Mar 26, 2012; 5:00 AM ET
– Guest Blogger and Amateur Stargazer, Paul Adomshick
One of the biggest obstacles facing astronomy enthusiasts is light pollution. A majority of people worldwide live in areas where the glow from city lights obscures much of the beauty of the night sky. In order to really appreciate the night sky and see as many stars as possible, it helps to make your way to a place away from city lights and the glow that they create. The most obvious thing to do is to go to the most remote area you can get to easily. But how can you find the most remote dark sky location close to you? When I started observing a few years ago, I found a number of resources that have helped to pinpoint the best locations.
The first site I check when looking for a dark sky location is the Dark Sky Finder. The site uses a Google Maps interface with a light pollution overlay that covers the continental United States. It also has a large number of known observing locations pinpointed, including many outside the United States. Before trying to navigate the map, I recommend scrolling down to the button that allows you to “Toggle Light Pollution” and turning it off until you have zoomed in to the state or region you are interested in. The light pollution overlay image is apparently quite large, causing the site to slow down or crash if you are zoomed out to the entire United States. Zoom in until you are showing no more than a couple of states, then toggle the light pollution back on. Click on the pinpointed locations for more information and links to information on individual observing sites.
Another great resource is the International Dark-Sky Association. You can browse through their Dark Sky Finder and Destinations here. Of particular note on the IDA site is the section at the bottom of the linked page which highlights “Our Member’s Favorite Spots”. It provides links to some of the best observing locations, although many are, unfortunately, quite far from large cities.
Another option for locating the best observing sites near you is to search for local astronomy clubs. If you are in an area with lots of city lights, there are probably a whole lot of people just like you who want to see the night sky better, and many of them belong to astronomy clubs. They will certainly have located the best sites nearby for stargazing. Don’t be afraid to ask them for suggestions. Most of the amateur astronomers whom I’ve met enjoy sharing their love of astronomy and observing, and would be happy to point you in the right direction. Here is a link to a site that has an extensive list of astronomy clubs with their contact information.
If you are near one of the big cities on the east or west coast of the United States, it is likely that you won’t be able to get to a truly dark sky location without taking a drive of two hours or more. However, going to a location that is even a little darker than where you live can be a fantastic experience for a stargazer.