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How important is a dark site?

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#1 Anony

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 01:25 PM

After reading a thread here about red flashlights, I was just wondering how much of a difference a dark site makes? I don't mean dark skies, as they obviously would be a ton better than light polluted skies, but a site where your eyes can get used to the dark? Just curious how big a difference it makes? I assume quite a bit of difference, but if already in a bortle 6/7 area, would it matter a whole lot?

 

I realized the other night that whether I get a red flashlight or not, it probably won't matter much. I have neighbors on each side with their back porch lights on ... now it's not always super terrible, but it's not like it's completely dark either. Sometimes my closest neighbor also has his security lights on (seems about 50/50 whether he turns them on or not) in which case I feel like I'm in a prison movie and someone just escaped, feels like glaring spotlights...


Edited by Anony, 20 February 2020 - 01:26 PM.


#2 petert913

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 01:30 PM

In the city and light polluted areas,  my dark vision is terrible. I never seem to adapt much.

 

But at our club's dark-site (Bortle 3-4) I will be looking through my eyepiece for a while and

when I lift my head to scan the stars.......Holy Cow !   It's like my eyes double in size to collect

all that light.   White light out there is a bad thing smile.gif


Edited by petert913, 20 February 2020 - 05:17 PM.

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#3 TOMDEY

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 01:43 PM

If you've never experienced it, a decent/good/great dark site is nice, but not the be-all and end-all.

 

Once you've experienced it, just once, as an observational astronomer --- it's #1 of the list of essentials... and always and forever will be!    Tom


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#4 Anony

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 01:43 PM

In the city and light polluted areas,  my dark vision is terrible. I never see to adapt much.

 

But at our club's dark-site (Bortle 3-4) I will be looking through my eyepiece for a while and

when I lift my head to scan the stars.......Holy Cow !   It's like my eyes double in size to collect

all that light.   White light out there is a bad thing smile.gif

Yeah, I probably shouldn't have used 'dark site' in the title of my thread. I meant the same (or basically the same) bortle area, just areas where one's eyes can get used to the dark.

 

I remember as a kid going to upstate NY and being amazed at the sky. It felt like I was on an alien planet ... never seen so many stars in my life and didn't realize the sky really looked that way. And here it's more like ... if you squint, one can maybe make out a constellation or two.... barely. Also feels like I'm viewing the sky through a terrible TV with no contrast or ability to show blacks, just gray blahness.

 

But again, I was really curious not about the skies, just the viewing area itself (literally)... would it make a big difference if it's at least dark where the telescope is being set up? Meaning the sky may look horrible, but no nearby lights destroying one's night vision?


Edited by Anony, 20 February 2020 - 01:48 PM.


#5 treadmarks

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 01:57 PM

Yeah, I probably shouldn't have used 'dark site' in the title of my thread. I meant the same (or basically the same) bortle area, just areas where one's eyes can get used to the dark.

Here's how I would explain it, in my experience. It improves the experience and makes things more enjoyable, but it doesn't change the fundamental nature of the site. If the site is not good for galactic details or nebulae (Bortle 6+), proper night vision is not going to change this. It is assumed that people at dark sites also have their night vision, and they need it to see some of these details. Therefore, night vision cannot be considered like going a step up (or down?) on the Bortle scale.

 

However, night vision and a lack of glare will make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. You need it to maximize the potential of whatever site you're at. Just don't expect a miracle.


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#6 Anony

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 02:11 PM

Here's how I would explain it, in my experience. It improves the experience and makes things more enjoyable, but it doesn't change the fundamental nature of the site. If the site is not good for galactic details or nebulae (Bortle 6+), proper night vision is not going to change this. It is assumed that people at dark sites also have their night vision, and they need it to see some of these details. Therefore, night vision cannot be considered like going a step up (or down?) on the Bortle scale.

 

However, night vision and a lack of glare will make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. You need it to maximize the potential of whatever site you're at. Just don't expect a miracle.

