The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

NIGHT SKIES

June Night Sky

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

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

Save our skies

—CHARLIE CHRISTMANN
Well, it's that time of year again. Everyone will be outside enjoying the warm summer evenings. Many will be trying to enjoy the magnificent sights in our night sky.

Unfortunately, as more and more people move out of the big city, they bring their bright city lights with them. Yes, it is dark out here. That is one of the big attractions for living outside the city where you can actually see the stars.

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, even the rural areas will be unable to see but a few stars.

Not too many years ago, the once commonplace sight of the Milky Way galaxy stretched overhead. Today, over 90 percent of the population has never seen this sight from their own 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 for the younger generations.

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

“For three million years, the human race has been able to look skywards 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 plunging through the atmosphere high above. These sights have been, since about 1950, gradually taken away from us by the threatening 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?”

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. And the bright swirling lights from the Hollywood Casino are evident many nights shining upward through its own small light dome.

Private homes are becoming a big part of the problem. Many have added more and more exterior high-power lighting. The worst offenders include floodlights pointed out, not down, mercury vapor and sodium vapor “street lamps,” and quartz halogen lights. But those with standard unshielded lights also cause problems. If these 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.

As we move into the twenty-first century, a valuable and beautiful part of our heritage is being taken away from us. For the first time in history, vast numbers of the human population are being denied a view of the night sky by poorly designed and badly aimed lighting of various kinds. Urban sky glow now pollutes nearly all vestiges of the night sky in the eastern half of America and the West Coast. The middle of the United State is also rapidly losing its view of the sky.

Is there any hope of regaining nature's grandest free show? That depends upon the citizens of the nation, who must demand that the night sky be protected. By using downward-pointing lights, shields, and the minimum amount of light needed, we can stop the spread of light pollution and preserve the stars for the next generation.

So, what can you do to help prevent light pollution? Simple. Turn off your lights. If you must have outdoor lights on, use properly shielded fixtures and down-pointing lights. If the bulb can be seen below the opaque horizontal shield, the fixture is not properly shielded. Try not to use street-type lights, halogen bulbs, or floodlights. If you must use them, shield them and point them toward the ground, where you want the light anyway. Just a few simple steps can save both the night sky and electricity costs.

You can get more information from www.dark-skies.org and www.darksky.org.

THE PLANETS AND MOON
• Mercury reappears low in the west after sunset.
• Venus rises around 4:00 a.m. in the east and provides a bright spectacle in the predawn hours. The Moon joins Venus in the morning sky on June 22.
• Mars can be found in the west after sunset.
• Jupiter will be high overhead after sunset
• Saturn is in the evening sky near Mars, low in the east.
• Check out Saturn as it overtakes Mars during the first of the month, culminating on June 17, as the two planets pass. Then watch for the Moon, Mars, Saturn, and Mercury to form a nice grouping after sunset from June 25 through the end of the month.
• The Moon is full on June 11 and new on June 25.

If you have a question, comment, or suggestion for Charlie, e-mail him at k5cec@yahoo.com.

Stargazing in the Manzanos

The Albuquerque Astronomical Society and the Sandia Ranger District will cohost an evening of free public stargazing in the Manzanos on Saturday, June 17, at Oak Flat Picnic Area.

Other 2006 event dates in this popular Saturday evening stargazing series are July 29, August 19, and September 16.
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 www.taas.org or call 254-TAAS.

 


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