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mikey2000

About Dark Sites....

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I read and digested the pinned post about 'what is a dark site' and I can't help but wonder about how this translates into real life observing.   I'm a backyard astronomer and I can't seem to imagine packing my scope up then driving out to some field in the middle of nowhere.

 

So can anyone tell me how they get to Dark Sites?   Is it a friend's country cottage?  A known 'astromeet' location?  Or do people really park their cars down B roads and unload the kit into a farmer's field?  I'd be really nervous about that, in case of ne'er-do-wells passing by and stealing my stuff.  Or other mishaps like being chased of by a disgruntled herd of cows.  Etc!

 

Please enlighten me on how to 'handle' dark site searching! (Or should that be 'endarken me'????)

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Personally, my favorite spot is a very dark reservoir called Usk in Wales, there's a nice picnic bench to use laptop etc and a nice flat area to set up the scope. There's also a low horizon in every direction so there's no terrestrial objects blocking DSO's! It's about a 45 min drive away but well worth it imo. The only thing I hate are the many potholes in the country roads which feel 100x worse in my fiesta ST... 

I used to go on my own but recently met another astronomer through work which helps the thought of someone coming and stealing my stuff! Although to be fair, I never had those sort of thoughts really when I went on my own, I'd be so excited about being under such a dark sky that any scary thoughts never crossed my mind. I think traveling to a dark site is more exciting to me and makes astronomy much more of an activity.

A few tips; make sure your equipment is packed well enough and everything is organised so it makes setting up the scope a lot quicker and park the car close to where you're gonna set it up, bring a good headtorch, dress up very warm and maybe bring a radio or something to give you a bit of company (that's if you can get signal, I cant..)

I have a 150pds too by the way! It's a lovely scope but I only use it for AP now, I bought a new 12" for visual the other day :D 

Edited by Gino Arcari
grammar error
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best advice is check out a light pollution map first. locate a area you fancy an then check it out in the daytime. then when the time comes arrive in the daylight and set up. you will get familiar with your surroundings whilst it go dark. take plenty of warm clothes, food,drinks and make sure you tell someone your location. you will love it. like gino says its a whole better experience :headbang:

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2 hours ago, mikey2000 said:

I read and digested the pinned post about 'what is a dark site' and I can't help but wonder about how this translates into real life observing.   I'm a backyard astronomer and I can't seem to imagine packing my scope up then driving out to some field in the middle of nowhere.

 

So can anyone tell me how they get to Dark Sites?   Is it a friend's country cottage?  A known 'astromeet' location?  Or do people really park their cars down B roads and unload the kit into a farmer's field?  I'd be really nervous about that, in case of ne'er-do-wells passing by and stealing my stuff.  Or other mishaps like being chased of by a disgruntled herd of cows.  Etc!

 

Please enlighten me on how to 'handle' dark site searching! (Or should that be 'endarken me'????)

Glad you liked my post about dark sites :)

Yes, I pack my gear in my car and drive 25 miles to a remote spot down a minor road with almost no through traffic. I  chose the spot a few years ago after my previous one started to be encroached upon too much by a light dome on the southern horizon. I found it by looking at the OS map for reachable rural spots likely to have a clear, unlit southern horizon, went in daytime to check it out, and saw there would be easy parking that wouldn't obstruct anyone. Sitting alone there in the middle of the night I feel far safer than I would walking down any city street (though I'm not scared of that either). Primal fear of darkness/ghosts/wolves/psychos soon goes away once you're doing something interesting in a familiar place. Only downside is the investment of time and petrol, and the times when I've driven all that way only to be clouded out.

My philosophy is that no one expects to go skiing or fishing or bunjee jumping in their back garden. You could I suppose do snorkelling in a bath tub, but it wouldn't be worth it. Some hobbies necessitate a bit of travel, and I live with that.

My one tip: keep all your gear packed and ready in one place, and keep it simple, taking only what you really need. I once got all the way to a dark site only to find I'd forgotten my stool to sit on. Never made that mistake again.

I can think of only a handful of occasions when anyone has stopped to ask what I was doing, and of course I was happy to enlighten them. No one has ever given me any problems, and there's absolutely no reason why anyone ever should. If a place is safe and legal to visit in daytime then the same applies at night.

