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An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  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

The night sky on November 15  at 8:00 p.m.

Night Sky

—Charlie Christmann

Outdoor lighting

The cool crisp air of autumn is great for viewing the night sky, but outdoor lighting can often ruin our view.

Fortunately, here in the country, we do not have to worry too much about businesses and industrial lighting. Most of our problems come from homes that have improper lighting installed outside, or from pump stations and power substations.

To help combat increasing pollution of New Mexico’s night sky, the legislature passed a Night Sky Protection Act. You can read the entire act on the DeLapp Engineering website: The act requires that any lighting installed after January 1, 2000 must be shielded, with a few exceptions. Any lighting fixtures that do not conform to the provisions of this act shall be shut off between 11:00 p.m. and sunrise.

Exemptions to this act include recreational facilities and incandescent lights of less than 150 watts (most spotlights are 150 watts). Mercury vapor lights may no longer be sold after the year 2000. The construction industries division of the regulation and licensing department is tasked with enforcing this act. A first offense will give the offender a warning. For a second offense, or if the offense continues for more than thirty days after the warning, violators could receive a 25-dollar fine. Beyond the law, perhaps you should consider just being a good neighbor and turning off your outdoor lighting and allowing all of us to enjoy New Mexico’s dark night skies.

To date, New Mexico has not seen much enforcement for the night sky act. For businesses who pollute the night sky, try getting some of your neighbors together and writing a letter, asking if they can either turn off their lights, or change their lighting fixtures. If your neighbors are the issue, perhaps a short chat will correct the situation.

Because of the weakness of the New Mexico state law, counties and cities are now passing their own ordinance to help protect the night sky. Unfortunately, Sandoval County does not have such protection. It is up to each homeowner and business to make it their personal goal to protect our precious dark skies.

Meteor showers

I hope everyone had a chance go outside and watch the Orionid meteor shower last month. That shower has been a great performer over the last few years, producing dozens of streaks in the sky per hour.

If standing outside in the cold watching for a dozen meteors per hour may not seem worthwhile, a newly discovered shower may change your mind. The new shower could produce between one hundred and four hundred per hour on May 24, 2014. Some forecasters even believe we may see as many as one thousand per hour—a real meteor storm. The source is comet 209P/LINEAR, a periodic comet with a five-year orbit. Earth is expected to plow through several dense trails left by this comet between 1803 and 1924. New Mexico will be in prime position as the peak is expected around 1:30 a.m. that evening; the waxing crescent moon will be close to new and should pose no problems.

If predictions hold, this should be a real show over North America.

The planets and moon

  • Mercury can be seen low in the WSW briefly after sunset the first week of the month, then in the ESE near the horizon about 6:30 a.m. after the 20th.
  • Venus rises around 4:00 a.m., shining brightly in the ESE at -4.0 magnitude.
  • Low in the SW after sunset, look for Mars at a magnitude of +1.2. On the 15th, look quick one hour after sunset for Mars seven degrees to the left of the moon (you may need binoculars).
  • After sunset, look in the east for Jupiter; it will be up all night shining bright at magnitude -2.8. On the 1st, look for Jupiter and the moon to rise together about 8:30 p.m. A second conjunction occurs on the 28th.
  • At mid-month, look for Saturn rising around 5:30 a.m. in the east. Venus and Saturn have a conjunction on the 27th about ninety minutes before sunrise in the SE. Less than one degree will separate them.
  • Don’t forget to “fall back” on the 4th as Daylight Saving time ends.
  • The Moon is new on the 13th and full on the 28th. A minor penumbral eclipse will occur on the 28th; the upper portion of the moon may look slightly dimmer. The midpoint of the eclipse is at 7:34 p.m.
  • The Leonid meteor shower peaks on the 17th.

New observatory in Rainbow Park

The city of Rio Rancho has worked with the Rio Rancho Astronomical Society (RRAS), a 501c3 organization, to construct a roll-top observatory to house two donated telescopes. The observatory will be constructed on city-owned park property at Rainbow Park and will include classroom space for educational youth programs.

Phase One costs are approximately 53,000 dollars (building cost: 42,000 dollars; electrical power extension: seven-thousand dollars, and concrete access path: four-thousand dollars). Phase one construction is anticipated to be completed in the winter/spring of 2013.

Phase One funding sources—city of Rio Rancho 36,000 dollars (twenty-thousand dollars—City Council District 1 discretionary funds; 16,000 dollars from city general fund and park impact fee sources); Sandoval County Commission allocation of $15,000; and $2,000 raised by the Rio Rancho Astronomical Society.

Phase Two of the project is to build an open-air planetarium for outdoor programming.

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