Tag Archives: Cherry Springs Star Party

CNYO Observing Log: Ryan And Damian’s Somewhat-Excellent Adventure & Inklings Of A Possible NY Star Party Location, Lake Durant, NY – 22-24 August 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Sometimes you pack the car first, then find a place to observe.

2014sept10_lakedurant_1_small

The boat take-off… point of Lake Durant. Click for a larger view.

Ryan Goodson and I were set and ready for a short weekend trip down to Cherry Springs State Park for the Black Forest Star Party this past 22 August 2014. Having had great success at the Cherry Springs Star Party in June, I was ready to take in that-much-more of the Milky Way that-much-earlier in the evening (and maybe win a +30mm eyepiece. Who knows?). The tent was set, the dry goods and cooking supplies were packed, and the scopes were ready for business.

The news from the BFSP? Rain, rain, total cloud cover, and more rain. As fun as the CSSP and the hang with our friends to the far south at Kopernik were, the thought of no hope of observing either of the BFSP nights we planned to go put a damper on any interest of driving south.

The solution to miserable conditions to our Southwest? Go Northeast! We frantically googled for close dark sky spots in the opposite direction, having decided anything within 4 hours of Syracuse was reasonable. After some unlucky location reservation attempts throughout the Adirondacks (something about the last weekends before school starts), we finally stumbled on available spots at Lake Durant, a stone’s throw from Blue Mountain.

2014sept10_lakedurant_2_small

Rustic setting at Lake Durant. Click for a larger view.

A quick stop for perishables later, we left civilization for a 3-ish hour drive to the western edge of the nowhere particular.

For those who’ve never ventured into some of the very best NY has to offer, I refer you to all kinds of links on the matter. Amateur astronomers interested in taking the drive up-and-over should be aware of a few things:

1. It’s Not All Dark – Many of the campgrounds are very close to well-lit two-lane highways (because the campgrounds are better thought of as base camps for longer excursions into undeveloped areas). There’s probably a great book entitled “Best Campsites In The Adirondacks For Amateur Astronomy,” but that book’s going to require some serious travel to put together.

2. Trees, Trees, And More Trees – Our campsite had a small (maybe 10 degree?) clearing above our heads and we passed several campsites with larger holes, but you’ve got to really love the zenith to observe from the nearby comfort of your tent. We gave the place a good long walk on Saturday morning, then gave the place a REALLY good long walk on Friday night to look for good spots around the campground. You know, there’s probably a great book entitled “Best Campsites In The Adirondacks For Amateur Astronomy,” but that book’s going to require some serious travel to put together.

2014sept10_lakedurant_5_small

Campsite #1. Click for a larger view.

3. Safety First – Campsites accessible to large vehicles may be tightly packed around the front gates – which means they have very bright flood lights that don’t go off near the one spot (the tree-free main parking lot for the site) you’d really like to use for observing. If you’re looking in the daytime, watch for poles, then look up to see what’s hanging off of them.

4. Late Arrivals – Depending on your location, you risk people dragging their camping gear late at night with headlights at, at least, medium burn. Now, if you were at any normal location, that might inconvenience you for a minute or so. At our swervy-twirly-road campsite, a 35-foot mobile mansion spent the better part of 20 minutes trying to get around a corner designed for 20-foot roughing-it mansions – and it did so right next to our campsite.

The prime observing location at Lake Durant is to the upper right of the google map – the clearing just off Rt. 30 (but ask first!).

