing light pollution and blotting much of the southern and southwestern stars. Even closer to home, residents are installing floodlights, naked fluorescent bulbs, and street lamps. Not only do these pollute the night sky, destroying our view of the stars, they send glare into your neighbors’ homes. As the weather warms up this spring and summer, more people open their windows at night to let the breeze into the room. With inconsiderate neighbors, their outside lights blast into living rooms, bedrooms, and on to once-dark patios where the glare blinds those trying to enjoy the dark sky vistas.

For some great tips on preserving the night sky and what types of lights and fixtures are neighbor- and sky-friendly, see the International Dark-Skies Association’s website at

NASA’s big announcements:

Last month, just before my Signpost article deadline, NASA reported a big announcement was coming in late February. Well, it was big news: seven newly discovered earth-sized planets! The biggest news was that three of those planets were in the “Goldilocks Zone,” where liquid water could exist on the surface. NASA believes that where there is liquid water, there could be life.

The host star, TRAPPIST-1, is relatively close, only 39 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The planets are named TRAPPIST-1b through TRAPPIST-1h (the letter “a” refers to the star itself). The discovery was made by a team lead by Michael Gillon, an astronomer from the University of Liege in Belgium using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) from the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Forget trying to see the star and planets with your backyard telescope. TRAPPIST-1 is a small red dwarf—very dim and cool. The star is 12 times less massive than the Sun, barely larger than Jupiter.

TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g all lie in the habitable zone; “e” is the inner planet in the habitable zone and very close in size to Earth. It receives about the same amount of light as Earth having earth-like temperatures, depending upon its atmosphere. TRAPPIST-1f would seem to be a water world composed mostly of oceans in a nine-day orbit about the star. The “f” planet would be more like Mars temperature-wise. On the outside edge of the habitable zone is TRAPPIST-1g, the largest planet in the system and 13 percent bigger than Earth.

Interestingly, Dr. Gillon explains, “The planets are close enough to each other that if you were on the surface of one, you would have a wonderful view of the others. You would see them not as we see Venus or Mars from Earth (as bright stars), but as we see the Moon. They would be as large or larger than the Moon.”

Perhaps as larger telescopes become available, or the Webb Telescope is launched, we may have a chance to study the atmospheres of these planets. We might find signs of oxygen, or methane, which would be a very good sign that some type of alien life has found a home in the TRAPPIST-1 system.

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