Author Topic: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?  (Read 479 times)

ricoperte

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First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« on: December 24, 2017, 01:11:04 AM »
So I bit the bullet and my wife and I joined the Texas Astronomical Society earlier this month.  They have a dark sky site about 2 hours outside of Dallas.  My wife and I would like to go out there sometime soon and try it out, but we've never done anything like that before, si I though I would ask for guidance and tips to get the most from our very first trip there with minimal annoyance.
When there are camping facilities, a shower, and other amenities (a bunkhouse, I believe,) I doubt' we will stay overnight.  More likely, we will get there until sunset, spend 3-4 hours, then drive home at the dead of night (I am familiar with that -- been doing that almost all my life.)  That is mainly so we don't need to think about packaging for an overnight stop or camping overnight.
Along with celebrating, I'd like to try to do some astrophotography using a barn-door tracker (which I have yet to construct,) along with my Nikon DSLR.
-- Robert



Nate Flores

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2017, 12:16:57 AM »
Red Lights only... Bug spray or better yet, ThermaCell.... beverages and munchies... chairs... a jacket (I don't have a clue as to the temp there)... dew zappers for the scope... make a list of objects before you go...

bronedproudem

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2017, 10:08:41 AM »
Maybe obvious, but you want to plan to be there when the moon isn't. After last quarter, the moon doesn't rise till later in the night.

Michael Washington

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2017, 04:54:27 PM »
Make sure you know your equipment well before you head out. I once made a long drive to a dark site to test out a new setup, and found out it handles the cold worse than I do. Have a backup. Fortunately I had a second scope with me that I had been using for a long time and it salvaged the situation.

Make sure you know how to correctly read star charts and you have a clear idea of where to find the things you're looking for. Time flies when you're star hopping. Especially if you're "day tripping" it and you've got a long drive, time is at a premium and you don't want to get bogged down trying to find things. As a backup plan, choose some easy objects you may have looked at from home and know how to find. A lot of them look really different at a dark site.

unoritvie

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2018, 12:39:51 AM »
First, make sure to go there on a moonless night. Check the calendar and plan around the new moon.

Second, the most important thing you'll need is a "red" flashlight. You'll be amazed at how pitch dark it will be. Even on the darkest nights, city-dwellers get a tremendous amount of skyglow. With no skyglow, you can't even see your hand in front of your face. You'll need a red flashlight for everything.

Third, make a checklist of everything you need for your astro rig. Everything, down to the last detail. It's all to common for astronomers to drive all the way to a dark sky site and forget little things like their camera batteries, etc.

Fourth, don't get your expectations up. Depending how bad the light pollution is where you live, dark sky observing will give you noticeably better views versus your backyard. But the improvement won't be truly eye-popping. The nebula and galaxies still won't look anything like astrophotographs you see in books or online. They'll be better, but they'll still all look like greyish blobs.

opalytun

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2018, 06:04:12 AM »
Advice . . . enjoy the experience. As a first trip to a dark site, don't over plan the observing. Visit your favorite showpiece objects try for a few new ones. Spend some time just looking up. Have fun.

Matt Marquez

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Manish Konakanchi

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2018, 03:55:52 PM »
Quote
So I bit the bullet and my wife and I joined the Texas Astronomical Society earlier this month. They have a dark sky site about 2 hours outside of Dallas. My wife and I would like to go out there sometime soon and try it out, but we've never done anything like this before, si I though I'd ask for advice and tips to get the most out of our first trip there with minimal frustration.
While there are camping facilities, a shower, and other amenities (a bunkhouse, I believe,) I doubt' we'll stay overnight. More likely, we'll get there before sunset, spend 3-4 hours there, and then drive home in the dead of night (I'm comfortable with that -- been doing that nearly all my life.) This is mostly so we don't have to worry about packing for an overnight stay or camping overnight.
In addition to observing, I'd like to try to do some astrophotography using a barn-door tracker (which I have yet to build,) and my Nikon DSLR.
-- Robert

As has been mentioned, go when there is no Moon. You can view the Moon at home.
And why not stay all night? A long drive for just 3 or 4 hours of observing would seem to be wasting the trip unless you plan to go there often.
Driving home in the daytime is 100% safer. You don't need to shower or put up a tent or even change clothes--just observe until you can't stay awake any more, then sack out for a couple
hours before you wake up, load up, and head home. take a shower and change clothes at home. If your seats don't go completely flat (which makes sleeping in the car easy), take a cot and a blanket.
You'll be wearing plenty of winter clothes by the time you head to bed, so you won't need a lot of covers for the cot.
I observe where most people come from 100 miles or more to observe. I never understood why people packed up and left in the middle of the night.
I'm home early enough to shower, shave, and start my day early enough. And if I observe on a Friday or Saturday night, there isn't even any pressure to get up early.
So figure you'll stay all night and drive home in the early daylight. You can even stop on the way home and eat breakfast with the wife.

tmasnilypho

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2018, 09:59:51 PM »
You have some good advice already listed and I concur with that. Reality check......Astronomy is basically a guy thing so pick and choose which events the wife is going to enjoy and exclude her from events you know she will not enjoy...very important as she will get bored quickly and will ruin you experience under the stars if you aren't careful. The events she will enjoy are total eclipses of the sun like the one we just experienced, large showcase comets like Hale-Bopp and meteor showers under a new moon. I took her to our ranch to view the Hale-Bopp comet many years ago and we viewed it with giant binoculars and it was spectacular and she still talks about that enjoyable experience to this day. I just recently took my wife to Casper Wyoming to enjoy the total eclipse and she absolutely loved the whole event. I picked up some state of the art viewing chairs from Dick's sporting goods that came complete with a rocking feature and she just loved it. She can't stop talking about the whole experience.

Abdullahi Archer

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2018, 06:30:44 PM »
Folding table, binoculars, lounge chair, towels. Table because you always need surface space. Lounge chair and binoculars because if it is truly dark enough to get a good view of the Milky Way you may end up spending the entire time in the chair viewing with the binoculars.

Towels because you can put them over open sky atlases and other papers and stuff as a way to protect them from dew. And a towel "is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have." - Douglas Adams.

Pat Young

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2018, 08:33:28 PM »
Quote
You have some good advice already listed and I concur with that. Reality check......Astronomy is basically a guy thing so pick and choose which events the wife is going to enjoy and exclude her from events you know she will not enjoy...very important as she will get bored quickly and will ruin you experience under the stars if you aren't careful. The events she will enjoy are total eclipses of the sun like the one we just experienced, large showcase comets like Hale-Bopp and meteorite showers under a new moon. I took her to our ranch to view Hale-Bopp many years ago and we viewed it with giant binoculars and it was spectacular and she still talks about that enjoyable experience to this day. I just recently took my wife to Casper Wyoming to enjoy the total eclipse and she absolutely loved the whole event. I picked up some state of the art viewing chairs from Dick's sporting goods that came complete with a rocking feature and she just loved it. She can't stop talking about the whole experience.

Since I have noticed some female members of the forum, astronomy isn't always a guy thing, but it definitely isn't a thing for most women. It isn't even a thing for most guys.

My wife really likes many of the things you mentioned, and she especially liked the eclipse. It was her idea and plan that we went to a lot of trouble and expense to be in Casper.

She even likes a dark sky for a limited amount of time, a much shorter time the colder it is.

Don't be surprised if your wife doesn't always want to go with you stargazing.

hanatuaser

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2018, 05:10:54 AM »
As a regular at the TAS site I hope to see you up there sometime. As others have said I go during a time when the moon is close to new. It's a great site and very enjoyable. I usually take a tarp to put under out chairs to help keep the ants and other insects at bay for us and our dog. Don't forget mosquito repellent if they normally bother you.

