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Darkest Sky in Illinois - Weinberg-King (?)

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#1 Phillip Creed

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Posted 05 September 2011 - 04:50 PM

There's a guy named David Lorenz that made a new light pollution atlas based on 2001 data, because the 1997 data that you commonly see used on Clear Sky Chart had snow cover for large portions of the survey. Thus, a lot of sites in the Midwest and the northern states, if we're making an apple-to-apples comparison, are actually darker than we may have thought.

The link to the new atlas is here:

http://sites.google....ion/lp2001/gmap

I like to keep my options open for any kind of special sky event. If, say, there's a bright comet and there's only a few days' window to see it at its brightest, it's nice to have a "diversified portfolio" of sites in all directions.

My big weakness is if I need a site off to the west of Ohio. Now, any reasonably-dark state park would do if I've escaping cloud cover for a special event, but in looking over the region, one place that drew my attention on the new light pollution atlas is the area around Weinberg-King State Park, about 3 miles east of Augusta, IL. This looks like a *very* dark spot, and quite possibly the darkest state park in Illinois. For quick reference, it's about halfway between Macomb and Quincy, IL.

Has anyone visited this park and evaluated it for stargazing? The area might be dark, and it looks like there's large open areas on satellite pics, but what about the park itself? I'm reminded of Oklahoma's Black Mesa State Park, which is just east of the Okie-Tex Star Party. Great location. But security lighting just utterly ruins it.

If--IF--this spot is as dark as advertized...it's within 300 miles of Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City, and would be a nice location to hold a Midwestern star party.

Anyone been there?

Clear Skies,
Phil

#2 oldtimer

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Posted 05 September 2011 - 06:17 PM

Phillip;

Its been done. See my post under the 'star Parties' forum. The 'Earth wind and Sky' star party has been held for 4 years now although this year it was a total (except for me) bust because of a screw up on their web page. It is held in a blue (according to your new map) zone NE of Barry Illinois. It is a wonderful location on a privately owned (by astronomy nuts) 40 acre site. Instrument darkness readings were 6.3-6.5 overhead. They will be holding another star party this coming spring, Check their web page this winter.

#3 Napersky

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 02:08 PM

I understand that Northwest Illinois near Galena is pretty dark.

At the Starved Rock Star Party someone measured 22 with his Dark Sky Meter with Lens, pointing up. If it was the without lens model it would have been bad. Really dark skies you cannot see more than a yard in front of you.

#4 jrbarnett

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 03:46 PM

There are also some fairly dark skies in and around the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. My sister and I have a couple of small farms down that-a-way.

Regards,

Jim

#5 Starman1

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 07:30 PM

I understand that Northwest Illinois near Galena is pretty dark.

At the Starved Rock Star Party someone measured 22 with his Dark Sky Meter with Lens, pointing up. If it was the without lens model it would have been bad. Really dark skies you cannot see more than a yard in front of you.

I have observed under 21.9 skies (wide angle SQM without lens), and you can still see to walk around. The light of the night sky illuminates the ground and the page numbers of my atlas.
It's really dark--the Milky Way casts shadows and the Gegenschein looks like a large cloud of mist obscuring the stars. NELM is better than mag.7.
But I can see really well under the light of the sky once dark-adapted.
Even in 22.0 skies, you can still see to walk around without a flashlight.
And, in a field, you can identify a deer at about 100' fairly easily.
The idea that you can't see your hand is probably from someone who stopped, turned of the lights, went WOW!, and turned the lights back on. Under those circumstances the sky appear black in between the stars. But, when dark adapted, the sky is silver-gray, never black.

My brother has a house outside of Galena a few miles. His sky is pretty nice--I'd say magnitude 21.0 at best (i.e. a Green zone on the LP map), but I'm dubious there is any place a full magnitude darker in a 100 mile radius.

#6 Mike Lockwood

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 08:14 PM

The link to the new atlas is here:
http://sites.google....ion/lp2001/gmap

That's very interesting - thanks for the link.

one place that drew my attention on the new light pollution atlas is the area around Weinberg-King State Park, about 3 miles east of Augusta, IL. This looks like a *very* dark spot, and quite possibly the darkest state park in Illinois. For quick reference, it's about halfway between Macomb and Quincy, IL.

