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Galaxies and Dark Skies

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#1 Gschnettler

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Posted 26 January 2021 - 11:39 PM

Like many, I am disappointed with the galaxies I’ve seen through telescopes as large as 14”. Just a gray smudge. I know they are really really far away.

But then I read that they look substantially better when you are at a truly dark site.

My question is, how dark do these dark sites have to be for this to happen? Looking at my light pollution map, there are hardly any place to go east of the Mississippi. Looks like there are many dark spots out West.

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

#2 Atlanta AstroView 90mm

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Posted 26 January 2021 - 11:50 PM

It’s not just about dark sites it’s also about seeing conditions and transparency. Especially for those objects. But it definitely doesn’t hurt to go to a much lower bortle



#3 bazookaman

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Posted 26 January 2021 - 11:53 PM

Like many, I am disappointed with the galaxies I’ve seen through telescopes as large as 14”. Just a gray smudge. I know they are really really far away.

But then I read that they look substantially better when you are at a truly dark site.

My question is, how dark do these dark sites have to be for this to happen? Looking at my light pollution map, there are hardly any place to go east of the Mississippi. Looks like there are many dark spots out West.

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

From my recent thread in the DSO Observing forum, just try for a "green" or "blue" area. Anything 21.0 or higher. And this is assuming the light pollution map is correct, which I have found it can be off by as much as a 1 mpsas.


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#4 DAG792

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 12:40 AM

Like many, I am disappointed with the galaxies I’ve seen through telescopes as large as 14”. Just a gray smudge. I know they are really really far away.

But then I read that they look substantially better when you are at a truly dark site.

My question is, how dark do these dark sites have to be for this to happen? Looking at my light pollution map, there are hardly any place to go east of the Mississippi. Looks like there are many dark spots out West.

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

If you want to see colorful and bright galaxies, that will not happen. They will look much better than gray blobs, but they will still be dim, and gray. At a glance, they will appear the same. Only when you spend time observing it will you be able to see the 'much better' part.

 

Obviously dark skies matter a lot. I live by the rule, that a dark sky is one where the Milky Way is very well defined. Even looking at Jupiter and Venus ruins dark-adaptation. IMO, this will be a much more useful guide for judging the darkness of the sky. This corresponds to around Bortle 3 and up.

 

A few more things I want to add:

The transparency of the sky is a much, much more important factor than people make it out to be. 

I live under a NELM 4.0 sky. Most nights, everything is indeed a gray smudge. Heck, most nights no galaxies except M31 are visible. 

However, a few times annually, it rains heavily in the evening and then clears up. The transparency is exceptional. On those nights, everything looks much better. NELM reaches 5.0+.

One more thing that IMO plays more part in the bad views from suburban skies is sub-optimal dark skies. You can see a lot even from city skies with a 12 inch scope. But often times, you can't get dark adapted enough. Street lights, cars in your street, even light from other homes plays havoc on dark-adaptation. I observe with a dark-patch over my observing eye permanently while observing.

I also use a cloth draped over the focuser. If your telescope is a truss, it SHOULD have a shroud, as well as dew(light?) shield in front to shield it from glare. Only then can you reach the scope's- and your- full potential.


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#5 Masonry00

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 02:38 AM

Did anyone else notice how clear the viewing got last April/May when Covid hit and most of the planes and cars stopped travelling around? I noticed it mostly on distant terrestrial views but also the astro seeing was better. The number of passenger jets that criss-cross the skies is surprising if you look on a map depicting current flights. Right now we are back to a bit over 50% of normal flights I think. And jet fuel is chemically quite similar to kerosene and diesel. The white contrail is mostly just water vapor but there are also a lot of fine black particles that slowly fall back to earth. But they can remain suspended for days or even weeks and are cumulative. Combined with heavy surface vehicular traffic we are often looking through a murky mess of hydrocarbon combustion byproducts that form a layer miles thick.



