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How To Find Nearby Dark Skies, No Matter Where You Are

timothy posted about 4 months ago | from the look-for-the-planetarium-signs dept.

Space 55

StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "For those of us living in or around large cities — and that's most of us — we're completely divorced from dark, clear night skies as part of our routine experience. But even though our skies may typically rate a seven or higher on the Bortle Dark Sky Scale, that doesn't mean that significantly darker skies aren't accessible. Here's how to install an interactive light pollution map for yourself, and find the darkest skies near you no matter where you are! (North American-centric, but resources are provided for those elsewhere in the world.)"

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As a North Korean, I don't have that problem (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46911455)

Finding an internet connection is a bit more of a challenge.

Re:As a North Korean, I don't have that problem (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 4 months ago | (#46911509)

I find parent post ironic and a bit sad with a tad of fun, but hardly worthy of downvoting.

Re:As a North Korean, I don't have that problem (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 4 months ago | (#46911981)

Actually, the comment made me think of "Darkness at Noon": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D... [wikipedia.org]

It sort of fits, in a very tragic way.

Re:As a North Korean, I don't have that problem (2)

opusman (33143) | about 4 months ago | (#46911741)

In communist North Korea, darkness finds you!

A black hole of javascript (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46911461)

No thanks.

Well, here's a screen cap of Montana (4, Interesting)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 4 months ago | (#46911539)

When (if) you look at this, note the huge mess over in North Dakota. That's largely gas burn-off from oil wells. Luckily, I"m far enough west of them that I still have actual dark skies (little green plus marker, top right) but I think we're at severe risk of suffering the same light insult as them before too much longer.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/... [flickr.com]

Been shooting so as to take advantage of it while I can, examples:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/... [flickr.com] ...and...

https://www.flickr.com/photos/... [flickr.com] ...that's all camera work, btw, no telescopes, though I do have some moderately long lenses. ;)

Want to know about clouds too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46918413)

If you're in North America, you can ask for a 48 hour forecast of clouds for astronomers for that nice dark spot you found. Check out cleardarksky.com, or the website of your nearby astronomy club.

Re:Want to know about clouds too? (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 3 months ago | (#46984195)

I wrote this "nowcast" application [jamesblish.com] to keep me up to date on sky, planetary, and auroral conditions. Since my dark spot is about ten minutes from my home, I can get right to it in a timely manner.

Re:Well, here's a screen cap of Montana (1)

Reziac (43301) | about 3 months ago | (#46921407)

You're near Glasgow? (Bozeman, myself. Well, Three Forks.) Nice shots of Andromeda... betcha most people don't realise it's visible. You could see it pretty clearly even down by Belgrade the area turned into Bozangeles.

Re:Well, here's a screen cap of Montana (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 3 months ago | (#46984165)

Thanks. :)

Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (4, Informative)

ModernGeek (601932) | about 4 months ago | (#46911489)

Here is the real site with the actual map: http://www.jshine.net/astronom... [jshine.net] I love how the most modern looking sites with all the share, like, and tracking code embedded into them have the least amount of information...

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 4 months ago | (#46911515)

Thanks for the useful info. The only catch with the map is that it's a bit slow.

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (2, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 4 months ago | (#46911585)

Here is the real site with the actual map: http://www.jshine.net/astronom [jshine.net] ...

No, that's a site with a map - had you actually read the article, you'd have found it included a way to incorporate the information in Google Earth (a map program, you may have heard of it) as well.
 

I love how the most modern looking sites with all the share, like, and tracking code embedded into them have the least amount of information...

The article referenced in the summary had plenty of information - including two different ways to get the dark sky maps.

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (2)

pla (258480) | about 4 months ago | (#46912573)

No, that's a site with a map - had you actually read the article, you'd have found it included a way to incorporate the information in Google Earth (a map program, you may have heard of it) as well.

Let's see, download and install a program plus download an import a map layer... Or visit a URL.

Yes, not the same thing - But the GP's link counts as a heck of a lot more convenient for those of us who just want to find the nearest convenient spot with the lowest light pollution.

In my case, thanks to the GP, that took about 20 seconds to discover that I live at the edge of a 3 or 4 zone, and I have a ton of options for getting a 2 about an hour's drive away.

Or, I could have followed the directions in TFA and still have Google Earth spending the next hour killing my bandwidth downloading map tiles.


The article referenced in the summary had plenty of information - including two different ways to get the dark sky maps.

Do you mean the closing paragraph's "Or, for the incredibly lazy, click here for a click-and-drag map" - Which conspicuously didn't actually include any sort of link?

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 4 months ago | (#46912801)

Or ... read the article ... follow the link to the google maps overlay.

