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Galaxies and Dark Skies

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#26 jkw119

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 05:47 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?

I somewhat have an answer.  I went to Cherry Springs, PA last fall for the first time.  You can basically answer that question with the Milky Way alone.  From Pittsburgh, PA, its completely invisible from my backyard, from Cherry Springs, it's the most amazing thing I ever saw.  You literally are looking at your own galaxy's spiral arm and it looks in person just like the picture on the website, https://cherryspringsstatepark.com/. I was so astonished by it, that I didn't get to point my telescope at all the galaxies on my list. frown.gif  But I did compare several objects that may provide some clarity, even in my small telescope.  Understand that not all things are equal.  Obviously I wasn't in Cherry Springs and Pittsburgh under the exact same conditions or time, but these are all using the same equipment (4" refractor), same eyepiece (for Milky Way that eyepiece is me), and same iPhone and camera settings and give a general sense of the difference.  

 

M31

1) Pittsburgh, PA Pittsburgh M31.jpg

2) Cherry Springs, PA cherry springs M31.jpg

 

M33

m33.jpg

 

M20 (Not a galaxy, at the time I was there I was more obsessed with Nebula, but I am going this year for only galaxies)

m20.jpg

 

 

Going to a dark site is well worth it.  A ton of people go to Cherry Springs for Astrophotography, so it's pretty strict with turning on white lights, etc. (several people got screamed at when I was there) There is an overnight observation field that you can get a campsite for $15 dollars, look at the stars all night and leave in the morning.  I highly recommend it.


Edited by jkw119, 29 January 2021 - 02:49 PM.

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#27 Keith Rivich

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Posted 28 January 2021 - 06:57 PM

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

Its our new Columbus, Louisiana site tongue2.gif

 

I corrected my post!



#28 Tony Flanders

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Posted 29 January 2021 - 06:05 AM

I said:
 

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.


And Redbetter responded:
 

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.


Well, maybe it's just sour grapes on my part. Green-zone sites are readily available within a couple hour's drive both of my city and country homes, but gray and black zones are a long way away. So I make do with what I can see from the green zone -- or even at my country home somewhere near the yellow/green border -- which is a mighty lot.

 

To calibrate all of this, one example of a Northeastern site that's solidly in the green zone by my experience, Bortle 4 possibly bordering Bortle 3, is Stellafane in Vermont.

Granted, all of what's easy to see at a pristine site can be seen with effort from a green-zone site. But that still leaves all those things that can be seen only with effort under truly dark skies.

 

For instance, I rarely bother to try looking for galaxies with genuinely low surface brightness, such as most Local Group dwarfs, at green-zone sites.



#29 payner

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Posted 29 January 2021 - 01:27 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.

 

Travel to south-central KY or adjacent TN and one can find Bortle 3 skies. You'll not find replicate dark skies of the West east of the Mississippi, or adjacent states that border it on the west side. Better go out west young man!

I am a double star and planetary observer primarily and prefer the steadier skies I can get here as opposed to more turbulent, but darker skies in much of the interior West.


Edited by payner, 29 January 2021 - 01:29 PM.


#30 galaxyman

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Posted 29 January 2021 - 11:19 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.

 

Travel to south-central KY or adjacent TN and one can find Bortle 3 skies. You'll not find replicate dark skies of the West east of the Mississippi, or adjacent states that border it on the west side. Better go out west young man!

 

Actually the high mountains in West Virginia, particularly Spruce Knob mountain is in the realm of western dark skies. Observed there many times over the past 30+ years. Seen galaxies down to around 15th magnitude from up there with my former 8" f/9 refractor.  


Image of the Spruce Knob Milky Way attached taken by a friend who passed away some time ago.


Karl

E.O.H.
 

Chesmont Astronomical Society - www.chesmontastro.org
Galaxy Log - www.youtube.com/user/GalaxyLog4565
Galaxy Log Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/galaxylog
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Homemade (Parks Optics) 12.5" F/4.8 Dob
Orion UK 12" f/4 Dob
Bresser 8.2" f/3.9 newt.
High Point GSO 6" f/5 newt.
Meade LX85 120mm (4.72”) f/5.8 refractor
E.S. FirstLight 102mm f/6.47 refractor.

Celestron 10x60mm Binos 

Attached Thumbnails

  • Spruce Knob MW2.jpg

Edited by galaxyman, 29 January 2021 - 11:19 PM.


#31 Rocklobster

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Posted 30 January 2021 - 12:47 AM

I haven't read all the replies yet, so I apologize if this has been said already.

From what I gather, galaxies will always be mostly fuzzy grey things. You might pick up some dust lane details in the larger ones, but not much else.

For me, it got a bit dull just barely seeing a faint blur with my XT8, so I moved to astrophotography and sold my scope after 2 years. It was fun, and taught me tons..but until I move to a really dark place, I will be sticking to AP.

Cheers

Sent from my NOTE 10 using Tapatalk

#32 payner

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Posted 30 January 2021 - 11:44 AM

Actually the high mountains in West Virginia, particularly Spruce Knob mountain is in the realm of western dark skies.

