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Return of stargazing session highlights AstroFriday event at San Juan College

'Losing the Dark' video focuses on light pollution issue

FARMINGTON — The monthly AstroFriday program at the San Juan College Planetarium continues in a mix of virtual and live formats this weekend with a presentation of the program "Losing the Dark."

The video program will be presented at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 21 in the form of a Zoom meeting by Planetarium director David Mayeux. Mayeux said "Losing the Dark" is a seven-minute video that raises awareness about the issue of light pollution and its effects on stargazing. The issue is of particular interest in the Four Corners area, where Chaco Culture National Historic Park has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park.

The video will be followed by a virtual tour of the springtime night sky. Altogether, the program should run 40 to 45 minutes, Mayeux said.

With the college campus having reopened earlier this week, Mayeux said he considered resuming the AstroFriday presentations before a live audience at the Planetarium. But the physical layout of the room, combined with the social distancing restrictions that remain in place, would have limited attendance to only 10 to 15 people, he said. So he decided to continue the video portion of the evening in the virtual format he has been using for the past several months.

However, the popular stargazing events that Mayeux leads in the courtyard outside the Planetarium will resume in person if the weather cooperates, he said. Mayeux will have a telescope set up and is seeking to have the exterior lights in the courtyard dimmed so that participants can gather for the session at 9:30 p.m.

"I hope to be able to see some deep-sky objects," he said, explaining that his targets for the evening will be the Beehive Cluster, the Ring Nebula in Lyra and perhaps the Cygnus constellation. He said he also would be targeting Albireo, a blue-and-yellow binary star in Cygnus, as well as the M-81 and M-82 galaxies located in Ursa Major.

The stargaze session will last a maximum of one hour, he said.

Mayeux will sign into the Zoom meeting at 6:15 p.m., then participants will be invited to sign into the Zoom URL to enjoy the show.

To join the Zoom meeting, you must have the Zoom app downloaded and installed on your device or computer. Copy and paste or type the URL into your browser for the show you wish to "attend." After logging into the meeting, participants will be placed in a waiting room, then allowed to join the presentation before the starting time. The meeting ID is 914 3232 3626.

Participants who are vulgar or disruptive will be removed from the meeting, and no one will be allowed in once the program has begun.

Mayeux noted the starting times for the video presentations have been moved back an hour this month from their winter times. The purpose of that is to ensure that the sky is dark when the stargazing session begins at the conclusion of the second video presentation, he said.

The outside session will be cancelled in the event of rain, clouds or wind, Mayeux said, adding that the forecast for the night was not promising. He encouraged those interested in attending to check the San Juan College Facebook page for updates on the event's status before traveling to the campus.

But he said he was looking forward to mingling with fellow astronomy enthusiasts again and hopes the event can proceed as planned.

"It'll be fun to get back into stargazing again," he said.

Call Mayeux at 505-566-3361 for details.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.