That's kind of what I expected ... it'd make things more enjoyable, but not that I'd necessarily see a whole lot more through my scope.  Maybe a teensy bit more, but faint objects will still remain faint regardless.

 

Part of the reason I asked is I have been wondering how much time and money I should put into this. Right now it's a minimal amount of money (two cheapo scopes), but I am thinking it'll be diminishing returns in my area ... no matter what I do, I still have annoying neighbors and a terrible sky. And it's not like 'dark sites' close to me are really that dark either (I think something like bortle 5), and I'm not keen on traveling or lugging around heavy scopes to begin with.



#7 vtornado

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 02:20 PM

It makes a big difference.

 

Here is an experiment you can do.

Set you alarm to 1:00 AM.

go to sleep. When your alarm rings, either navigate through your house with closed eyes,

or have all the light extinguished before you go to bed.

Get out side in an area where you don't have yard lights etc shining right on you.

look up, and you will see a lot more stars in the first minute of looking.

Then they fade.

That his your night vision going bye-bye.

 

If your sky is like mine (bortle 6) or worse, there is enough sky glow to never have your eyes dark adapt.

I can probably read a book at night in my back yard.

 

Other things you can do to help.

Wear sun glasses while setting up your scope and the initial pointing. (I think there is a song about this by Corey Hart)

Have a towel you can use as a hood. 

Before you peek through the eyepiece, cover your head with the towel,

Then take off the sunglasses.

Remember to put the sunglasses back on before you remove the hood.

Also beware of reflected light back up from the ground.

 

Other folks do the same thing with a pirate's eye patch.


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#8 Anony

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 02:29 PM


Get out side in an area where you don't have yard lights etc shining right on you.

 

That's where I run into a problem. There is no part of my yard that is actually dark, every spot has at least some light from a nearby neighbor. And my frontyard is worse with the streetlights.

 

I even considered setting up my scope in the corner of my yard, which would be the darkest area, but the ground isn't level back there (and may be prone to raccoons, so I rethought that idea).

 

I've tried the hoodie thing, which I guess helps a little bit -- but it doesn't make a huge difference.



#9 rk2k2

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 02:31 PM

I shoot from the end of my driveway (about 60 ft away from the house).  When I set up, my porch and 2 outside garage light fixtures are on and my garage door is open with about 120 W of fluorescent lighting inside on.  I'm in Bortles 3-4.  On nights where seeing is just ok, I find the lights being on make little difference to my seeing and I occasionally don't  turn the lights off.  But on the nights where seeing is pretty good to exceptional, I have found those lights being on make a noticeable difference so I turn all the lights off.  I haven't tested to see if they effect what I or my camera capture through my scope, but the lights make a noticeable difference in what I observe with just my eyes


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#10 vtornado

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 02:32 PM

That's kind of what I expected ... it'd make things more enjoyable, but not that I'd necessarily see a whole lot more through my scope.  Maybe a teensy bit more, but faint objects will still remain faint regardless.

 

Part of the reason I asked is I have been wondering how much time and money I should put into this. Right now it's a minimal amount of money (two cheapo scopes), but I am thinking it'll be diminishing returns in my area ... no matter what I do, I still have annoying neighbors and a terrible sky. And it's not like 'dark sites' close to me are really that dark either (I think something like bortle 5), and I'm not keen on traveling or lugging around heavy scopes to begin with.

 

 

Certain objects can "blast" through light pollution.  Moon, Planets, Glob clusters, Open Clusters, Doubles.

What I do is find some stuff I know I can see (some of the above)  and after some successes, I to try and see something I might not be able to see.

 

And seeing something once does not mean it is no longer not worth finding again.  The planets are always

changing, and transparency and seeing conditions are constantly in flux too.   So some nights you

may be able to see new detail in objects you have looked at before.

 

Some emission nebula are enhanced by a narrow band filter even in your sky.  I have the orion ultra block.

It helps on a handful of nebula.   You might want to try one and see how you like it.   I would highly recommend

buying a mid grade one, in used condition from here.  If you don't like how it works for you, you could re-sell,

and not be out much money.