You fail as much as the GP.

http://www.blue-marble.de/nigh... [blue-marble.de]

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (1)

pla (258480) | about 4 months ago | (#46912979)

First of all, the original lights survey does not equal a neatly labelled Bortle map. But fair enough, that does go to an interactive Google map of something vaguely similar to what the GP posted.

Second... I see now how I missed the link - TFA has randomly chosen to disobey web site useability rule #1 - Don't change the style of links just because you happen to dislike underlined blue text. Very clever. Clearly, any moron could have viewed the page source, found the link (assuming they already knew it), searched the page for the the text bound to that link, and clicked it, amirite? Yes, I missed it. And yes, TFA fails worse than any of us.

That said, thank you for pointing out to me that I haven't "fixed" my latest installation of FireFox to ignore site-imposted styling of links. I will remedy that immediately.

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 4 months ago | (#46916887)

Or, I could have followed the directions in TFA and still have Google Earth spending the next hour killing my bandwidth downloading map tiles.

If it would take you an hour to download map tiles, you need to get off your ass and upgrade your 300 baud modem.
 

"Or, for the incredibly lazy, click here for a click-and-drag map" - Which conspicuously didn't actually include any sort of link?

If you didn't see a link, try upgrading your 1990's era browser.

Seriously, the OP is a jackass for lying and stating the article didn't contain any useful information or links - and you're one for being completely ignorant.

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (4, Informative)

houghi (78078) | about 4 months ago | (#46911725)

Or just go to the page with the Google Earth image overlays for artificial night sky brightness [earthlink.net] that you can import into Google Earth and has images for the rest of the world as well.

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (1)

WoOS (28173) | about 4 months ago | (#46911821)

And for Europeans, there are ready-made maps [lichtverschmutzung.de] available (one click to load into google earth instead of downloading a .tif and positioning it).

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46912157)

and they, as you point out also have an incredibley douchebagness smarmy tone to them as well.

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (1)

Xyrus (755017) | about 4 months ago | (#46912465)

Pretty much confirms what I already knew: I have to drive hours in order to find even a decent dark sky site. That's why my 10" SCT and 6" refractor have been gathering dust in my garage for the past 7 years. :P

Re:Fly past the modern-looking junky blog site (1)

g01d4 (888748) | about 4 months ago | (#46914407)

The refractor should be good for planetary, lunar and solar imaging where you're at. If you're ambitious try some narrow band imaging [astrodon.com] with the 10".

Scary map (1)

Shag (3737) | about 4 months ago | (#46911519)

I grew up in the Northeast Corridor (severely light-polluted), but for over 10 years have been on the "Big Island" of Hawaii and for almost 10 years, on Mauna Kea, so I'm used to 1-3 on the scale. Now I'm looking at moving back to be closer to family... hope I can find somewhere not TOO lit up.

Re:Scary map (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46912709)

Spent the first 18 years of my life a couple of miles mauka of the kona airport. Then I moved to the mainland, light-pollution is the least of the problems you'll have.

OFF TOPIC: Mapping and Calendar (0)

Jonah Hex (651948) | about 4 months ago | (#46911553)

OK this is tangentially on topic, especially if you're talking about cool map tricks.

There are many individual groups holding related events throughout my state, however attempts to create a shared calendar for them have not had all the features we'd like. We've tried shared Google Calender, Wordpress plugins, etc, and none have had all the features we'd like. We'd also like to avoid existing large sites like Meetup, as we'd like to only have our own events displayed on the Calender/Map. And we want to make sure individual organizers have full control over their own event's calender and can link to an existing Google Calender/iCalender. Ideally this could be ramped up for larger than state usage, but for now we're trying to replace a myriad of individual calenders spread all over the place, and a single Google Calender that attempts to gather them in being maintained by one person.

An example: Magic the Gathering has many individual groups and stores running events, with many individual organizers. Ideally the Calender/Map system would be able to pull in many individual calenders and display them in a shared Calender/Map with filtering by City, Region, and even by Event Sub Type such as Game Type, Ranked Games, etc. It should hopefully be embeddable on any other website and provide it's own (filterable) export in standard calender formats.

Any help is appreciated!

Re:OFF TOPIC: Mapping and Calendar (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | about 4 months ago | (#46912411)

You're probably better off asking this in question where people are actually expeting these sorts of questions:

http://webapps.stackexchange.c... [stackexchange.com]

You want dark, how's this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46911593)

Everyone that has ever been on Hogan's Heroes is dead.

Re:You want dark, how's this? (1)

stox (131684) | about 4 months ago | (#46911617)

Robert Clary is still alive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

Re:You want dark, how's this? (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about 4 months ago | (#46911641)

Thank you for lighting up our day. Now turn that damn light out, I want to do some astronomy.

