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EPIC! Dark Sky Astronomy Trips with Your Club...

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#1 Olivier Biot

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 03:55 PM

EPIC! Dark Sky Astronomy Trips with Your Club, and How and Why to Host Them

By James Barnett

#2 Matt Lindsey

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 06:48 PM

Superb report all-around and great write-up. Makes me wish I could have gone too. Did you guys leave the scopes set up at camp during the daytime hours while on the side excursions?

#3 jrbarnett

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 06:59 PM

Hi Matt. Yes we did. The area where we were was at the end of a dirt road. To get to it, you had to drive past a ranger residence and a fairly active/busy fire station. We also tended to have some folks around at all times (i.e., folks did different extracurricular things at different times).

Regards,

Jim

#4 Matt Lindsey

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 07:38 PM

Sounds like an ideal site you found. Looking forward to hearing about the next trip. I remember reading somewhere that those Mojove towns were named alphabetically (Amboy, Barstow, etc.) by the railroads to serve as locomotive watering locations. Interesting and beautiful part of the country I think.

#5 astroneil

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 06:31 AM

Jim,

Fantastic read; a real trailblazer…... :bow:

It is a sad reality that over half the global human population lives in cramped towns and cities, where an obnoxious orange glow drowns out all but the brightest of celestial luminaries and, with that, a great part of their wonder. It is even more distressing to discover that a sizable fraction of those urban dwellers never really appreciate that, beyond the ochre-tinted skies, lies one of Nature’s greatest apparitions – the great phosphorescent river of star light we know as the Milky Way.

I grew up in a small city in the southwest of Ireland, and while there was plenty to see in the sky, those city night adventures were inspired by even fonder memories I forged while on holiday with my brother, lying flat on our backs on a sandy beach, miles away from EVERYWHERE.

Those were the formative summer nights of my life, where the seeds of all sorts of fecund things were sown. And they are memories I have sought to re-enact – sometimes only half heartedly – ever since.

Except for the occasional star party, many clubs, particularly those in the city, never go to much effort to organise trips to truly remote locations like this. I agree that it can be a truly transformative experience for one and all. Or, in the immortal words of Randy Bachman “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”


Regards,

Neil. ;)

Ps. I reckon you’re WASTED on intellectual property. :lol: Why don’t you do us all a favour and get those memoirs down in book form.

#6 jrbarnett

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 10:45 AM

Then we're agreed.

I'll pencil you (and perhaps Matt too :grin:) in for next year's "OFLI EPIC". I'm thinking late June...Somewhere high but not too high (~7400 feet)... isolated but not too isolated, dark, and in close proximity to the oldest living (multi-cellular) things on Earth.

I'd like to take over one or more of the National Forest Service group camps (Ferguson Norden and Nelson) in the Inyo National Forest for next year's outing. We may need more than one campsite if we have a big turn out. This site has the advantage of less extinction (due to higher elevation) and darker skies than the MNP site in the article. The disadvantage is that it is not a far south as the MNP site.

We also just completed a mini-trip to Pinnacles National Monument which I'll report on in a thread in the General Observing forum as soon as I resize all of the pictures.

What I would like to do is to start gathering actual site data (my club mate Jared has an SQM meter and I also would like to provide naked eye limiting magnitude at zenith based on a single observer's eyes for each site) on darkness. The overlay dark sky maps only go so far, and do not account for elevation or the irritation of light domes. While the MNP was dark, the Las Vegas light dome in the north was an abomination (as so many things in Vegas are). My ideal site lacks obvious light domes, no matter how dark it is.

Regards,

Jim

#7 Mike Wiles

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 01:09 PM

Jim,

Great article and a very enjoyable read. Your trip was the same weekend as our club's Messier Marathon in western AZ. Saturday night was pretty much shot for all of us for all the same reasons. Clouds, wind and general unpleasantness. Perhaps next year you should all consider driving a few extra miles and bring the OFLI to the All Arizona Messier Marathon......held roughly 50 miles into AZ just south of I-10.

#8 Rich_W

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 01:14 PM

What a great, inspiring article. My once-rural farm is now under those magnitude 4 skies and it's not going to get better... but like so many of us, it's hard to get away from daily life and I usually just settle in and enjoy what I have. So when I read this, I thought, now there's a chapter from my retirement dream. Then I looked out at my truck and my travel gear and thought, No.... carpe diem, right? Time to talk to my wife and see when we could go take a road trip to somewhere very dark....

Thanks for the inspiration and thanks for writing this, Jim.

#9 FJA

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 04:20 PM

That's fantastic Jim and makes me wish I lived that side of the Atlantic, close to a desert...however, my every-other-year trip to west Texas does partly fill that particular gap.

I agree with Neil, you're wasted in your day job, you should be a writer. :bow:

#10 jrbarnett

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 12:44 PM

Mike:

We're thinking mid-June for the 2012 trip, and looking at the White Mountains adjacent to the Owens Valley for a destination. It's about 7 hours rather than 10, which is meaningful if the trip covers just two or three days, though we've also talked about making it longer and having folks come and go as they are able.

When we have the details better sketched out I'll post them in the General Observing forum and ask for suggestions and critiques of the site.

If we do hold it in June, some of us might be able to swing the earlier-on-the-calendar northern AZ Messier Marathon as well. :)

- Jim

#11 astroneil

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 02:56 PM

Then we're agreed.

I'll pencil you ( in for next year's "OFLI EPIC". I'm thinking late June...

Regards,

Jim


Too right Jim. Wouldn't miss that trip for the world.

I'll bring my Traveler along for the ride. :lol:


Cheers,

Neil. ;)

#12 HfxObserver

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 09:39 PM

Great article, you did well to get so many.

We are 3 to 4 hrs respectively from our black sky sites but it's hard to get people interested in going down that far.

What's the story behind the cement pads? Put in for astronomy?

-Chris

#13 jrbarnett

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 10:55 AM

Hi Chris.

The MNP Black Canyon group campsites (there are technically two that share a common water source and restroom facility), are set up primarily as an equestrian campground. There are corrals and feed and watering troughs in the lower site. Believe it or not, the pad is for square dancing! Do-see-do, tip your Dob and give her a whirl. :lol:

There are a few things that make our turn outs pretty decent. First is planning. The group trusts the organizers to carefully research sites and plan the trip, providing suggestions of things to see and do on a 24x7 basis. Second is preparedness. We typically provide extras of everything - right down to tents, and also a means of recharging in the field (in the form of 4x 15W amorphous solar panels, with charge regulators and various fittings). The third thing is pastis. We provide pastis. Think of it as OFLI "kool-aid". :grin:

Posted Image

[Caption: Yours truly mixes and pours Ricard pastis (1:4 pastis:water, with organic raw sugar for taste) for attendees of OFLI's recent 2011 Out There #2 to the Pinnacles National Monument.]

We have an easy time getting folks to attend well-organized, thoroughly planned trips, but an almost impossible time pulling ad hoc 2-hour dark sky sessions at Lake Sonoma, which is the best site near our home field location.

Regards,

Jim

#14 hfjacinto

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 02:08 PM

Jim,

Great article, we east coasters have nothing (mountains and deserts) like the west cost does. Makes me want to move.

#15 HfxObserver

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 02:09 PM

Wow, cement pads for dancing in the scrub, whoda thunk it!

This year we had 18 people come out to one of our dark sky session, we had planned hikes and a couple other things.

Your article is the first i detail I've read of a similar event.

Good work,

-Chris

#16 jrbarnett

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 04:01 PM

"Makes me want to move."

Or at least visit us sons and daughters of the Golden West for a crazy astronomy trip to the middle 'o nowhere. :grin:

#17 HfxObserver

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 09:38 PM

I moved :)

Went from thick dark east coast skies then to light polluted central skies and finally to dark clear semi-arid skies, regardless of telescope upgrades nothing beats coming to a better sky.

-Chris

-Chris

#18 jrbarnett

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 09:40 PM

Incidentally, here's the trip report (with pictures) from our August 2011 club trip to the Pinnacles National Monument in San Benito County, California.

http://www.cloudynig...5/o/all/fpart/1

Regards,

Jim






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