<...snip...>

 

Great! I provided another option and qualified seeing is most critical for me, not absolute dark skies. A perspective from an admitted solar system and multiple star observer. But Bortle 3 is not too shabby ... plus better year round conditions, imo.



#33 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 30 January 2021 - 02:36 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?

Cherry Springs State Park is a great dark site (I've observed from there since the late 1990s) but Calhoun County Park in West Virginia is certainly a place to consider.

https://calhouncount...com/stargazing/



#34 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 30 January 2021 - 02:44 PM

I'll second what Karl said about observing from the summit of Spruce Knob.

https://www.cleardar...ce_WVkey.html?1

 

https://www.fs.usda....rea/?recid=7053

Attached Thumbnails

  • Spruce Knob Sign.jpg
  • Spruce Knob Foliage.jpg
  • Spruce Knob Telescopes 1.jpg

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#35 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 30 January 2021 - 02:56 PM

The Dolly Sods Wilderness is another place in West Virginia where I've done some observing.

https://www.canaanva...ings/dolly-sods

https://www.fs.usda....=12366&actid=43



#36 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 30 January 2021 - 03:10 PM

There's more on sites in West Virginia at https://wvtourism.co...est-stargazing/ and https://wvtourism.com/dark-sky-wv/



#37 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 30 January 2021 - 03:25 PM

The Almost Heaven Star Party was held on the flank of Spruce Knob up to last year.  Perhaps it will be again in better times.

 

https://cosmicpursui...-west-virginia/



#38 CrazyPanda

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Posted 31 January 2021 - 01:28 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?

For what it's worth, I've only done observing from my backyard which lightpollutionmap.info lists as 21.4, but tonight I measured it for the first time and it gave me 20.3 (though in fairness, 94% moon was 30 minutes from rising and there is snow on the ground, which amplifies light pollution). Transparency was above average at the time of measurement. The map shows a yellow/green transition zone. If I had to wager a guess, I would say peak darkness at my site (no snow on the ground, new moon, after midnight when a few businesses shut off their lights), is around 20.6.

 

I consider this location poor for galaxy viewing, even when all conditions are favorable. Very few galaxies show any kind of structural details, though many are on the cusp of it. It probably wouldn't take skies too much darker to observe them.


Edited by CrazyPanda, 31 January 2021 - 01:33 AM.

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#39 bazookaman

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Posted 31 January 2021 - 10:42 AM

I love having the SQM so I'm not guessing. A very useful tool for learning about sky conditions.


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#40 Gschnettler

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Posted 02 February 2021 - 12:47 AM

I did some searching and found some Airbnb places in West Virginia that are about 4 hours from my house that have either Bortle 2 or 3 skies.  I think this would be a good choice for a 3 or 4 day weekend. 

 

If I were to make such a trip in April, which galaxies do you think I should put on my observing list if my goal is to see the ones that have the most detail and look the least like little smudges?



#41 CrazyPanda

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Posted 02 February 2021 - 12:05 PM



I did some searching and found some Airbnb places in West Virginia that are about 4 hours from my house that have either Bortle 2 or 3 skies.  I think this would be a good choice for a 3 or 4 day weekend. 

 

If I were to make such a trip in April, which galaxies do you think I should put on my observing list if my goal is to see the ones that have the most detail and look the least like little smudges?

I guess it depends on what scope you have, but these are the spring galaxies I routinely wish I had darker skies to view:

  • M51

  • M101

  • NGC 4565

  • M106

  • M108

  • M64

  • M94

  • M81

  • M82

  • Leo Triplet

  • NGC 4631

  • NGC 4656 and NGC 4657

  • M104

  • NGC 2903

  • NGC 2683

  • NGC 2841

  • NGC 2403 (one of those "How the hell did Charles Messier miss this!??" objects). The HST / Subaru composite of it is breathtaking. A few of those star forming regions are visible even in my ~20.3-20.6 skies, particularly NGC 2404. It's absolutely massive. 2000 light years across. Bigger than the Tarantula Nebula in the LMC and NGC 604 in M33.

Depending on the size of your scope, all of these galaxies have notable features (spiral arms, star forming regions, dust structures etc...). The darker the skies, the more they stand out. Don't be afraid to hit some of them with high mags if your scope has the aperture to handle it.

 

There's also a whole bunch in the Virgo cluster that I haven't really explored too much. Many are ellipticals but ones like M88, M90, M91, and M100 are spirals.


Edited by CrazyPanda, 02 February 2021 - 12:21 PM.

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#42 Gschnettler

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Posted 02 February 2021 - 12:50 PM

I should have mentioned that earlier. I have a 12” dobsonian.

I have pretty good eyepieces now too (which I didn’t have for my last dark sky trip) so I am anxious to try them out. Morpheus and Pentax XW’s.

Thanks for all of the suggested targets!

#43 CrazyPanda

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Posted 02 February 2021 - 03:22 PM

You're going to love those targets in a 12" from dark skies. Good luck!




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