Re:You want dark, how's this? (1)

hubie (108345) | about 4 months ago | (#46912387)

Kenneth Washington [wikipedia.org] is still alive too!

Get a pellet gun (2)

sjames (1099) | about 4 months ago | (#46911631)

n/t

There's a spot 30 miles from anywhere you are. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46911661)

Just go up, eventually there will be no atmosphere to disrupt your star viewing.

Beautiful skies (1)

jargonburn (1950578) | about 4 months ago | (#46911761)

I live in the 6 range, not too far from Portland, Oregon. Some of my fondest memories involve dark skies; I'll never forget the first time I was able to see the Milky Way stretching across the sky, along with the countless other visible stars that I could never have seen at home.

It's not something I often think of (life is busy, right?), but it was neat loading up this layer into Google Earth and tracking down approximately where I've been when I've seen those night skies.

I can make it to a Class 3 in 1h20m, Class 2 in 2h20m, and Class 1 in 3h40m. I'd never really thought about it like that before; that's really not so hard to do! :)

Dammit (0)

thexfile (3221535) | about 4 months ago | (#46911765)

Now I can't stop thinking about The Fixx "Red Skies"

England is pretty bright (1)

EnglishTim (9662) | about 4 months ago | (#46911835)

Looking at the map in the UK, the vast majority of England is coded yellow or worse (5.6 - 6.0 - suburban sky). In some places you can can get green coded (6.1 - 6.5 - suburban / rural transition), and there's only four areas coded blue (6.6 - 7.0, rural), which are along the border with Scotland, a chunk of Cornwall, a very small bit of the North Norfolk coast at Wells-next-the-sea, and a bit at the border with Wales. Wales in general fares better with some proper dark places through the central and western of the country, as does Scotland in the highlands and along the border with England. Northern Ireland has a few spots of 'blue' in the north and southwest of the country.

Anyway, for me a it's a little disappointing - It'd be many hours drive to get to anywhere rated 'blue' or darker, and over an hour to get to the only place in the whole of the southeast rated 'green'.

Easier to view the map (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46911991)

If you make the .png transparent then you can just view it on google maps throgh docs. I have done this for northern Europe [google.com] .

Re:Easier to view the map (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 4 months ago | (#46912193)

Thanks - that's saved me some time messing about. It seems the nearest place with dark skies to me is five miles out to sea!

I just love the optimism (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 4 months ago | (#46912047)

From the article: The most light-polluted urban areas typically hit eight or nine on the Bortle scale

Ha! An 8 or 9 corresponds to a VLM of 4 - 4.5. That's not a "city sky" - that's open country in most, errr ... developed countries. If you want a city sky try a VLM of 0 or 1 - where there are more lights from planes than stars or planets visible.

Oh, and having a dark sky is nice, but meaningless if there's cloud cover. A much more useful tool would be a Google Maps overlay for the number of clear nights per year.

Re:I just love the optimism (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 4 months ago | (#46913851)

I know I'll get clear skies eventually in my geographic region, but I also know that I'll never get dark skies here, unless there's a massive power disruption. (When Hurricane Fran came through, one of the few good things about the experience was that there were dark skies for a couple of days afterward.)

This is cool! (1)

grub (11606) | about 4 months ago | (#46912401)

My daughter loves science and the new Cosmos. This is a perfect tool to plan with for an upcoming warm summer night.

Dark Sky Parks (1)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | about 4 months ago | (#46912653)

A simple (but unfortunately short) list is provided at the following site. Rumor has it these parks actually enforce rules. If you show up with a flashlifght, you will be escorted off the premises. Support your nearest dark sky state park!

http://www.darksky.org/night-s... [darksky.org]

What is the halfway divide? (1)

honestmonkey (819408) | about 4 months ago | (#46913307)

If you look at the light map, there seems to be a fairly clear line almost halfway in the middle of the US. I couldn't find a natural barrier. The Mississippi is to the east, and the Rockies to the west. But it looks to me that it's pretty much the exact eastern half of the the US is bright almost everywhere, and the western half, except for the cities, is pretty dark. It's curious to me that the line is pretty straight, north to south. Is there a reason for this other than an accident of history?

Re:What is the halfway divide? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46913975)

It's the population. Google 'population map usa' and you'll get a picture that's almost a 1:1 !

Re:What is the halfway divide? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46914369)

Is there a reason for this other than an accident of history?

Water. People need water to live. The light map matches the population map which matches annual rain fall.

Re:What is the halfway divide? (1)

sysrammer (446839) | about 3 months ago | (#46920809)

Mississippi River watershed.

Re:What is the halfway divide? (1)

Reziac (43301) | about 3 months ago | (#46921337)

That's roughly where it switches from irrigated farming (lowland watershed) to dryland farming and ranching (prairie), serious mountains, and desert, thus outside of the cities is much more thinly populated than the eastern half.

