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Dark-sky expeditions

Dark skies are found in rural areas that are free of urban light pollution. This page is dedicated to effort of group of people who try to find these areas to enjoy best possible astronomical observations.

Why we try to find the dark skies?

Imagine the situation - you are an amateur astronomer and so far you have only observed in your local sub-urban location. You live in or close to a big city and every time you travel a few kilometers to a countryside you are fascinated by the difference. However, you are mistaken again. Most likely you are experiencing just mediocre condition. Just like the proverb - “The Frog in the Well Knows Nothing of the Great Ocean”. You have to travel further. Much more further.

Our disillusionment did not come at one whack, but rather in steps during our so called Dark sky journeys. Dark sky journeys are collective project of seeking for better and even better observing conditions and truly dark skies. The entertainment intensified and our group experienced many adventures. It was an excellent lesson for all of us, both from theoretical and even more from practical perspective.

Practical observing, quality of sky, Milky way, zodiacal light and searching for areas with truly dark skies have become our leitmotivs. No matter what you do, it is always important to go deeper to become more familiar with the subject. If you omit that when seeking for dark skies you risk two things - either you will never find them or you will not be sure whether “that's really it”.

What we expected to find ?

Our first goal of was to find dark localion, that would be reasonably close to our homes so that we can conveniently organize observing sessions. Just like there is no such thing like perfect telescope not even an optimum observing location is an obvious and easy choice. It is rather a result of equation with many variables. In many cases it is a compromise between many factors. It is not only about darkness of the sky. However, more later about that.

Our dark skies journeys

At the beginning we were not sure what to look for. Just like when you find for something you have never saw, it is very hard to decide whether that what you just find is really IT. We used our instinct for the very first step and the direction was simple - Tatra mountains.


startatry.jpgOur first trip was to Tatra mountains. It is the famous place in Slovakia and we have been thinking that there must be really excellent condition. Observing conditions in high altitude of our place close to Biele pleso was the best we have seen at the time. Despite the presence of a light pollution that has come even to Tatras. However, later we found we were just at the beginning.

more about StarTatry2005


staraustria.jpg The instinct was fine, but there are even better ways. There is a map of the sky pollution. Although it is a very handy tool, it should not be overrated. As we learned even it is necessary to “read in between the lines”. In outdated maps it is also important to approximate what has changed. However it helped us to find our next target.

According to the LP atlas, the closest location with conditions close to natural ones was ion Austria. Particularly in two so called blue locations.

There was no surprise that our second trip was to Alps in northeast part of Austria, area of Hockar and Mariazell in Weinberger's Wald. Thanks to the weather we had a chance to spent a night having the really great conditions even better that we experienced in Tatras. It was the best sky that we saw again and our bar moved higher.

more about StarAustria2005


starlapalma.jpgBoth previous locations were dark enough. Definitely much darker than anything we had chance to see so far. We saw objects like never before. However, strictly speaking, conditions we had a chance to experience could be classified only as Class 3 - Rural sky according to Bortle classification. The night in Austrian alps was super, but nobody from us was able to imagine how wonderful it could be on top of Bortle's rank. We had to go even further.

Bortle Level 1 has become an obsession - forced as to continue and find such a location. We believed that spending a night under such a condition must be very strong experience. Something unforgettable.

Long time before StarLaPalma2006 we have been smitten by articles about observing interplanetary and atmospheric phenomenons that can be observed only under truly dark sky. Such as zodiacal light, gegenschein or zodical bridge. Limiting start magnitude 8 is another unresistant magnet of Class 1 areas. Galaxy M33 that can be seen by straight vision with naked eye, brightest parts of the Milky way that produce even a shadow. The reach of every scope is increased by two magnitudes comparing to regular suburban conditions. Presence of a planet becomes obtrusive on such a sky. That why we went to LaPalma (Canary Islands) in September 2006 - to experience an astronomical nirvana.

more about StarLaPalma2006


group.jpgNow follows the level 4 - Southern skies with Bortle 1! The main goal of this expedition was to follow-up on our effort to find the best observing location. To us - Europeans - there was a pleasing bonus in form of completely new objects of southern hemisphere which nobody from us had a chance to see before. Northern part of the Chile posses a few of the world's most important astronomical sites. We have spent more than two weeks in our observing site near San Pedro de Atacama in the heart of Atacama desert one of the driest places on the Earth. Mission accomplished!

more about StarChile2008

more to come…

en/cesty/start.txt · Last modified: 24.May.2009 14:24 by Mirek Petricek
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