#6 paul

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 04:11 AM

Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

Hi yup!!! Thats a great place to observe for sure



#7 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 06:13 AM

Like many, I am disappointed with the galaxies I’ve seen through telescopes as large as 14”. Just a gray smudge. I know they are really really far away.

But then I read that they look substantially better when you are at a truly dark site.

My question is, how dark do these dark sites have to be for this to happen? Looking at my light pollution map, there are hardly any place to go east of the Mississippi. Looks like there are many dark spots out West.

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

 

My 2 cents:

 

As Dag and others have said, galaxies will always be gray smudges and most will be tiny faint smudges with not much detail seen. That's the name of the game. With experience, you will see fainter galaxies, more detail in the galaxies you do see but even under dark skies with a large scope, you just have to like tiny faint objects...

 

Greg Lemond won three Tour de France's. He once said, "it (cycling) never gets any easier, you just go faster. With galaxies, I'd say something similar, it never gets easier, you just see fainter and tinier galaxies.

 

Jon


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#8 spereira

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 08:07 AM

Moving to Deep Sky Observing.

 

smp



#9 byi

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 09:04 AM

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?


Having taken my 12" dob to Cherry Springs, I can confirm the views there are great (in good weather). Of course you can see a lot more super faint targets, but the handful of very bright galaxies start to show more detail. Andromeda has a much larger extent, clearly visible satellite galaxies, and maybe a tiny hint of structure (need to check my notes). Triangulum has faint but perceptible spiral structure; I had to check a picture later to make sure I wasn't seeing things, but they were there. I assume more experienced observers would say they see more than that in those conditions. Other DSO targets are numerous and phenomenal up there, by the way. Can't wait to go back once PA travel restrictions end (and the nighttime temp moves closer to just freezing).

#10 edwincjones

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 09:40 AM

it just depends on how far you want to go

 

A few years ago another CN member and I went to NewMexicoSkies for a week.

We rented their 30" dob for the dark skies, I brought my new Alvin Huey book of the Hickson Group and we started observing.  I think we could only find a few of the Hicksons,

and these were hard even with the big dob and dark skies

 

Dobsonian.gif shrug.gif

 

see what you can with what you have, the move  up or be content

 

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#11 Inkswitch

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 09:58 AM

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

I had this experience that may be relevant to you.  Years ago I got a 12" dob and was using it from my house in Columbus Ohio.  When I viewed M31 (Andromeda) from home the extent of the galaxy fit inside the field of view of my 32mm Plossl eyepiece which gave approximately a one degree field.  It was a whitish smudge that was brighter in the center.  Then I packed the dob into my vehicle and drove to the Old Man's Cave area near Logan Ohio, a green area on light pollution maps.  Now M31 does not fit in the field of view of my 32mm Plossl eyepiece, in fact it extended nearly a full field in either direction of the long axis of the galaxy.  Also, the dark lanes in M31 became apparent, these were invisible from town.  The same night I noticed this phenomena was also the night I first viewed NGC 7000 which I had failed to see from town.  A very educational and memorable experience.  Get thee to the darkest skies that are reasonable for you logistics wise.


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#12 Sheol

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 07:31 PM

                      What Inkswitch said! LOL. Though they will always be grey in color. Except maybe the nucleus of M.31 which is a bit of cream or yellow to me. At least when my eyes were much younger. <sigh> But transparency is going to also be important, as well, so watch out for that too.

 

                      Clear Skies,

                           Matt.



#13 Astro-Master

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 09:38 PM

A

 

Like many, I am disappointed with the galaxies I’ve seen through telescopes as large as 14”. Just a gray smudge. I know they are really really far away.

But then I read that they look substantially better when you are at a truly dark site.

My question is, how dark do these dark sites have to be for this to happen? Looking at my light pollution map, there are hardly any place to go east of the Mississippi. Looks like there are many dark spots out West.

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

All other conditions being equal, sky darkness (Bortle 1 Zone), excellent seeing, and low humidity, there is no substitute for high altitude.  At 7,000 to 10,000 feet you are above the most polluted layers of the atmosphere, and the sky looks so transparent its like you are in outer space.  