Unfortunately there's quite a bit of insecurity lighting at that park. I have friends in Augusta, and I think their yard is probably darker. The Milky Way is impressive from there (in town). I certainly hope to find an observing site in the area since I know people there.

At the Starved Rock Star Party someone measured 22 with his Dark Sky Meter with Lens, pointing up. If it was the without lens model it would have been bad. Really dark skies you cannot see more than a yard in front of you.

That's impossible. It's only 50 miles from Joliet, IL, in the suburban sprawl of Chicago. There's just too much around in the immediate area to have a perfect reading from an SQM. A reading of 22 is in theory as dark as the sky can get, and that won't happen in Illinois unless someone bribes the power company to shut off all power.

I am guessing they actually measured 21, which is what a properly functioning meter reads in my reasonably dark, rural Illinois backyard on a good night (my yard and Starved Rock are both in green on the new map). Not perfect skies, but not at all bad for the area.

#7 james867

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 09:46 PM

I would say Shawnee forest would be the darkest in Illinois.I haven't looked at a light pollution map in a while but I do remember seeing black areas in north and south east part of Missouri that I wouldn't mind visiting.

#8 Phillip Creed

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 05:59 PM

I know I'm reanimating a thread from a while back, but I did talk to a park ranger at Weinberg-King State Park early this afternoon:

http://goo.gl/maps/NqHTp

He said there are plenty of areas that have (in)security lights, but there are several key areas that don't. According to him, the best bet is to follow the main route from SR-101 north and ignore any turn to the left.

If one bears to the right to head to the NE end of the park, the two easternmost parking lots in the park do not have security lights according to the ranger. They are not as big as the camping areas on the west side of the park (which do have security lights), but they provide enough of a clearing for a decent observing spot.

There is a third area on park property that is apparently not lit up. Following SR-101 to the west, one can make a hairpin turn on a gravel road just as the road straightens out to an E-W highway. This gravel road is on park property, and it dead-ends in a field that's well away from any lighting.

The nearest town, Augusta, has just 600 people in it. There is no other towns in the vicinity.

The ranger did say 3-4 observers with large telescopes (he said they looked like giant cannons; I can only assume big dobs) have visited the park and set up in various spots, so some word has gotten out.

If you're in, or thinking about visiting, west-central Illinois, you might want to give Weinberg-King State Park (or its environs) a look-see.

The park's security lighting problem is a bit intractable, as the lights are utility-owned. I'm wondering if the park would be open to the idea of having them retrofit with shields. That would open up the entire park to observing. And based on light pollution maps, the western part of Schuyler County is about as dark as dark gets in Illinois.

Clear Skies,
Phil

#9 jrbarnett

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 06:10 PM

I suspect that the Shawnee National Forest (around Garden of the Gods) would be darker.

Little Egypt, baby. That's Illinois, not Chicago. :grin:

- Jim

#10 Phillip Creed

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 08:44 PM

Darkness-wise, the area around Weinberg-King wins out. Just barely, but it wins out. Chicago observers might appreciate that it's 100 miles closer than Garden of the Gods, as it's about 250 miles from Chicago to W-K vs. 350 miles to Garden of the Gods.

https://sites.google...light-pollution

Garden of the Gods would *certainly* be the preferable spot in Illinois if it's winter. You'll still get bit by winter in southern Illinois, but its fangs won't quite sink in as deep. You're closer to Memphis than you are to Chicago at that point.

Clear Skies,
Phil

#11 krp

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 09:49 PM

Darkness-wise, the area around Weinberg-King wins out. Just barely, but it wins out. Chicago observers might appreciate that it's 100 miles closer than Garden of the Gods, as it's about 250 miles from Chicago to W-K vs. 350 miles to Garden of the Gods.

https://sites.google...light-pollution

Garden of the Gods would *certainly* be the preferable spot in Illinois if it's winter. You'll still get bit by winter in southern Illinois, but its fangs won't quite sink in as deep. You're closer to Memphis than you are to Chicago at that point.