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22 minutes ago, acey said:

Glad you liked my post about dark sites :)

Yes, I pack my gear in my car and drive 25 miles to a remote spot down a minor road with almost no through traffic. I  chose the spot a few years ago after my previous one started to be encroached upon too much by a light dome on the southern horizon. I found it by looking at the OS map for reachable rural spots likely to have a clear, unlit southern horizon, went in daytime to check it out, and saw there would be easy parking that wouldn't obstruct anyone. Sitting alone there in the middle of the night I feel far safer than I would walking down any city street (though I'm not scared of that either). Primal fear of darkness/ghosts/wolves/psychos soon goes away once you're doing something interesting in a familiar place. Only downside is the investment of time and petrol, and the times when I've driven all that way only to be clouded out.

My philosophy is that no one expects to go skiing or fishing or bunjee jumping in their back garden. You could I suppose do snorkelling in a bath tub, but it wouldn't be worth it. Some hobbies necessitate a bit of travel, and I live with that.

My one tip: keep all your gear packed and ready in one place, and keep it simple, taking only what you really need. I once got all the way to a dark site only to find I'd forgotten my stool to sit on. Never made that mistake again.

I can think of only a handful of occasions when anyone has stopped to ask what I was doing, and of course I was happy to enlighten them. No one has ever given me any problems, and there's absolutely no reason why anyone ever should. If a place is safe and legal to visit in daytime then the same applies at night.

Couldn't have said it better myself, I completely agree on the petrol, it does add up but when I spend money on astronomy, I really don't regret it. Being clouded over though after setting up the scope is the absolute worse... ?

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The only thing to be concerned about is some dark sites might be haunts for the kennel club people, but without the family pet dog if you get my drift, but it really is worth finding a spot away from city lights

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My local spot in a old abandoned castle about half a hour drive down the road-still trying to decide wether I find it errie it atmospheric!

Like others have said check out LP maps for a likely spot-on failing that just spend a day driving round your local county roads for a spot!

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1 hour ago, popeye85 said:

My local spot in a old abandoned castle about half a hour drive down the road-still trying to decide wether I find it errie it atmospheric!

Like others have said check out LP maps for a likely spot-on failing that just spend a day driving round your local county roads for a spot!

I love the idea of setting up in an old castle!

All the comments about the value of travelling to a dark spot are valid, and it's something I shall do seriously very soon.  I did have a trial trip not far from home where the sky is meant to be a few notches up the darkness scale, but it was a disaster!  Where I parked there was a scary mannekin in a high-vis jacket hanging off a gate, a farmhouse lit up like a beacon, and then a steady stream of cars (although it is a narrow rural lane).  

Next time - somewhere better, and with someone for company and security!

Doug.

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I don't really bother, as muxh as where I live as anything. I do not mind say 30-40 minute drive, but more then that seems a little too much for what amounts to a couple of hours observing. The other aspect is that you need somewhere suitable to set up, there is a reasonable road that is dark but it is also used by people. It links a few of the slightly remote villages and so gets used.

To me it is a case of finding somewhere darker then where I live and I have a couple of thos and use them. There is very few places in England that are "dark". I decided some time back that I just have to accept that and get along with it.

Some villages have, for whatever reason, remained unlit by street lights, if I recall where Breckland Astro is based is one such. Not sure if there are any around Leighton Buzzard. Leighton Buzzard has a number of small villages around it, Cheddington comes to mind as I have friends there, also you are somewhat shielded by hills to the south that will block light from Luton. To the West of you there is a lot of space and few villages, check one out, likely one will be good.

Perhaps we expect too much from the term "Dark Site". Maybe we should think in terms of Darker Site, not Dark Site.

I cannot see myself selecting a dark site to visit for a few days, a vacation is not just waiting for it to get dark, and the last clear night around here  was some time ago, so no guarantee of it being clear, immaterial of dark. Remember that dark is no use if you have cloud. Being able to say it was so dark I could not even see the underside of the 5 days of constant clouds we had is not much use.

 

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You've got many good advices above on travelling.

I've been done my DSO observing mostly by travelling to dark sites in the last 3-4 years, which has been uncomparably more rewarding than staying in backyards, as the pinned post by Acey's indicated, you'll be limited to only bright DSO by staying in light-polluted backyard.

A few words I'd add is good footware, I've only felt cold in the feet in  -10° or -15°. I've forgot to bring all the stuff with me for time to time, so here's my check list (in Todo worksheet) before travelling, together with the DSO list.

DSO_count_to_st.xlsx

---

Edit:

A light pollution map can be a good help for finding a close dark site:

https://www.lightpollutionmap.info/#zoom=9&lat=7837207&lon=1356702&layers=B0TFFFFF

Edited by YKSE

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i had these same kind of worries when i was starting up and asked a similar question. once i found somewhere at least darker than my back garden i took a trip out one night with just the bins and planisphere. my location is down a very very unused road down a country road. from the main country road i think i saw 10 cars in 1.5 hours. none of them passed me. like Gino Arcari said, once you get there you seem to forget anything like anybody else being out and about.

