Pajarito Astronomers Club: On County Lighting Ordinance

View of the Whirpool Galaxy taken from Pajarito Acres in White Rock. Photo by Glen Wurden

By Pajarito Astronomers Club
Los Alamos

We are grateful to those of you working on the lighting ordinance for Los Alamos County. It’s a privilege to live in a community with strong ties to its history and a commitment to preserving its natural beauty. From the times of the Ancestral Pueblo people, the remote Ranch School, the Secret City and to the present day our home has a special appeal to visitors and residents alike.

Part of that appeal lies in the night sky, and we ask the county council to be guided in preserving the night sky by the dedicated scientifically innovative members of our community who are well educated in this challenge.

The Pajarito Astronomers Club has been partnering with Los Alamos County since the 1970s to show members of our community and visitors from around the globe up-close views of our surrounding universe. Compared to more populous regions, our skies could be vibrantly starry rather than shrouded in the featureless glow of city lights.  

Our club routinely receives emails from visitors who are particularly excited about our relatively low level of light pollution and want to participate in the Dark Night events where volunteer astronomers provide telescopes and share their knowledge and enthusiasm about the night sky. We do acknowledge that as time progresses the stars and faint deep-space objects have become less visible, and we fear that we are in a position to lose what visitors seek and we currently enjoy.

Using star-friendly lighting is about being a good neighbor. Valles Caldera, which just became dark-sky certified, and Bandelier National Monument, which seeks this certification need us to partner with them to reduce sky-directed light pollution.

Furthermore, amateur astronomy research would not be possible without the dark skies that New Mexico currently enjoys and that many people even move to New Mexico to enable. Scientific institutions are very supportive of and reliant on a widespread network of observers, and there is a role for amateurs to contribute to follow-up observations.

These include confirming exoplanet candidates, understanding exoplanet host stars, monitoring stars long-term for variability and outbursts, as well as tracking and discovering supernovae, near-earth objects, and comets. 

Doing what we can to preserve our dark skies for future generations is a most worthy endeavor.

In contrast with large cities, we are in a unique position to protect and even improve our splendorous night sky while we serve as a positive example to surrounding communities. While it’s probably not possible to restore our sky to the glory that was enjoyed in the days of the Los Alamos Ranch School, there are some steps we could take. The proposed ordinance is a good start; however, we have the additional challenge of bringing our facilities into alignment with the updated ordinance.  

We would like to see an amortization clause added that encourages and rewards compliance with the updated lighting ordinance. With smart lighting choices, this can be accomplished while supporting our businesses and our safety.

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