Clear Skies,
Phil

Thanks for the info on Weinberg King. Since it's two hours away from me I had considered going there before but didn't know much about it. I just spent last night in a gray zone in northeast MO/southeast IA. Darkest skies I've seen yet, even though the fog reduced the transparency a bit. I'm thinking of starting a website that will list observing spots such as these and have lots of information. I haven't done much work on it yet. Do you think there would be much interest?
Kevin

#12 Illinois

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Posted 12 June 2013 - 06:51 AM

2 or 3 years ago that I was looking for darkest sky in Illinois and yes Weinberg-King and south of Macomb. Closest dark sky from Chicago but not that dark as Weinberg-King is Green River Conservation area also Apple River Canyon State Park. Both are in Green Zone. Not much dark sky in Illinois and I hope that we can protect some park as Illinois Dark Sky Park. 4 park that I can think is Weinberg-King, Green River Conservation area, Apple River Canyon State Park and far southern Illinois Dixon-Springs State Park.

My late father born and grow up in a small town near St Louis and he told me that he can see M31 and bright milky way in the town during early 1930's! Now its orange zone! :(

#13 Phillip Creed

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Posted 12 June 2013 - 12:40 PM

Kevin,

There might be some regional interest for select dark-sky sites in and around central Illinois. Enough for a website, I dunno. If you find sites that have public access, you might want to submit them to Phil Harrington's site (http://www.observingsites.com).

Weinberg-King has, IMO, a lot of potential if you find the right spot in the park. If you're only a few hours away and have time to kill, I think it'd be worth it. The only impediment to W-K as a slam-dunk, knockout spot--various insecurity lights--could be addressed to the right personnel at the park. As is, there are already observers with dobs that, according to the ranger, are traveling a good ways to set up there; they're just somewhat limited in where they can set up. The lighting doesn't really need to be removed; for a minimal cost, all of the park's lighting can be retrofitted with shields. The lights are utility-owned, but I don't think the power company (I believe it's Adams Electric from what the ranger said) would mind that much, as they'd still be streaming the same amount of money into the company's bank account. That would open up most of the park to true dark-sky observing, and there's quite a bit of acreage at the park. I don't live in the area, but those that do might want to lobby the park to make a few minor changes. A "this-could-be-YOUR-park" kind of picture of the observing field at Cherry Springs State Park packed to the gills with 500 people could be very persuasive to a sleepy state park that's out in the middle of nowhere that's otherwise blessed with very dark skies.

For casual observing, the two picnic areas that are furthest to the NE (one at the extreme NE end of the park, the other is south-facing off the same road that dead-ends into the NE picnic area) seem the best bet. The field that's at the end of the gravel road on the west end of the park (west of Williams Creek) seems like it's the best spot overall, as the trees shield the view of any local lighting and the horizons should be good (not that finding a flat horizon in western Illinois is that much of an issue, mind you).

Park Map--

http://tinyurl.com/q3zv5cy

W-K state park is a curiosity for me; I'd love to have a premier site way off to my west to get away from lake-effect clouds for Comet ISON's (potentially) vivid display. It's hardly an impulse decision to head there, though, 'cuz it's 590 miles from my house. But it's less than half that distance for those around Chicago, St. Louis or Indianapolis, and warrants exploration from those in the general area. Many observers in these areas already have premier spots, but more doesn't hurt. Financial planners urge their clients to have a wide array of investment vehicles. Similarly, having several observing sites--preferably in different directions from one another--greatly improves one's odds of a nice night under the stars. The more observing sites you've got access to, the more likely you'll have clear skies. Simple as that.

Clear Skies,
Phil

#14 bigdob24

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Posted 13 June 2013 - 12:01 PM

I go to Jim Edger Panther Creek State Park west of Springfield IL
There is a light dome from Springfield but easy to over look.
Some where around 6-6.5 mag skies, all of the Little Dipper is visible on a good night
I like it because its less than 100 miles from home.
Always looking for an observing partner.

#15 krp

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:19 PM

I went to Weinberg King State Park last night. I setup near a field in the northwest corner of the park: http://goo.gl/maps/s5KNd

Posted Image
Waiting for Darkness by kevin-palmer, on Flickr

As you can see there are trees which block some of the view of the sky. But you can see fine to the south. I think this place does have the darkest skies in Illinois. I could only see a little light pollution in the west from Augusta. The trees probably blocked any other light pollution that was present. I'm not very good at estimating NELM but I clearly saw M13 naked eye which is a first for me.

