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  Night Sky

.Enjoy our starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor: reduce nighttime glare.
Shield your outside lights downward.
Let the stars light up the night.

Night Sky

July night sky

Charlie Christmann

Keep Our Sky Dark

Yep, it’s summer time again, and the sky watching is much more pleasant than on the cold winter evenings. If you can get away from the bright lights of the big city and away from local sources of light, the sky will be full of stars. Unfortunately, we are losing our night sky, even in rural areas such as Placitas. More and more, I see porch lights and spotlights blasting photons everywhere, wasted light that pollutes our view of the stars. Even worse, those wasted photons that do little for the immediate area the homeowners and businesses want to illuminate intrude into homes, and even bedrooms where people sleep with their windows open to the cool night breezes.

Here are some friendly tips to help keep your lights from polluting the sky and out of your neighbor’s house. First use properly covered lights that shine the light onto the ground where you actually want some light. The covers will help direct more light where you want it and keep it from those who don’t need it. Direct your lights toward the ground. A good rule of thumb is to stand at your property’s edge. If you can see the light source—the actual bulb—you are not properly controlling your lights.

Finally, think about not using floodlights at all. They don’t call them flood lights for no reason.

For more information about good   neighbor and sky-friendly lighting, go to:

The July sky

Things are not quite as hectic this month as they were in the first part of June. The sun sets around 8:15 p.m. so, hopefully you can stay up a bit later to watch the stars perform.

This month’s chart shows the sky for July 15 at 9:30 p.m. Look in the southeast for the iconic teapot of Sagittarius. The second brightest in the constellation, Nunki, resides in the handle. Residing 228 light-years from Earth, it shines 630 times brighter than our sun. It may have a dim companion star. Kraus Australis is the brightest star located where the spout meets the lower edge of the teapot. It is 145 light-years away and is the thirty-sixth brightest star in the sky.

Antares is the bright red star in the heart of Scorpio, seen in the southern sky. If Antares were to replace the sun, it would be so large that it would swallow all the inner planets, Mercury to Mars.

In the southwest, you can find Spica in Virgo. Spica looks like one star, but it is at least two stars, both larger and hotter than our sun, orbiting only eleven million miles apart. Their mutual gravity stretches each star into an egg shape as they whirl around, completing an orbit in only four days. This month Mars and Saturn reside in Virgo.

Above Spica, high in the southwest, is Arcturus in Bootes. This star is moving fast, slicing perpendicularly across the galactic plane at more than 270,000 miles per hour. In about a million years, we will no longer be able to see Arcturus with our naked eyes.

Almost directly across the sky in the northwest is Vega in Lyra. Fourteen-thousand years ago, Vega was the “North Star” and will be again in about eleven-thousand years as the Earth’s axis wobbles.

Lower in the northwest is Deneb in Cygnus. At 1,425 light-years, its extreme luminosity, 54,400 times our sun, makes it among the brightest stars in the Galaxy.

Finally, mid-way up in the west is Atair in Aquila. In 2007, University of Michigan astronomers combined light from four telescopes to produce the first picture showing surface details on Altair. Their images may have been a bit blurry, as Altair rotates at 638,000 mph at its equator, roughly sixty times faster than our home star.

Altair, Deneb, and Vega form the Summer Triangle. Around midnight during the summer months, the Summer Triangle lies virtually overhead at mid-northern latitudes.

So, go outside this month and explore the dark night sky.

The Planets and Moon

  • Mercury may be briefly visible just after sunset in the west the first week of the month. Look low near the horizon.
  • Venus is a morning star peeking above the horizon in the east about 4:00 a.m. on the first of the month and 3:00 a.m. at the end of the month. Jupiter can be seen five degrees above Venus on the first with Aldebaran to the lower left of Venus.
  • Mars is mid-way up in the southwest after sunset. Look for the Mars-Moon conjunction on the 24th.
  • Jupiter rises at 3:30 a.m. in the east early in the month and about 2:00 a.m. late in the month. On the fifteenth, an hour before sunrise, and look for bright Venus below the Moon, and Jupiter to the Moon’s upper right. After sunrise, the challenge is to find them using binoculars.
  • Saturn is mid-way up in the southwest after sunset.
  • The Moon is full on the third and new on the 18th.
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