5. Don’t Think If You Don’t Have To – Ryan and I got smart and started asking questions of the Lake Durant staff early on Saturday. After spending our night thinking of contingencies if we couldn’t set up somewhere reasonable, the staff were more than helpful in recommending locations, giving us additional information and, finally, giving us access to the most primo spot at Lake Durant – the helicopter landing pad in the supervisor’s backyard. More on that shortly, but just ask when you get there. Better still, ask before you get there about the location and its feasibility as an observing location and see if anyone has any thoughts on the matter. And speaking of calling ahead…

6. The Most Best-est Spot Not On The Map – Our morning walk included walking right by two or three excellent observing locations – so good we ended up moving to one of them. Right off the main parking lot were a few camp sites that the staff use as (1) over-fill, (2) easy spots for big RVs to get to and (3) spots they can let late-comers squat at until morning (so as not to wake everyone else up). When the campground has camping sites labeled 1 to 65 and you walk by a “2A,” you know something’s afoot. These “[number]A” locations are great bases-of-operation for observing, so call ahead and see about reserving one.

2014sept10_lakedurant_3

The better campsite (2A).

With much of Saturday used up with walking around and moving camping locations (to a much more open location NOT on the usual reservation map, see #6 above), we got Ryan’s 27” New Moon Telescope Dob setup at the helicopter pad and started the long wait for sunset.

2014sept10_lakedurant_4

As far as I’m concerned, this IS roughing it.

That said, when you bring the largest portable (visible light) telescope in NY to a dark sky location, you gotta mention it to somebody. Just before sunset, we trekked across the whole campground inviting people to stop over between 9 and midnight for a session. If you feel so inclined as to host a public viewing session at a large campsite, I recommend the following – start very quickly with the noise about “large telescope” and “free viewing session” as you walk up to campers. All they can see is your dark, disheveled outline approach and you could be just about anyone. The sooner they know you’re not asking for a tourniquet, the better.

Around 9 p.m., the skies around the helicopter pad were great and a few people trickled over. At about that same time, little hints of fog began to move in from the west. After about 30 minutes of great viewing, the observers – and the fog – really started to move in. Between patches of clear sky (and as Ryan drove the scope to those clear patches), I gave some quick lectures and opened the discussion up to questions. Our last decent clear spot occurred just after 10 p.m., after which the fog not only consumed the stars above, but went on to consume the trees at our horizon. The fog was bad enough, but the reflected headlights from the highway nearby were right out of “Close Encounters.” So, we packed it up and headed back to camp just in time for the sky above us to, you guessed it, completely open up around midnight.

2014sept10_lakedurant_6_small

M111? Fog droplets and LED (to see it in real time was just silly). Click for a larger view.

2014sept10_lakedurant_72014sept10_lakedurant_8An observing loss? Hardly. We had over 50 people stop for quick looks and long discussion, the staff loved us and insisted we come back for another session, and Ryan and I were made official Night Owls of Lake Durant (which consists of a quick proclamation and an owl wine bottle cap. Rob and I at left, Rob and Ryan at right (post-cap)). Rob, by the way, works at Lake Durant during the Spring and Summer, works at state sites in Florida in the Autumn and Winter. Quite possibly the greatest job ever. For the time we did have clear skies, they were excellent. Also, having a manager with a large open backyard and a helicopter pad didn’t hurt either.

A Regular Thing?

The three hour drive back gave us plenty of time to think about following up on the staff’s insistence. Those in CNY who want to spend a weekend really honing their observing skills in a very dark location could do much worse than a weekend camping in the Adirondacks. To that end, we’re now pondering how to make “something” official out of it and maybe looking for ideas and interest in the near future. Perhaps a weekend in mid-October so we can enjoy the red, orange, and yellow colors hanging from the trees during the day and the same colors hanging from the celestial ceiling at night?

CNYO Observing Log: Cherry Springs Star Party, 26 – 29 June 2014

This past June 26 – 29, the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg PA hosted their annual Cherry Springs Star Party (CSSP) at, appropriately, Cherry Springs State Park – the second location to be designated an International Dark Sky Park (wikipedia entry). The park’s about 3.5 hours from Syracuse and, by most metrics, in the middle of nowhere (if you find petrol as you approach the park, get it).

2014july10_cssp_4

Some light and relevant U-Haul reading on the way to CSSP.