There is a small pond nearby where the fog swirled around all night.
Posted Image
Nocturnal Noise by kevin-palmer, on Flickr

Posted Image
Westward Path by kevin-palmer, on Flickr

It was just under a 2 hour drive from where I live. I'd say it's worth the drive if you live within 4 hours or so. This wouldn't be a good place for a star party without improvements. The parking lots are too small. In the main part of the park there were a few lights but I never stuck around to see if they were distracting. It turns out that camping is not allowed in the field where I set up (oops).
Kevin

#16 jrbarnett

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:52 PM

I think it depends on your source data.

http://www.jshine.ne...onomy/dark_sky/

Notice that on this map, the Shawnee National Forest is the *only* blue zone in the state. Blue is the beginning of really dark skies. Green and brighter to orange are "suburban" in light pollution. Brighter than that can be icky. Gray and black are sublime.

The problems you run into in the southern tip of the state are (a) skeeters as big as small bats, (b) air thick enough to cut with a cutlass in warmer months, © a propensity for haze that damages transparency, (d) locals who (i) don't realize that Illinois was a northern state in the Civil War, (ii) also are unaware that the Civil War is over and the Conferderacy lost, and (iii) think corn is a vegetable. In other words, my relatives. :grin:

In terms of population, the southern part of the state has a dwindling population. The town I grew up in was 350 people when I was a kid and is now 150 people. The only significant light domes would be close to Evansville, Paducah and St. Louis. In the Shawnee National Forest, you'd be hard pressed to find an illuminated restroom much less a light dome.

On the other hand, east of the Mississippi, there really are no truly dark sites. I didn't realize that until I moved out west. There are few places in the west and southwest that a blue zone isn't within an hour and a gray zone isn't within 3. So I think you all need to come visit. :grin:

- Jim

#17 Illinois

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 06:44 AM

krp....Very nice pictures and spot look good! Thanks for report!

#18 Tora

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 12:14 PM

Back in the late 80s I lived in Littleton, IL for about 2 years so I'm familiar with WK. It was (haven't been back there for nigh on 15 or so years) a pretty primitive area, although now I understand there are electrical hook ups near the entrance. In any case, would you say the views at WK were better/worse/about the same as your excursion to eastern Iowa? (Both are about the same drive time for me (WK might be 30 mins closer) and I was trying to decide which trip to make...

Dan

#19 Tora

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 12:23 PM

I think it depends on your source data.

http://www.jshine.ne...onomy/dark_sky/

Notice that on this map, the Shawnee National Forest is the *only* blue zone in the state. - Jim


Jim - If you look at Weinberg-King on that same map, it is Blue also.

Dan

#20 Scott Janssens

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 12:48 PM

I live downtown Chicago and can't even see the Big Dipper in its entirety (unaided). I've been feeling the pull of the skies after many years away. I sold off my scope some years back when I moved to NYC. Didn't seem any point in lugging them with me. I bought a pair of binoculars for a road trip west where we'll be going through some dark places indeed.

At any rate, I'm finding this thread very useful. I'm also keen on local-ish star parties (never been to one).

#21 krp

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 01:52 PM

Jim - As Tora said, W-K is in the middle of a blue zone. I can't say for sure which is darker since I've never been to southern Illinois. But I would love to check out the Garden of the Gods area sometime. Next month I will be heading out west to attend a photography school in Montana. So I am looking forward to spending a lot of time in gray and black zones.

Back in the late 80s I lived in Littleton, IL for about 2 years so I'm familiar with WK. It was (haven't been back there for nigh on 15 or so years) a pretty primitive area, although now I understand there are electrical hook ups near the entrance. In any case, would you say the views at WK were better/worse/about the same as your excursion to eastern Iowa? (Both are about the same drive time for me (WK might be 30 mins closer) and I was trying to decide which trip to make...

