LANL astrophysicist and president of the Pajarito Astronomers Club shares her appreciation of the night sky at the July 11 meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos at Cottonwood on the Greens. Photo by Linda Hull
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
Dr. Heidi Morris, Los Alamos National Laboratory astrophysicist and president of the Pajarito Astronomers Club, spoke at the July 11 meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos at Cottonwood on the Greens. Morris has worked on numerous scientific projects since becoming a LANL staff member in 1998 and has a special interest in sharing her appreciation of the night sky with others.
With a colorful PowerPoint presentation, Morris began by describing “sky glow,” the manner in which “blue, white and green light scatters in the air” and glows so brightly it obscures starlight. Blue light in particular creates a health threat for people as well as wildlife because it “disrupts biological circadian rhythms.”
Morris also described how local efforts have provided “smarter lights” for area ballfields, at Bandelier National Monument, and at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Those actively working to preserve the starry wonders of our night sky are Los Amigos de Valles Caldera, Pajarito Environmental Education Center, Los Alamos County, Jemez Springs, and the Pajarito Astronomers. This support comes in the way of funding for protections with fully shielded outdoor light fixtures and warm, amber-colored LED lights that save energy and reduce adverse effects on wildlife. In addition, these groups work to certify participants’ dark-sky compliance.
In one diagram, Morris pointed out how well-placed lighting reduces glare and the trespass of light where it is not welcome or not needed while at the same time increasing security and saving energy costs.
In conclusion, Morris gave an overview of the new Los Alamos County lighting ordinance and welcomed members and guests to join the Pajarito Astronomers. The organization has approximately 30 members who are professional and amateur astronomers from throughout northern New Mexico. Membership, however, is open to all, and only $10 annually. Proceeds are used for funding scholarships.
Pajarito Dark Night observation sessions are open to the public free of charge and take place from late spring until early autumn at Spirio Field in Overlook Park in White Rock. Anyone with an interest in the night sky, viewing its planets, galaxies, stars, constellations, and the moon through the telescopes provided, is invited to attend. The remaining Dark Night sessions are scheduled on these Saturdays: Aug. 12, Sept. 16, Oct. 7 and Nov. 4. The observations begin just after sunset and end before midnight.
For more information about the Pajarito Astronomers Club, please go to https://www.unm.edu/~tbeach/pajarito.html
Dr. Heidi Morris received a Bachelor’s degree in Astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in Physics from the University of Oklahoma, Norman. One of her favorite experiences was working at McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas in 1990 as a telescope tour guide and participating in star parties for visitors in the evenings. She currently works in the Plasma Theory and Applications section at LANL.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its 1312 Club Foundation, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and one of over 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving and enhancing the lives of mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person Tuesdays, 12:00-1:00, in the Community Room, Cottonwood on the Greens, at the golf course. A Zoom option is available by contacting Linda Hull, 505-662-7950. Hull is also happy to provide information about the Club and its humanitarian service. The community is invited to attend meetings and become members.