There’s quite literally no basic cellular service anywhere after the 3 hour mark (certainly the case for AT&T customers), leaving the park wifi and, of course, AstroGizmos to provide all the connectivity one should otherwise be trying to get away from for a weekend of observing (but definitely couldn’t get away from, so both wifi’s were much appreciated!). And for those wondering “does anyone make those?” – AstroGizmos had available 12 V hair dryers (with varied powering options) for those looking to evaporate eyepiece condensate on dewy nights (I now have mine).

2014july10_cssp_1_small

Cherry Springs State Park – first sign in the park.

Besides the great dark skies, the CSSP also provides CNY clubs a chance to hang out and do nothing for a few days. I set up shop with fellow Kopernik members at the usual Kopernik location (the first left after the “Nova” signpost). My vehicle was extra full this year with a special delivery of New Moon Telescope Dob #17 to Pedro Gomes, known previously on the CNYO Facebook Page as the hardest working observer in Watertown (now at points south).

2014july10_cssp_2_small

A panorama from the Kopernik site. Click for a larger view.

For those roughing it on the site for the entire party, a not-untypical Saturday schedule might involve (1) staying up as late as the caffeine will allow, listening to angered attendees when someone accidentally turns on their car lights (which is less funny when you’ve waited a half-hour for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark, moonless sky), (2) sleeping in until the Sun cooks you in your tent or vehicle, (3) listen to someone (Pedro) tell you about the black bear that passed by his scope and tent the night before (the presence of a few black bears also explained the gunshot fired by camp rangers the night before), (4) going to the vendor tent, (5) making a trip to catering (well, trucks and tent) to wait in line to eat, (6) going back to the vendor tent, (7) attending one or more of the scheduled lectures and checking out the raffle donations (to pass the time until nightfall), (8) vendor tent, (9) raffle!, (10) caffeinate and apply bug spray (although it wasn’t too bad this year), and (11) See 1.

Observing Tip: If you want to make the most of a Star Party, consider taking a break from your usual caffeine intake a few weeks in advance. That first cup of coffee will feel like rocket fuel.

I’m pleased to report that the raffle was a complete success for your’s truly. Not only did I score free admission to the upcoming Kopernik AstroFest in October, but I also managed to walk away with the 8 mm Delos graciously donated to CSSP directly by TeleVue Optics. The company rep, John, and I even had a good exchange Sunday morning (he having done some imaging of the Veil Nebula that night, I having passed around my trusty OIII-filtered 26 mm Nagler to others wanting to observe the same in the Kopernik camp). Admittedly, my bias towards TeleVue eyepieces is strong (and in the official record at Astronomy Technology Today), so the Delos was a very welcome addition (one should not observe Saturn without it!). And it will be present at CNYO events for those wanting to compare and contrast. Many thanks to TeleVue, Kopernik, and all of the CSSP donors (amateur astronomers take their raffle prizes very seriously)!

2014july10_cssp_5_small

Patrick Manley (left) and Pedro Gomes listen as collimation guru Howie Glatter (right) talks shop. Click for a larger view.

I was told that Thursday night was great but very wet. Friday night (my first night there) was a patchwork of clouds and less-than-thrilling seeing conditions. Saturday night was out-and-out fantastic. Going from about 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., my list included Saturn and Mars, 35 Messiers, 20 NGCs (including my personal favorite, NGC 4565), and a lot of just staring into “nowhere particular” just to enjoy the visual peace and quiet.

Blazar-3c424.3-pic-SDSS-credit-580x485The one object I did want to take a stab at seeing was Blazar 3C 454.3 in Pegasus, having seen the announcement cross the CNYO Twitter Feed in the form of a link to universetoday.com (image at right from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey). Blazars are so bright that astronomers didn’t know until the 1970’s that they weren’t actual stars in our own Milky Way. Blazars are the cores of galaxies where matter is being sucked into a supermassive black hole, releasing in the process jets of energy perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy and right in our direction (so these host galaxies would appear to us like the Whirlpool Galaxy, where we’re seeing the whole galaxy face-on as we stare down its rotation axis).