I also have trips where I'll stay for a few hours and then leave and drive back to the metroplex and that's not a problem. If I'm doing that I pick my site and unload everything there and then move my car back to the gate area before dark and I'll carry everything back to it when I'm packing up. That keeps the light intrusion on the people staying as minimal as possible.

Everyone I've met out there is friendly and helpful so don't hesitate to introduce yourself.

#1 advice, enjoy yourself.

halespbourvi

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2018, 01:36:27 AM »
Is any of your telescope mounts goto or push to?

My advise is, to get the most out benefit out of dark sky time, to bring your goto/pust-to mount, so that you can spend more time observing and less time looking for things.Also, because in dark skies there are so many visible stars, it's quite easier to get lost. Even if you are used to starhopping at home, the first time you get to a dark site you could get lost with so many bright stars you encounter. The sky will be unfamiliar, so goto or pushto would be helpful.

If you don't have any goto or push-to mount, then you need to bring a plan of what you will try to observe, with charts and a red light.

I'm used to identify Jupiter and saturn by naked eye at home. At a dark site, I had real trouble finding them.

David Johnson

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #13 on: January 12, 2018, 01:46:12 AM »
I'm at the TAS site pretty regularly. It is MUCH darker than the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex. You'll likely get lost in the overabundance of stars. That's a good thing. There will be naked eye Messier objects that will surprise you. It took me 3 or 4 trips to really get comfortable with what I was seeing. Again, a real good thing.
Female observers are not rare at the site. Sometimes they're spouses that observe and sometimes they left the family at home to get out and observe from under dark skies like the rest of us. No big deal. Several of the most experienced observers in the club are women as are officers and BoD members.
​Arrivingearly and taking a look around is a great plan. It's out in the country so you'll hear critters but that's part of the beauty of it all. The neighbors on all sides are part of the same extended family, good folks that keep to themselves and they will be your very best friend if you have car trouble or the like. Their dogs may come by to check you out. They're fine and don't stay if you don't feed them. There'll likely be deer at some point in the south field starting pretty soon but they're wisps you have to be watching for. With all the rain, the place is in great shape. Roads are dirt, but good.
Arriving early also gives you a chance to meet everyone else that's out that night. Do.
Towels are a GREAT suggestion. As wet as this summer has been, humidity can be really high. Active dew control for your scopes can save a session. Folding table, chairs, snacks or food, mosquitorepellent, charts. Water. Red flashlights like the RigelStarlite mini. A light jacket starting @ next month. Low temps usually run 8 or 10 degrees lower than the NOAA forecast for Atoka. It can be cold later in the winter.
Make a checklist & use it. I learned that the hard way by leaving my cold weather gear at home on a January night. That shortened that session. Another member I'd never met loaned me his top layer that got me through until a bit after midnight.
I always go up in time to be set up and cooled down by sundown, observe all night, pack up as the eastern sky lightens and drive home when I'm packed. Like you say, been road tripping a really long time. You know what your best mode is on that one. I don't camp unless there's room service.
Have a great time!
PM me if I can help at all.

erbarmauhump

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Re: First time at a dark sky site. Advice?
« Reply #14 on: January 13, 2018, 11:39:12 PM »
Bathroom facilities will certainly make your wife much happier; you too, probably.

If you are using a "Go-To" scope, try it's "Tour" function.This is an easy, non-brainer way to see some great dark-sky stuff without having to put a tremendous amount of work into it. You'll have enough to do, just learning to deal with the dark.

Each of you should have a personal red-light source. Your eyepiece case should have a red-light source and your map table (if any) should have a red-light source. They don't all have to be on at once, but you don't want to be left standing in the dark while your wife goes to the bathroom or something of that nature because you only have one. I rather like something like this: https://www.amazon.c...head flashlight . They are cheap, use very common, easy to find batteries, are not too bright, and can be tucked into the corner of an equipment case for transport and set-up/load-up illumination. Multiple color lens may be stacked to further dim the light if needed.

Be sure to check out some globular clusters and Messier galaxies. To my mind these are the objects that show the effects of light pollution most profoundly.