Posted 24 March 2013 - 02:24 PM
Living in Southern California, Death Valley is just a five hour drive for me, once it became an IDA dark sky park I started wondering, "why am I not going out there to observe?" In the past I've often driven out to a fairly close area that shows up as a grey zone on CSC's light pollution maps, going to DV meant I'd be able to observe in a black zone, a big boost for sure! For the trip into DV I decided on going to Eureka Dunes, a remote area in the NW corner of the park, reached by driving over seventeen miles of fairly rough gravel roads. The campground there is primitive with no running water, only ten sites spread way out, and, just one pit toilot. I was seeking a place that would be less likely to bring out a goodly number of light polluting folks and I was not disappointed. At the campground only two other campsites, besides mine were occupied. In one site was a couple who came out to hike the dunes and to see comet PanStarrs. They made a nice impression on me because they were using a red flashlight, to help preserve their night vision. In the other site there was a fellow who had owned a 6" reflector in his more youthful days, so he knew a bit about astronomy. These other campers joined me for the first hour or two of each observing night. I personally don't do a lot of outreach work, but enjoyed sharing the night sky with them, and, I was able to show them much more that what can be scene in city areas. As for it being dark it was: On the first night my best SQM reading was 21.90 on the second my best reading was 21.95! I had never gotten a 21.95 before and just to be sure I took two more readings and got the same results. One other comment on this site was shortly after sundown the zodiacal light was very plain to see, my guests even pointed it out and said, "what is that over there.?" A bit later in the evening (still on the first night) I noticed that my head was casting a shadow on the hood of my silver vehicle. I got my three guests over and we started waving are arms around and watching the shadows dance on the hood of my car. Under these conditions my 15" scope was performing more like a 20 or 22 inch scope. I had planned to go after some fairly obscure objects, but with the "new scope" I wanted to get reacquainted with old friends, e.g, many of the Messier objects and numerous NGC items. M81 really blew me away, I saw a spiral arms coming off both ends, just like it appears in photos! On the rosette nebula, for the first time I saw a full ring of nebulosity surrounding the cluster, not just the brighter nebulosity across the bottom of the cluster. The ghost of jupiter stood out more bold, more pale blue, and, more eerie than ever before. M42 was jaw joping to view. Through my 20 X 90 binocs I got nice views of kemble's cascade, the belt of orion, the Pleiades (complete with lots of easy to see reflection nebulae). One goal I did have for the trip was to see the arms of M51 bridging over to its companion galaxy. Using averted vision I accomplished this goal with very little effort. Other great views included the galaxy NGC 4565 and the Sombrero galaxy, with the tall part of the hat looking especially bright. On my first night I observed until about four in the morning. On my last night, being tired from the previous all-nighter and facing a long drive home for the next day I only observed until about 11:30 P.M. Oh, and M101: the spiral arms were quite readily viewed! On both nights, before retiring, I scanned the milky way with my big binocs. On the first night I was particularly struck by the beauty of the summer MW, to me it is way better than its winter sibling. I viewed the trifid and lagoon together in the same FOV. The swan nebula, the sagitarius star cloud, the north american nebula, and plenty of rich star fields with lanes of dark nebula. In addition to two nights of the wonderful star gazing I enjoyed a very pleasant day in the park. And, late in the afternoon I experienced how that hiking up on the dunes yielded an incredibly nice experience. Also, I got a treated to flying bats at dusk each night. Plus, on my last night I was visited by a fox around 2:00 A.M. I was dead asleep when this occurred, I thought its call sound was some kind of bird. But, the next day the couple camped nearby came over and asked if I had heard the fox come through the night before. We got to looking around and saw his tracks near both of our campsites. Oh, on the comet. We all saw it on March 11th, when it was just about 6 degrees south of the one day old moon. It looked good in 10 X 50 binocs, where within the FOV we could see the thin crescent and the comet. Though It looked even better through 20 X 90 binos. It surprised me that this view was even better than the view through my telescope. Being really in the dark is something that is easy to forget, one gets so used to LP and just doesn't remember what the dark is really like! If you have not observed in as black zone I hope you will be able to get the opportunity to do so, it is well worth the effort!