The blazar in Pegasus recently peaked at around 13th magnitude and has been dimming since. That’s dim. That’s far dimmer than binoculars and small scopes will reveal, but is just fine for a 12” Dobsonian (where 15th magnitude is possible under ideal conditions – which Cherry Springs almost certainly is). While not particularly impressive in any kind of scope, this blazar is noteworthy for being 7 billion light years away. When the photons beaming through that new 8 mm Delos left their home galaxy, the Sun and Earth were still more than 2 billion YEARS away from being ANYTHING. That, to my mind, compensates for the dim.

2014july10_cssp_6_small

The view to the East at Sunset on Saturday night. Click for a larger view.

By 2:45 a.m., the Kopernik crowd had thinned to just Keith Werkman and I. I packed up the scope and pulled out the camera for a few long-exposure shots just in time to see a few randomly-oriented bright meteors (not affiliated with the Boötids Meteor Shower, which peaked the night before) and a Milky Way band bright enough to read by.

2014july10_cssp_7_small

Another view of the Kopernik site at the CSSP. Click for a larger view.

Groggy and sore from our respective sleeping arrangements, the gang began to split just after breakfast and a final clean-up of the grounds. Having now survived my second CSSP with quite a bit of excellent viewing (and viewing tools) to show for it, I and others await next year’s CSSP and next month’s Black Forest Star Party at the same location.

Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) Soliciting Comments – Request For Light Pollution Comments And Consideration Of IDA Recommendations

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The following post to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) Outdoor Lighting Forum from Gary Honis (astrophotographer extraordinaire) was sent along to me by John McMahon (local amateur astronomer and responsible-lighting proponent extraordinaire). John had also forwarded the youtube video from Gary concerning drilling-related light pollution made at Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park, home of the Cherry Springs Star Party (Ryan Goodson and I are currently registered for the event this year) late last fall (see the image above, taken from Gary Honis’ Skyglow from Marcellus Gas Well Drilling Site page).

Gary is requesting that concerned amateur astronomers comment on the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) website immediately as this new organization establishes standards for shale drilling. Of note is the request for the CSSD to consider the IDA lighting fixture recommendations. Of drilling-specific note is the recommendation that flaring times be limited. Gary’s post, including links to the CSSD page and several relevant articles, is provided below.

A new organization (CSSD) was formed this week comprised of the gas drilling industry and environmental groups that have reached agreement to create a system to set standards for reducing the effects of shale drilling. The article is here:

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/03/both_sides_agree_on_tough_new.html

According to the article, multiple states will be covered but it does not mention any outdoor lighting or flaring controls.

The CSSD has a comment page set up for receiving comments. If you are so inclined, please consider requesting that they include exterior lighting and flaring standards to address the problem of light pollution. The CSSD comment page is here:

http://037186e.netsolhost.com/site/contact/

If they don’t receive comments from the astronomical community, I doubt lighting issues will be addressed. Below are the comments I provided:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My recommendation is the CSSD should include flaring and lighting requirements in its standards to avoid the problems of light pollution such as glare, light trespass, energy waste and skyglow. The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) maintains a list of IDA approved shielded light fixtures and also has developed lighting codes jointly with the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA). See

http://www.darksky.org/outdoorlighting

Utilizing the IDA approved light fixtures and CSSD adoption of the IDA/IESNA lighting codes would address lighting problems for adjacent land owners. It would also avoid the light pollution as documented in
the 2012 NASA Earth Observatory images showing wasted light and skyglow in North Dakota and Pennsylvania from gas drilling operations. See:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NPP/news/earth-at-night.html

Having standards that limit flaring operations to daytime or during New Moon periods, as is being done in sensitive areas of PA, would help preserve our disappearing night sky resource.

Thanks for your consideration of this request.

Gary Honis, P.E.
GHAAS

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I have one YouTube video of the effect on Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park from flaring and associated unshielded lighting at gas drill rigs posted here: