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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.

September night sky

Charlie Christmann

Disappearing Stars

Current theories of the universe tell us that space itself is expanding, pushing galactic clusters farther and farther apart at ever increasing speeds. Astronomers say we are in the golden years of astrophysics, because we have the technology to study the galaxies and stars, and the edge of the universe is still visible. Continued accelerating expansion of the universe means that several billions of years from now, far away galaxies may start “dropping” out of the visibility radius of even our most powerful telescopes. Eventually, perhaps in a trillion years, only our local stars will be visible—no distant galaxies.

Stars Gone Missing

Unfortunately, we do not need to wait for billions of years to see the stars disappear. In many parts of the world, only the bright planets and the moon are visible in the night sky. In most cities today, less than ten stars are visible. Why? Light pollution. Light from our cities has so polluted our night sky that all we see is a glow overhead.

Even in rural areas, the stars are slowing fading as the light domes created by the growing city lights spill over. Many locations in rural America will never be able to see the Milky Way or the fainter constellations. If trends continue, only the most remote locations will have a chance of seeing the sky as our ancestors saw it.

The map above shows the light intensity emitted from central New Mexico. Look at the size of the blob carved out from Belen to Bernalillo. In the bright white area, a dozen or so stars are all you will see at night.
Look at the map again. Placitas and the east side of the Sandias are in a grey area, showing some light pollution. Even here, the Milky Way is getting difficult to see, and if you can see it, much of the intricate structure is missing. If you look south from 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 and the casino are 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. Driving past the pump station on Camino de las Huertas at night can be disconcerting with the bright spotlight emanating from a house on the hill west of the station. Closer to the village, there is a home with an old-style, unshielded streetlight spewing light pollution up, down, and everywhere. In my neighborhood, I can see several homes with outside spotlights blasting into my bedroom all night long. Hopefully most of these residents are new to the area and are just afraid of the dark and will learn that, here, in Placitas, there is little to fear from the night, and that we like our skies dark and starry.

Don’t Contribute to Pollution

Here are some suggestions to save both energy and the night sky:

  • 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.7
  • If you can see the source of the light while standing at the edge of your property, it is likely shining into someone’s windows.

The proposed Placitas Area Plan contains strict lighting requirements. It is stated that outdoor light fixtures must comply with the following:

  • Fixtures shall be shielded such that light rays emitted by the fixture are projected at 45 degrees from a point on the fixture where light is emitted.
  • Where used for security purposes, or to illuminate walkways, equipment yards and parking lots, only shielded outdoor light fixtures shall be utilized.
  • Fixtures shall be required to have all light focused downward.
  • Exterior lighting shall be shielded in such a manner as to confine emitted light within the boundary of the property from which it originated.
  • Outdoor light fixtures shall be limited to 16 feet in height.
  • Any illuminated on-premise advertising sign shall be turned off between 11:00 p.m. and sunrise, except that on-premise signs may remain illuminated while a business is open to the public.
  • All non-conforming lighting installed prior to the effective date of this Ordinance shall be altered or replaced in order to conform within two years.

For more information, see the International Dark Skies Association website at www.darksky.org and become a better, more considerate neighbor.

The Planets and Moon

  • Mercury will be well hidden by the sun this month until the last week of the month when it will be low in the west after sunset.
  • Look for Venus in the east before sunrise. Fifteen minutes before sunrise on the 12th, look for Venus four degrees to the upper left of the moon.
  • Mars is low in the west after sunset through mid-month. On the 19th, close to the SW horizon, look for Mars and crescent moon one hour after sunset.
  • Jupiter rises after midnight in the east. The morning of the eighth, an hour before sunrise, look for Jupiter just above the moon. To the right is Aldebaran, and below is Orion.
  • Saturn is below Mars, low on the ESE horizon after sunset.
  • The moon is new at 8:11 p.m. on the 14th and full at 9:19 p.m. on the 29th.
  • Autumn begins at 8:49 a.m. on the 22nd.
 
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