 

Your 12" scope under these conditions will out preform a much larger scope on galaxies under lesser conditions.  My advice, head west, the west is the best.  Find a high dark mountain with good seeing, and see what you've been missing.


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#14 brentknight

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 10:18 PM

Well, wow...I'm just going to throw this out there...  Consider getting an eVscope.  Potentially the closest thing we have to the fabled Galaxy Filter.



#15 havasman

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 10:21 PM

Some will tell you that skies measuring XX.X mpss are good enough to observe galaxies. It is likely they have never observed from under skies measuring XX.X +1 mpss. Familiar with my primary observing site that averages @ 21.4 mpss over several years, I can tell by midnight by looking about where the SQM-L is going to indicate. There is a big difference that is easily visible between 21.1 and 21.4 skies and between 21.3 and 21.5 skies.

We never even measured the sky brightness in western NSW when I was down there as it was just DARK.

The range of galaxies that could be well observed under skies ranging from 21.0 to 21.2 to 21.4 to BLACK DARK is huge. Each increment brings real visible improvements.

Go find the darkest sky you are going to go to the trouble to access. What you will observe will be what you get. Every aperture and every site produce a threshold. Every reasonable threshold can be overcome. At some point we find our equilibrium between effort & cost and the library of objects available to us.

BUT!! There is a level of concentration on what IS in the image that can enable giant increases in detail seen in perceived galaxies at any darkness level.


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#16 DavidWasch

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Posted 27 January 2021 - 11:01 PM

First of all, Cherry Springs is incredible. I too brought my 12" dob there and had a memorable night of viewing galaxies through the eyepiece this past spring. It is a 10 hr drive for me, and completely worth it.

 

I am also able to see a good number of galaxies in that scope in my SQM 19.5 skies at home with my night vision goggles. NV is more sensitive to the red end of the spectrum, so cores show more clearly than arms, but the shear number of identifiable targets is remarkable. It's not Cherry Creek, but it's a great option for nights at home.



#17 Tony Flanders

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 09:25 AM

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?


I can't answer that question without context. As everyone else has noted, galaxies do in fact look like gray smudges through the eyepiece of a telescope -- that's the name of the game. However, not all gray smudges are created alike, which is why the entire sport of deep-sky observing exists in the first place.

If you have only observed galaxies from within the Cincinnati city limits, then even a very short drive indeed will improve your views dramatically -- no need to go as far as Cherry Springs. There's quite a lot of reasonably dark countryside in Kentucky, and some even in Ohio not far from you.

Using a 14-inch scope under skies shown as green in the original light-pollution atlas coloration scheme, you should be able to see M31's dust lanes quite easily, M51's spiral arms should be big and bold, and M33 should display at least as at least two dozen star clouds and emission areas. If that's not the case, then you probably need more practice deciphering those gray smuges.

Under pristine skies all those same features will be much easier to see. But faint fuzzies are still faint and fuzzy. I do find a qualitative difference between galaxies as viewed in the "red" zone and galaxies as viewed in the "green" zone, but not between galaxies viewed in the green zone and galaxies viewed in the back zone.


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#18 galaxyman

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 10:53 AM

Like many, I am disappointed with the galaxies I’ve seen through telescopes as large as 14”. Just a gray smudge. I know they are really really far away.

But then I read that they look substantially better when you are at a truly dark site.

My question is, how dark do these dark sites have to be for this to happen? Looking at my light pollution map, there are hardly any place to go east of the Mississippi. Looks like there are many dark spots out West.

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

Galaxy observing is in a way an art, and also requires lots of patience and yes experience. Sky conditions as been mentioned, is a key factor in seeing detail. Oh, I should mention some of the darkest skies in the east are in the high mountains of West Virginia. As Tony mentions above of some of the Messier objects and detail that can be seen even in a smaller scope than you use. There are numerous galaxies (even NGC's) your scope can easily see detail in, under good sky conditions. Also do not be afraid to push magnification on many galaxies...even some like M-51 or M-82. Another cool thing is galaxy groups and clusters. Though many here it will be seen as small and fainter "glows", it's amazing to see more than one or two galaxies in the eyepiece FOV. 



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#19 Keith Rivich

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 12:09 PM

Like many, I am disappointed with the galaxies I’ve seen through telescopes as large as 14”. Just a gray smudge. I know they are really really far away.

But then I read that they look substantially better when you are at a truly dark site.

My question is, how dark do these dark sites have to be for this to happen? Looking at my light pollution map, there are hardly any place to go east of the Mississippi. Looks like there are many dark spots out West.

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

Go to the Nebraska Star Party. Early August I believe. Great skies there!


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#20 havasman

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 12:52 PM

I do find a qualitative difference between galaxies as viewed in the "red" zone and galaxies as viewed in the "green" zone, but not between galaxies viewed in the green zone and galaxies viewed in the back zone.

That is a very surprising statement to read from you. I believe you, but your experience differs from mine. But as you indicate, that's why we do it - to see what we can see.


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#21 Redbetter

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 01:17 PM

Like many, I am disappointed with the galaxies I’ve seen through telescopes as large as 14”. Just a gray smudge. I know they are really really far away.

But then I read that they look substantially better when you are at a truly dark site.

My question is, how dark do these dark sites have to be for this to happen? Looking at my light pollution map, there are hardly any place to go east of the Mississippi. Looks like there are many dark spots out West.

Do I truly need to go to a black spot on the dark sky map to get these good views? I have a 12” dob I could take. From Cincinnati I just need to know how far to drive to get to see the really good views. Would Cherry Springs, PA do the trick?

 

No, you don't need a black spot to start to get good views.  The real question is how dark are the spots you have actually observed from?  All you gave us is Cincinatti, which is a very bright zone without much of any reasonable darkness level near it.  

 

Have you tried out southeast from Cincinatti where the blue-green zones are in Ohio and Kentucky?



#22 Gschnettler

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 01:35 PM

I have tried 2 dark sites nearby...one an hour East of Cincinnati, the other an hour South in Kentucky. Both are pretty good, but nowhere near as good as the deserts of Nevada or Utah.

West Virginia is closer to me than Cherry Springs. Where are some of the best places to go in West Virginia?

#23 Redbetter

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 01:36 PM

Under pristine skies all those same features will be much easier to see. But faint fuzzies are still faint and fuzzy. I do find a qualitative difference between galaxies as viewed in the "red" zone and galaxies as viewed in the "green" zone, but not between galaxies viewed in the green zone and galaxies viewed in the back zone.

That is not my experience.  The level of galaxy detail/extent (quality) and what can be detected goes up immensely as the sky darkens from green zone type conditions (rural transition/Bortle 4) to actual dark sky.   The lower surface brightness portions of galaxies are invisible in green zone conditions and moderate surface brightness portions are difficult to see.   The low surface brightness portions are visible in dark sky, and the moderate brightness portions are obvious.  In dark sky I can see low surface brightness dwarf galaxies in small refractors.

 

The difference is also apparent naked eye in the visibility of the gegenschein, zodiacal band, and zodiacal light...particularly the zodiacal band which I haven't seen in actual green zone conditions but can see on the best nights in Bortle 3 conditions and becomes progressively easier as the sky becomes darker..   


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#24 Keith Rivich

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 02:56 PM

No, you don't need a black spot to start to get good views.  The real question is how dark are the spots you have actually observed from?  All you gave us is Cincinatti, which is a very bright zone without much of any reasonable darkness level near it.  

 

Have you tried out southeast from Cincinatti where the blue-green zones are in Ohio and Kentucky?

I agree. As the crow flies our observing site is around 100 miles west of downtown Houston. 80 from my house. More then dark enough to knock out some pretty faint galaxies...and good enough seeing to see detail. Not just grey smudges. 


Edited by Keith Rivich, 28 January 2021 - 06:56 PM.


#25 MEE

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 03:41 PM

100 miles east? You don’t use the HAS Columbus site?


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