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#11 vtornado

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 02:38 PM

I have racoons, and coyotes.  They are afraid of you and will not bother you, except …

if they are not paying attention, which I have first hand knowledge that sometimes they don't pay attention.

 

You could bring a small transistor radio, and set it on low.  That would probably be enough

noise to keep them away.

 

Perhaps you can work out a deal with your neighbors.  I have Lightly-McLighterson living next to me too.

They are willing to kill their lights, if home and if I call early enough.  Giving them peeks from time to time

helps in this arrangement.



#12 Anony

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 02:46 PM

Certain objects can "blast" through light pollution.  Moon, Planets, Glob clusters, Open Clusters, Doubles.

What I do is find some stuff I know I can see (some of the above)  and after some successes, I to try and see something I might not be able to see.

Those are the types of targets I figure I'll have to focus on. I've only had my scopes like two months, and during this past month maybe had a couple of nights that have been clear... so still have a number of targets to go after. And of course Jupiter/Saturn, which aren't available now.

 

I've found the starsense app kind of useful even though I use it without a code, as I kind of like its 'target feature' -- each night it lists which targets are visible in my area (which seem to be the same targets every night so far) ... regular stuff, Pleiades, Orion Nebula, some clusters, some major stars, etc. It's not exactly a huge list though.

 

I guess I was wondering if I had nightvision would I see more... I didn't really expect a major difference, but was curious. There is also the little problem of not really being able to get nightvision regardless, without traveling to another site.

 

And my 'travel scope' has a bad mount is not exactly enjoyable to use. So there is that too.


Edited by Anony, 20 February 2020 - 02:49 PM.


#13 havasman

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 02:59 PM

But again, I was really curious not about the skies, just the viewing area itself (literally)... would it make a big difference if it's at least dark where the telescope is being set up? Meaning the sky may look horrible, but no nearby lights destroying one's night vision?

YES. A lot. I have successfully observed for years from my extremely light polluted home site. This year the neighborhood seems to have declared war on the night and now there's so much interfering point source light there's no point in anything but very anemic naked eye observing.

 

But there's nothing like a dark site and the van's all packed up so I'm outta here and bound for the club's 42 acre dark site in SE Oklahoma.

 

BTW, my experience with NV mirrors the above. Only when used from the dark site has it been even nearly satisfying. I hoped it would substitute for dark sky conditions but nope, no way.

 

And I'm setting the groundwork for a potential nuisance lawsuit against the worst offenders... I truly hate that but if it comes to it then so be it.


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Posted 20 February 2020 - 03:06 PM

That's kind of what I expected ... it'd make things more enjoyable, but not that I'd necessarily see a whole lot more through my scope.  Maybe a teensy bit more, but faint objects will still remain faint regardless.

 

Part of the reason I asked is I have been wondering how much time and money I should put into this. Right now it's a minimal amount of money (two cheapo scopes), but I am thinking it'll be diminishing returns in my area ... no matter what I do, I still have annoying neighbors and a terrible sky. And it's not like 'dark sites' close to me are really that dark either (I think something like bortle 5), and I'm not keen on traveling or lugging around heavy scopes to begin with.

Looking at your equipment list, you've already got a 6" Dobsonian, which is a nice scope. That's all you really need. There's a lot that can be seen even in a Bortle 8 zone. If there's absolutely no shade in your backyard and you're not willing to travel any distance, you might want to try setting up curtains or whatever to block the lights.


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#15 barbarosa

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 03:09 PM

Read in a book, found on the net and confirmed by experience--as we age our night vision goes all to (somewhere). The skies of our youth might still be there (ha!) but lost in a 50% reduction in night vision or developing cataracts or both.

 

Very few of us have darkish sites, lightless neighbors, or mountain top observatories, I know that  I don't. And man it gets old after awhile, lugging the gear, setting up only to see some grey cotton ball. If you are a planetary sort of person or a double star guy, that's OK I suppose.

 

So do what I did and what others have done, stop buying eyepieces and get a low cost or expensive CMOS camera and observe via the camera, in color and in real time things you cannot see otherwise. 

 

MODS STOP! This isn't about "astrophotography" it is a suggestion about a way to observe in real time, no post processing, none of that stuff that "real" imagers do. It is just one more way to use a scope at home when it might otherwise not be used at all. But you have the controls and if you delete this I will surrender quietly and leave the field, arms reversed and head high, never to mention EAA in this place again.


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#16 BoldAxis1967

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 03:17 PM

I live in a red zone.  After midnight my sky is definitely darker.  My neighbor on the right almost never turns on an outside light.  Neighbor on the left knows I frequently use a telescope, as he has joined me on several occasions and hence does not use an outside light unless needed. However, two houses down one neighbor frequently leaves on an outside light that shines very brightly and this does affect my night vision.  

 

Even within the city or residential area having your observing area as dark as possible will enable you to see more stars naked eye and many objects will show improved detail.  Many open clusters can be easily observed with great detail with a 6 inch and above scope in a red zone.  Even my 5 inch refractor offers impressive views of many DSOs.Sometimes I put a towel over my head, but during the winter this can sometimes cause the EP to become fogged.

 

L. 


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#17 Jeff Struve

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 03:19 PM

That's where I run into a problem. There is no part of my yard that is actually dark, every spot has at least some light from a nearby neighbor. And my frontyard is worse with the streetlights.

 

I even considered setting up my scope in the corner of my yard, which would be the darkest area, but the ground isn't level back there (and may be prone to raccoons, so I rethought that idea).

 

I've tried the hoodie thing, which I guess helps a little bit -- but it doesn't make a huge difference.

Most of our club members seldomly do astronomy from their homes... unless they are setting up/configuring new gear. We all drive to dark areas, which for us is generally a 45 minute drive each way.


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#18 Anony

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 03:50 PM

Looking at your equipment list, you've already got a 6" Dobsonian, which is a nice scope. That's all you really need. There's a lot that can be seen even in a Bortle 8 zone. If there's absolutely no shade in your backyard and you're not willing to travel any distance, you might want to try setting up curtains or whatever to block the lights.

I do have rather cheap eyepieces, however. So there I eventually plan to upgrade. But due to the fact that no eyepiece really can get rid of light pollution, I have no plans to go crazy there.

 

And problem for traveling for me is... well, first off, I'm not so fond of the idea of lugging a scope 35-40 minutes each way, all to get to a bortle 5 site. But perhaps there are closer places that may be the same bortle 6+, but at least without blaring lights nearby... have to check that. But even for that, I'd need to figure something out regarding a travel scope, as my back wouldn't like lugging a dob around (it barely tolerates taking it out to my backyard). And my refractor right now is close to useless due to the mount. So I'd need to upgrade there or replace it if I eventually decide to find other sites.

 

I have porchlights from neighbors to both of my sides and behind the house... so would need some some sort of dome to really protect me. Realistically there is no way to really block all the light from my neighbors. Although I guess a clothes line or something might help with my nearest neighbor, especially when he goes full blast with the security lights.

 

Last week I was out when he was on full blast, and I'm just standing there wondering why am I bothering with this... felt ridiculous, almost like being under a bright street lamp squinting at the sky.


Edited by Anony, 20 February 2020 - 03:54 PM.


#19 Tony Flanders

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Posted 21 February 2020 - 07:44 AM

As far as I'm concerned, glare from direct lights is a much bigger problem than skyglow. I would rather observe from an unlit ballfield in the middle of a major city than under a streetlight in the middle of the Sahara. Mind you, that's partly because I'm a star-hopper, which requires me to look frequently and carefully at the sky with my unaided eyes. There's no way I'm going to find a faint galaxy if each attempt starts with blinding myself by looking directly at a light! Besides which, as my signature implies, in my heart of hearts, I value naked-eye views above telescopic views.

 

Fortunately, I have no backyard at my city home, so I'm not tempted to observe from it. I will observe from the sidewalk when I'm just viewing the Moon and planets, where dark adaptation is not merely unnecessary but actually counterproductive. But for deep sky, I travel to a park. I am lucky enough to have one park with (barely) acceptable lighting within a mile of my home, and another, much better one about 10 minutes' drive without traffic.

 

You note problems carrying your 6-inch Dob. That's a little surprising, since most people carry 8-inch Dobs with ease, and 6-inchers are significantly lighter. Are you lugging the entire thing fully assembled in front of you? Yes, that surely can cause back strain. It's much better to detach the tube from the rocker box. If you add a handle to the tube, you can carry one in each hand, counterbalanced, which I find quite comfortable. A hand truck is another interesting possibility.

 

When I'm doing urban observing, I make sure that all my paraphernalia fits in a backpack, so that I can carry everything in a single trip. I usually end up observing pretty far from my car -- after all, where I can drive, so can other people, and their headlights are bound to be a major problem. And I am loath to make two trips, leaving my telescope unattended in the middle of a public space while I go back for a second load.


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#20 grjsk

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Posted 21 February 2020 - 08:50 AM

I agree with Tony Flanders, if you're a star hopper, the difference between a light and dark site is massive. I have never really counted, but the amount of stars I can see with my eyes from my dark site (300 yards from my home) compared to my balcony is easily ten times as many. 

 

I got myself an observation hood and a simple eye patch, and that helped a lot as well. I'm in Bortle 8 skies btw.


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#21 BoldAxis1967

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Posted 21 February 2020 - 11:12 AM

Anony,

 

I suggest inviting some of your neighbors over to view with you and maybe they will better understand your dilemma.  I would also consider the clothesline idea, or as I would put it the flagpole-curtain idea.  The flagpole and curtain apparatus might be a project but I it might be benefit.

 

If I only observed when getting out from the city then I would only observe about 8-10x per year and that would be a real drag. 

 

L. 


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#22 Anony

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Posted 21 February 2020 - 02:54 PM

As far as I'm concerned, glare from direct lights is a much bigger problem than skyglow. I would rather observe from an unlit ballfield in the middle of a major city than under a streetlight in the middle of the Sahara. Mind you, that's partly because I'm a star-hopper, which requires me to look frequently and carefully at the sky with my unaided eyes. There's no way I'm going to find a faint galaxy if each attempt starts with blinding myself by looking directly at a light! Besides which, as my signature implies, in my heart of hearts, I value naked-eye views above telescopic views.

 

Fortunately, I have no backyard at my city home, so I'm not tempted to observe from it. I will observe from the sidewalk when I'm just viewing the Moon and planets, where dark adaptation is not merely unnecessary but actually counterproductive. But for deep sky, I travel to a park. I am lucky enough to have one park with (barely) acceptable lighting within a mile of my home, and another, much better one about 10 minutes' drive without traffic.

 

You note problems carrying your 6-inch Dob. That's a little surprising, since most people carry 8-inch Dobs with ease, and 6-inchers are significantly lighter. Are you lugging the entire thing fully assembled in front of you? Yes, that surely can cause back strain. It's much better to detach the tube from the rocker box. If you add a handle to the tube, you can carry one in each hand, counterbalanced, which I find quite comfortable. A hand truck is another interesting possibility.

 

When I'm doing urban observing, I make sure that all my paraphernalia fits in a backpack, so that I can carry everything in a single trip. I usually end up observing pretty far from my car -- after all, where I can drive, so can other people, and their headlights are bound to be a major problem. And I am loath to make two trips, leaving my telescope unattended in the middle of a public space while I go back for a second load.

 

The weight isn't an issue for me with my 6" dob (as in it's too heavy to carry). It's my back, or two herniated discs to be exact, with several more in my neck as a bonus. Moving it initially isn't my problem, it's the days afterwards that I pay for it. For instance 2 nights ago it was decent here so I went out with my dob. Next day back was kind of iffy, and last night it was killing me, and today it's still not right. And that's just from moving it from my house to backyard.