Dan

I drove right through Littleton, a very small town. I believe the electrical hookups are only in the equestrian campground. I don't think you are allowed to stay there without a horse unless it's after November. It's hard to say which is darker, since humidity and dew was an issue. But the Lake Sugema, Iowa area probably wins out by a little bit. When I went there the small campground was a little crowded. You might want to try camping at the nearby Lacey-Keosauqau state park. There are too many trees there so you would still have to setup your telescope by the lake.
Kevin

#22 Phillip Creed

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 10:07 AM

Kevin,

Kudos for the field trip. That Milky Way really looks impressive in those wide-angle shots. For a sky that dark, I'd gladly pack up my gear and drive back to a campsite, but I agree that it's not ready for prime-time as far as a major star party goes, but it looks like if they simply mowed a larger portion of the field you were in they'd have it made.

Maybe if enough stargazers started using the place, the park staff would make the necessary changes, none of which seem really expensive.

Clear Skies,
Phil

#23 KidOrion

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Posted 15 July 2013 - 11:45 AM

JR--

Your summation about southern Illinois is hilariously and disturbingly accurate. But it also has one of the friendliest astronomy clubs in the country. :jump:

I have not observed from the blue area to the east of me in the Shawnee; I've directed travelers to observe there in the Garden of the Gods, but have since been told that it's difficult to find a place among the trees and the cliffs to observe within the park.

Less than four hours to the west is a grey zone; I intend to compare GoG with this Missouri grey zone when I get a chance. Carbondale itself puts out an astonishing amount of light and has unfotunately achieved red-zone status. I'd be surprised if the Carbondale-Marion Corridor light dome wasn't visible in the Shawnee.

#24 jrbarnett

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Posted 16 July 2013 - 07:48 PM

"But it also has one of the friendliest astronomy clubs in the country."

Oh yeah. The folks are genteel and wonderful, and friendly as could be. I can imagine that the clubs down that-a-way are a blast. Who knows. Maybe I'll move back and farm some bottom land in a few years when I get tired of the rat race once and for all...and when I overcome my paralyzing fears of giant mosquitos and fried foods.

When my maternal grandmother was still alive, and I was in college, I remember flying out for a visit and deciding to cook her some Spaghetti Bolognese. Now grandma Dolly (her real name was Wilma, like Fred's wife, but they called her Dolly - go figure) had a list of things that "didn't agree with her digestion" about a country mile long. That was the reason that I picked "I-talian" food. She'd never eaten, much less heard of anything on the ingredient list other than noodles (albeit her encounter was with the Franco American canned variety) and carrots, so there was no transgression of her "disagreeable foods list". Yeah, I use carrots in my sauce. Sue me.

Anyway, one thing I needed was dry red wine. :lol: I head off for the other grandparent's supermarket in Eldorado. Guess what? No wine in the grocery store! Dry county. :foreheadslap: Off I go up the highway to "Muddy", just across the county line. Bingo - liquor store. Bummer - "The only wine we got is this ch'ere "Mogen David"". :barf:

So a half hour later I find a liquor store in some other county and township further afield that has Paul Mason table red. Good enough. Buy it and back to Omaha. ... ... ... ...

I finally got back, made the sauce, cooked the pasta al dente and served granny her first (and only) authentic I-talian repast ever. It didn't agree with her digestion. But she liked it.

I bet it's changed quite a lot since those days, but that's how I (still like to) remember it. Down home.

Regards,

Jim

#25 VectorRoll

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Posted 16 July 2013 - 10:45 PM

There is this place in the center of the state called Suger Grove Observatory. It is at the Sugar Grove Nature Center in Funks Grove right between Bloomington and Lincoln off Old Route 66 which runs along I-55.

My neighbor is part of the Twin City Amateur Astronomers and he told me of that site. They run it and he said it is open to the public. They have there own little observatory and hold some events there. The place is actually quite nice. I drove up there one day, when I had to go to Bloomington, just to check it out and get an idea on how exactly to get there. It is a very nice place. Not sure how dark it is at night as I never had a chance to get there yet during the night, but from what I have seen when driving between Bloomington and Lincoln at night it gets pretty dark. At least a lot darker than in Lincoln. :) I think it is a Yellow on the scale for that area but it may be darker than that. It is surrounded by Farm land. I was planning to go to one of there events when I get the chance.

Here is a link to the TCAA site with a little map they have drawn up for directions to the observatory. http://tcaa.us/SGO.aspx

That site might not be as dark as the few state parks not to far off to the west of it but it is another site to think of if anyone is nearby it.






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