Please stop posting medium.com urls. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46913411)

They're unreadable without a tablet.

It's like the frog in the pot of heating water... (2)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 4 months ago | (#46913889)

With the gradual encroachment of around-the-clock bright light everywhere, you don't realize what you're losing.

Last time I went to a planetarium show, they did the standard slow-dimming-background thing, until you could see the equivalent of magnitude 5. "Ah", I thought, "this is what I remember dark skies looking like. It's a shame I have to drive an hour to see them now."

Then we heard the voice of the narrator: "This is what most people see at night today. Now, we'll show you what a truly dark sky looks like..."

...and the bottom fell out of the sky.

The number of stars multiplied at least tenfold. I still literally start to tear up when I think about it. Because I do remember, now, seeing skies like that when I was much younger; but with ubiquitous "safety" lighting, and my aging eyes, I doubt I'll ever see them again.

Re:It's like the frog in the pot of heating water. (1)

Reziac (43301) | about 3 months ago | (#46921267)

When I first moved out to the desert, nights there were DARK. And a moonless sky was lit up end to end -- you don't realise what an impressive swath the Milky Way makes if you haven't seen it like this. There's actually enough starlight to cast shadows. Visitors from the city would stand there gawking, having no idea it looked like that.

Civilization encroached, a gaggle of streetlamps went up a few miles away, and my wondrous night sky vanished into the ambient haze. And even tho the new lights were about 6 miles away, I no longer had to carry a flashlight when I needed to muck about outdoors after dark. It was that much brighter... enough to mask probably 80% of the visible stars.

It's not quite dead dark where I now live in the middle of nowhere, less because of the occasional rural yard light than because of a power station a few miles downriver that makes a signficant glow atop the intervening hills. But it's still a helluva lot better than what they did to my desert.

I have experienced very dark skies (1)

jonwil (467024) | about 4 months ago | (#46915921)

I have an uncle who owns a sheep station and (if all the house lights are turned off) the sky in that area is AMAZING. Its clear most of the time too (although I wish they had more rain, they really need it).

I hope to get back there sometime and stay with them again sometime and photography is something I intend to do if I do get out there (although I have no clue how well my little canon point & shoot would do with night sky photography).

Re:I have experienced very dark skies (1)

K10W (1705114) | about 3 months ago | (#46925241)

I have an uncle who owns a sheep station and (if all the house lights are turned off) the sky in that area is AMAZING. Its clear most of the time too (although I wish they had more rain, they really need it).

I hope to get back there sometime and stay with them again sometime and photography is something I intend to do if I do get out there (although I have no clue how well my little canon point & shoot would do with night sky photography).

it'll do 15sec at least, if it is CHDK compatible then the firmware upgrade will get you more options on long exposure. However limited to the 15sec max of most p&s you can take several on a tripod, use 2sec timer mode to avoid shake from touching shutter button. Then stack these photos in photoshop (or similar) with screen blendmode and you'll get the equivalent of longer exposure minus the noise as most is random. If you're really bothered you could take a few dark frames covering the lens (no cap per se with powershots I guess) and subtract from the light frame data if hotpixels are an issue.

I mainly use an entry level dslr and a prosumer end dslr both with high quality fast glass, rock solid tripod and so on for astro work as a big hobby of mine but it is surprising what you can get out of a point and shoot, so much I converted an old bridge camera to IR by whipping out the hotmirror as more DSO's are visible then when stack in likes of DeepSkyStacker or Registax and their ilk.

Hope it helps, high end gear isn't needed for a lot of fun with astro photography and pretty impressive results. Although admittedly you wont get mind blowing stuff without decent tracking rig, dslr that is IR modded (and I see some who go DIY peltier cooled route as well) and scope, H-alpha filters etc. those things are still not very expensive if you ever chose to go that way in future.

Re:I have experienced very dark skies (1)

jonwil (467024) | about 3 months ago | (#46926379)

Heck, I dont even own a tripod.

Re:I have experienced very dark skies (1)

K10W (1705114) | about 3 months ago | (#46930465)

Heck, I dont even own a tripod.

You'd be surprised what you can mcguyver in a pinch, I'd still take your camera but curl up a jacket or something and rest cam on it on an angle, set to timer mode I've made do with that method when all I had on me was a compact. Could make 15sec stack a little trickier admittedly. Or pick up one of those $5 tabletop pods for compacts, don't take much weight but don't really need to. Rest it on a fence post, chair, car roof etc and it'll do the trick

Str (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 3 months ago | (#46918245)

> "on theBortle Dark Sky Scale"

Oh come on man, that sounds like something they made up for Ghostbusters.

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