 

Maybe adding handles or something to the tube could work, as otherwise it's kind of awkward to carry in two sections. I'll look into that.

 

Handtruck or dolly would be a logical solution too... but... I have steps from my house to backyard patio, so that would be an issue. And I don't drive an SUV, so can't just scoop in my scope all in one piece for travel.

 

For travel, I'd probably need to use a smaller scope. Which my refractor would work for, but that was part of the reason I asked the question about night vision and if it was worth it ... as that requires a new mount or new scope, most likely. I have a temporary (I assume) fix right now for that scope, but it's already loosening up quicker than I like, so not sure it'll hold much longer.

 

I like the parks/field idea, which is what I would do if I decide to hunt down travel spots. There are some places astronomy folks use here w/ a permit, but they are still about 30-40 min away from me each way, and no better than bortle 5, so that still seems kind of like a pain without a huge difference in sky. But there are some small parks/fields like 5 minutes from my house, and so long as nobody there locks up or cares about folks being there at night (I'd need to check that), they may make good places.



#23 jgraham

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Posted 21 February 2020 - 04:04 PM

This is an interesting question. I once spent some time under very dark skies near Las Cruces, but the space was so open that you could clearly see lights in the distance making it nearly impossible to fully dark adapt. In contrast, my backyard is a pretty rough Bortle 8, but I like to observe from a small spot that hides in the confluence of shadows. My poor old shady spot in my backyard is actually more comfortable to observe from. Soooo, I prefer a dark location to a dark sky with visible lights.
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#24 MalVeauX

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Posted 21 February 2020 - 04:36 PM

When I lived in a city, I couldn't see anything except the brightest objects outside, with just the eyeball. Just a green cast glow. Sometimes I'd see a bright star or planet to know something was even there. It was mostly red-orange zone light levels.

 

Now I live in a green zone. The difference is nuts. I walk outside and with just my eyes I can see the full milky way's core side to side, stars everywhere, very rich view, countless stars, and I can see constellations and can see a bright patch that is M42 and a bright patch that is M31, again, just with my eyeballs (and without any crazy long lifetime of observation skills). With a telescope its crazy. There's just no space to look that isn't completely filled with stars, globs, clusters, DSO, etc.

 

If you really care about visual astronomy, a dark sky is absolutely profound. I realize it's not that simple to up and move somewhere for everyone. But seriously, a dark sky is a huge difference. I can't imagine struggling in the red zone with even a telescope again compared to being out in a dark sky country side and looking up.

 

Very best,


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#25 TOMDEY

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  • Loc: Springwater, NY

Posted 21 February 2020 - 05:26 PM

When I lived in a city, I couldn't see anything except the brightest objects outside, with just the eyeball. Just a green cast glow. Sometimes I'd see a bright star or planet to know something was even there. It was mostly red-orange zone light levels.

 

Now I live in a green zone. The difference is nuts. I walk outside and with just my eyes I can see the full milky way's core side to side, stars everywhere, very rich view, countless stars, and I can see constellations and can see a bright patch that is M42 and a bright patch that is M31, again, just with my eyeballs (and without any crazy long lifetime of observation skills). With a telescope its crazy. There's just no space to look that isn't completely filled with stars, globs, clusters, DSO, etc.

 

If you really care about visual astronomy, a dark sky is absolutely profound. I realize it's not that simple to up and move somewhere for everyone. But seriously, a dark sky is a huge difference. I can't imagine struggling in the red zone with even a telescope again compared to being out in a dark sky country side and looking up.

 

Very best,

Yeah... it really is just as simple as that. We humans have this tendency to build our own prison walls around self-imposed treadmills, peeking thru the bars at the few familiar stars barely seen above the nitelit yard... But the gatelock is ours and the warden is myselfandeye. All it takes is thinking outside the box, and strolling out thru that gate... it really is as simple as that... all it takes is a little... ~you fill in the blank, here~ >>>  _____________.    Tom

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