The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Save our starry night skies

Be a considerate neighbor: Reduce nighttime glare. Shield all your outside lights downward (or turn them off completely) and enjoy the beautiful, starry night sky.

Stargazing in the Manzano Mountains

The Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) and the Sandia Ranger District will co-host an evening of free public stargazing in the Manzanos on Saturday, August 18 and September 8, at Oak Flat Picnic Area.

The dark skies of the East Mountains and the large telescopes of TAAS astronomers together provide great views of planets, as well as more elusive deep-sky objects such as galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.

Observing begins at sunset, weather permitting, and is suitable for all ages. Picnic facilities are available for those who would like to come early, and adjacent parking is available. Alcoholic beverages and pets are not allowed in the telescope viewing area.

To get there, take NM Highway 337 nine miles south of the Tijeras exit on I-40, and follow the signs to Oak Flat and Juniper Loop. For information and a map, visit or call 254-TAAS. When visiting the web site, click on "Archives," then "TAAS at Oak Flat Picnic Grounds June 2003," then "Click here for a schedule of TAAS Oak Flat events for 2004."

August Night Sky
Looking South Southwest, August 21 at 9:00 p.m.

August night sky

This month features a great meteor shower and a lunar eclipse. But first, I want to address an email I received about outdoor lighting and its effect when it shines into the neighbor’s bedroom.

CS writes, “My neighbors are unfortunately inconsiderate and leave their front door light on all night… it also shines into the room where my daughters sleep.”

I am no doctor, nor am I a sleep expert, but I know how annoying it can be to those that just can’t sleep with light in the room. Lack of sleep can cause problems like lapses in concentration, poor performance, and just plain falling asleep at the wrong time. That can be dangerous and over time, it can cause health problems. Blackout shades are available and expensive. My wife and I have found that, if all else fails, an extra layer clothespinned over the existing shades on the offending window, like a black trash sack or sheet, helps, depending upon how bright the light is. The best way to handle things is to nicely ask the neighbor to be polite and turn off the light, or at least put a good shield on it to direct the light toward the ground and away from the window.

The brochure on the International Dark Sky Association’s website called “How to Talk to Your Neighbor Who Has a Bad Light” can help you get the message through. The link from their website is

Other pamphlets about good neighbor lighting and light shielding can be found at in their resource section. Or finally, hand the neighbor a copy of my last rant from the Signpost. Good luck in getting your dark back.

Get out your calendar and circle August 12. Why? The peak of the Perseid Meteor shower is predicted for the evening of 12th and the morning of the 13th. That just happens to coincide with the New Moon—that means darker skies. Bill Cook of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office is predicting “a great show.” His estimates are for one or two meteors per minute.

The Perseids originate from the dust trail left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. Even though the comet is far out in the solar system, Earth passes through this dusty trail each August. The bits that we see streaking through our atmosphere are no bigger than grains of sand, but at 132,000 miles per hour, they burn up in a spectacular fireball.

The show should begin around 9:00 p.m. MDT on Sunday. Look for grazers that just skip through the upper atmosphere like a rock on a pond. They will be few and far between, but if you are lucky enough to see one, they should be long, slow, and colorful. Even one is worth the effort. As the constellation Perseus climbs higher in the sky at about 2:00 a.m., you should be able to see dozens of fiery meteors flitting by each hour. Even though the brighter ones can be seen under city lights, your best bet is to get outside the city.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon slides into the Earth’s shadow. That means that an eclipse can only occur very near to the time of a full moon, when the Moon and the Sun are on opposite sides of the Earth. Eclipses in general are somewhat rare because everything must line up just right. This year has been special because we already have had a lunar eclipse this year in February. The next lunar eclipse will be on August 28 and New Mexico will see a total eclipse. The whole affair starts as the Moon begins to enter the penumbra, the partial part of the shadow, at 2:51 a.m. MDT. The total eclipse, the portion in the full shadow, runs from 3:52 a.m. to 5:23 a.m. The full moon occurs at 4:35 a.m. during the eclipse.

For those interested in preserving our night sky, you will want to attend the first annual Southwest Night Sky Conference on September 13 - 15 in Taos. The program is hosted by the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance and is cosponsored by the International Dark Sky Association. The brochure is available at for more information.


• Mercury is visible in the east early mornings from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. the first week of the month.
• Venus will be the morning star shining brightly in the east the last week of August.
• Mars shows itself earlier each night, rising about 1:00 a.m. Look for the waxing crescent Moon and Mars in the east about an hour before sunrise on the 7th. Mars is to the lower right of the Moon, Aldebaran is below the Moon and Capella can be found to the left of the Moon. Near the horizon will be Orion with its bright stars Beletgeuse and Rigel.
• Jupiter will be in the south southwestern sky at sunset. Watch for a conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter on the 21st. Jupiter will be seven degrees above the Moon. Antares, the heart of the Scorpion, will be between the two.
• Saturn is setting with the Sun and will be out of sight.
• The new moon is on the 12th at 5:02 p.m. and the full moon is on the 28th. Lunar apogee (farthest from the Earth) at 251,419 miles happens on the 25th and lunar perigee (nearest to Earth) at 226,287 miles is on the 30th.

If you have a question or comment for Charlie, you may email him at


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