Sandoval Signpost

 

An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Night Sky
 

Turn off or shield your outside lights downward. 
Unshielded, they ruin the night sky, annoy your neighbors, and don’t help with crime.
Keep the starry skies available to everyone.

January 2017 night sky

—Charlie Christmann

Rural Skies:

Winter is my favorite time of the year to go outside and look at the night sky. The cold air calms the atmosphere and makes observing fun—even if it is a bit cold. No one can miss Orion rising midevening in the east, followed by Sirius, the Dog Star, an hour later.

Unless one has the luxury of getting far away from cities, our home galaxy, the Milky Way, might be forgotten; many children have never seen the ribbon of stars overhead. Even in rural areas, the stars are slowly fading as the light domes created by the growing city lights spill over. If trends continue, only in the most remote locations will one have a chance of seeing the sky as our ancestors saw it.

It seems here in rural Sandoval County, especially in Placitas, we have some new arrivals to our community. Many of them bring habits from the city that do not integrate well here. In particular is the habit of turning on outdoor lights each evening. The cities are bright anyway, a little extra illumination from the porch lights make little difference there. But here, where the light level is low, it makes a big difference in how we see the night sky.

To see just how bad lighting up the night can be for those who enjoy the night sky, read the article “This is How Light Pollution Affects How We See the Night Sky”—petapixel.com/2016/08/15/light-pollution-affects-see-night-sky.

Hopefully, our new residents will learn that there is little to fear from the night, and that they too want to keep skies dark and starry.

Light spew:

The website lightpollutionmap.info has a map that shows just how light polluted our urban areas are. To zoom in to southern Sandoval County, enter www.lightpollutionmap.info/#zoom=11&lat=4208178&lon=-11852388&layers=0BTFFFFF in your web browser.

The map shows the light intensity emitted from our cities and how it spills into the rural areas. Zoom out a bit and look at the size of the blob carved out from Belen to Bernalillo. In the red areas, you are lucky to see a dozen or so stars in the sky.

Look at the map again, much of Placitas and the east side of the Sandias show moderate light pollution. Even in these communities, the Milky Way is getting difficult to see, and if you can see it, much of the intricate structure is missing. If you look on the horizon south of Placitas, the lights of Albuquerque have blotted out most of the constellations up to twenty degrees above the horizon. Look north; the expanding light dome of Santa Fe is starting to erase parts of the sky.

Rural lighting pollution:

Looking around the Placitas neighborhoods, there are houses with all kinds of lights blasting photons visible for miles around. High wattage spotlights on garages point out into the night wasting most of the light that should be directed on the driveway. Around the Village of Placitas, there are several homes with an old-style, unshielded street light spewing light pollution up, down, and everywhere. There are unshielded exterior lights everywhere. But, there has been some progress. I am seeing fewer glaring lights than last year from my home.

Don’t contribute to light pollution:

So, here are some suggestions to save you energy and our skies:

  • Turn off your outside lights when you are not outside.
  • If you must have outdoor lighting, use proper shielding to direct the light toward the ground.
  • If you can see the source of the light while standing at the edge of your property, you are wasting light and likely shining it into your neighbor’s windows. This also keeps you from violating the New Mexico Dark Skies Act.
For more information, see the International Dark Skies Association website at www.darksky.org and become a better, more considerate neighbor.
 
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