The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

NIGHT SKIES

Stars disappearing from outside light glare, residents urged to take action

Charlie Christmann

One of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sights available to mankind is our view of the universe under a dark sky. Unfortunately, we have taken this wondrous sight for granted. Slowly but surely, the stars are disappearing. If we do not do anything to curb the growth of light pollution, not even the rural areas will be able to see more than a few stars.

Disappearing Stars

Cosmology 101 ©G. LeichnerEvery evening, light pollution is creeping into the rural sky, growing more intense all of the time. The glow from streetlights of distant towns produces a tremendous dome of light, but even that is overshadowed by private lighting. Bright, polluting lights are slipping into rural areas where there have traditionally been very few “security lights.” Cheap five-hundred-watt "security" lamps and mercury-vapor lights are appearing on many houses and in yards. While their effectiveness in preventing crime remains a matter of debate, what is a fact is that they are more than three times brighter than needed, and they have no instructions in the packaging to keep them from being a nuisance to drivers and sleeping neighbors.

Bob Mizon, director of the British Astronomical Association Campaign for Dark Skies, says in an article on the CfDS Web site (www.dark-skies.org):

For three million years, the human race has been able to look skyward on clear nights and wonder at the starry vault, crossed by the Milky Way (our own galaxy seen from inside), the slowly moving planets and the occasional flash of a meteor plowing through the atmosphere high above. These sights have been, since about 1950, gradually taken away from us by the baleful glow of wasted light, escaping from poorly aimed and often over-bright artificial lamps, to be scattered by airborne particles and aerosols. Over great cities, towns and even small villages, light pollution robs us, in the last millisecond of its journey, of light which may have traveled for hundreds, thousands or even millions of years to reach our planet. … Are we cutting ourselves off from the direct experience of the rest of the universe?

Not too many years ago, the commonplace sight of the Milky Way galaxy stretched overhead. Today, over 90 percent of the population has never seen the Milky Way from their backyards. This happened because of badly located lights, poorly chosen fixtures, and the use of excessively bright lights. The awe and wonder of the universe is being lost to the younger generations.

    Security Lighting or Not

Do these so-called security lights help to prevent crimes? Floodlights—those with excessively bright bulbs in them—not only damage your wallet by running your electric meter faster but, more importantly, they impair the vision of potential witnesses to crime on your premises. Extra lighting can also make an area less secure by allowing criminals to see their target clearly, and so get in and get out fast.

So, why do people have security lights? The most common argument is that people are scared of the dark, possibly an evolutionary irrationality from when mankind was not the top predator. But I assure you that the coyotes do not need any light to hunt rabbits; they have been doing that in the dark for centuries.

However, more lighting and darker skies are not mutually exclusive! The use of modern full cut-off lighting would make our streets brighter and our skies darker.

    Sandoval Skies

In Sandoval County, the rural skies are becoming filled with all types of lights. Of course the largest source is Albuquerque. The light dome over the city blots out most of the stars from the southern horizon to about thirty degrees above the horizon. Rio Rancho’s expansion west of Bernalillo is starting to fill that portion of the sky with a blinding light dome. If you look to the north, Santa Fe is also producing a light dome cutting a swath of stars in the northeastern sky.

Then there are the signs that illuminate large parcels around them in the name of commerce. If you have driven along I-40 west of Albuquerque at night, there is no way to miss the large brilliant sign on the casino. Not only does it destroy the night sky around it but it is a real hazard for motorists who are temporally blinded by it.

It seems that all of the casinos are putting up big, bright, bold signs to attract business. Casinos are also using searchlights shining upwards into the sky. These are the worst type of lighting possible for polluting the sky.

Finally, private homes are using more and more exterior high-power lighting, including mercury vapor, sodium vapor, and quartz halogen. If people are so afraid of the dark, perhaps they should return to the safe confines of the well-lit big city and leave the dark-night-loving inhabitants with their view of the stars.

    Sandoval Dark Sky Protection

It seems that our elected officials are deaf to our requests for saving the night from uncontrolled lights. And the Indian casinos just do not seem to care. It is time to let our concerns be heard! Write letters and make phone calls to those who are polluting our skies. Tell them to halt the spotlights, tone down the signs, and use proper fixtures to keep light on the ground. Or better yet, ask that they turn off the lights completely.

Below are the addresses and phone numbers to write or call to stop the obtrusive lighting:

    Sandoval County:
    P.O. Box 40 Bernalillo, NM 87004
    Phone: 867-7500 Fax: 867-7600

    City of Rio Rancho
    Mr. Jim Owen, Mayor
    3900 Southern Boulevard, Rio Rancho, NM 87124
    Phone: (505) 891-5001 Fax: (505) 891-7274

    Santa Fe
    Larry A. Delgado, Mayor
    200 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe, NM 87501
    Phone (505) 955-6590 Fax: (505) 955-6695

    Casino Hollywood
    5 Hagen Road
    San Felipe, NM 87001
    Phone: 867-6700

I would like to thank Bob Mizon, director for the Campaign for Dark Skies for allowing me to use information from the group’s Web site in this article.

    The Stars and Moon

  • Mercury is lost in the glare of the morning sun all month.
  • Venus is slowly sinking closer to the sun, also to be lost by the end of February.
  • Mars is to be found in the southeastern morning twilight. On February 5, look for Mars near the crescent Moon.
  • Jupiter resides in the constellation Virgo rising in the east around midnight. Look for Jupiter just east of the Moon on February 1, and again on February 27.
  • Saturn is shining in the east at sunset in the constellation Gemini. A waxing Moon will slide past Saturn on February 20.
  • The Moon is new on February 8 and full on February 23.

E-mail your questions and comments to: Charlie Christmann at sandovaldarksky@yahoo.com.

 

 

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