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also the fact that a lot of people get spooked in dark isolated areas, because your mind over works itself. im not, but if i was some kind of thief i/we would hit rich target areas such as towns an citys. there is no chance of meeting these scum type people out in remote areas, there would be no point for them. so don't worry about that :icon_biggrin:

myself and the dobmob travel some were dark around 9 times a year, our lates venture is the isle of skye (blame nick for that) which is just over 1000 miles round trip we have never seen anyone in remote areas

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11 hours ago, Gino Arcari said:

Nice dob Mike!! 

thank you gino :icon_biggrin:

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If you like your Astronomy and are keen to the get the best out of visual observation, or want to venture into AP, a dark site is worth sorting out. Might be worth studying the Ordnance Survey local large scale map of your area, could show up some suitable areas which might be worth investigating.

However, you will inevitably need to take a recognisance drive into the country of some miles away from your polluted location. If you come across a nice spot on private land, don`t be afraid to approach the farmer/land owner, I have found them most accommodating in the past, when it comes to using their land for Astronomical purposes.

All the better If you have a friend to go with you, if you feel you may get the jitters on your own, especially If there is some distance to walk, they come in handy for carrying some of the gear :) 

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A dark site is far less dangerous at night than a city street.   Before moving to live at a dark site I found a friendly landowner in Debyshire, explained what I would like to do, and he was very happy to say yes. I'd drop him a couple of bottles of wine off at Christmas and eveyone was happy.

Olly

PS Acey makes a great point about most activities needing an appropriate place. My kayak is lousy in a field! I don't snorkel in the bathtub either but it is a fine spot for re-enacting naval battles... 

Edited by ollypenrice
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9 hours ago, nightfisher said:

The only thing to be concerned about is some dark sites might be haunts for the kennel club people, but without the family pet dog if you get my drift, but it really is worth finding a spot away from city lights

I wouldn't worry too much about this kind of activity, they just want the same thing as you: A dark, quiet spot; so will move on if anyone is around.

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When I was in Bedford I used to occasionally take the scope to a couple of locations out of town for dark(er) skies and never really had any problems. That was observing alone. I passed my main site once as it was already occupied, possibly by the "Kennel Club" (nothing to worry about, and will be more scared of being rumbled that you are), and once had to briefly share the site with some teenage lads who parked up there to have a drink and a smoke at night (I moved on because of their lights, but they were perfectly friendly). That was in a layby picnic site (and a bit of a dump if truth be told). Then I moved into a nearby country park (bit of a slog carrying the gear abour a quarter mile or so) whcih was pretty good. Very noisy though (do Canada geese ever shut up)?

Another option would be to follow the advice in Astronomy Hacks and travel armed for purposes of self defence.

Hint - NEVER DO THIS!

Billy.

Edited by billyharris72
Another (insane) option

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I'll second the recommendation for https://www.lightpollutionmap.info/ as it can show you where some relatively unexpected dark sky sites are. For example, my favourite site is about fifteen minutes drive from home and only about four miles from the centre of a major city. Yet it receives radiance of less than 0.25 nanowatts per sq cm (i.e. the darkest band on lightpollutionmap.info). Although there is skyglow from the city to the north, on a clear, dry night I can see the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye and it's clear to the south. The site is also at the end of a country lane, so car headlights aren't an issue. I'd have to go a lot further to find somewhere better.

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Mine is just a 5 minute drive up a country lane and parking and setting up on an old farmers track. I occasionally get blinded by a passing car and once a young couple pulled up near me but I assume they didn't want spectators so they drove away. Had the kids with me too. My advice is don't leave a cardboard box out in the dew and bring more food than you think you'll need.

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3 hours ago, billyharris72 said:

When I was in Bedford I used to occasionally take the scope to a couple of locations out of town for dark(er) skies and never really had any problems. That was observing alone. I passed my main site once as it was already occupied, possibly by the "Kennel Club" (nothing to worry about, and will be more scared of being rumbled that you are), and once had to briefly share the site with some teenage lads who parked up there to have a drink and a smoke at night (I moved on because of their lights, but they were perfectly friendly). That was in a layby picnic site (nice place for those that know it, and a bit of a dump if truth be told). Then I moved into nice place(bit of a slog carrying the gear abour a quarter mile or so) whcih was pretty good. Very noisy though (do Canada geese ever shut up)?

Another option would be to follow the advice in Astronomy Hacks and travel armed for purposes of self defence.

Hint - NEVER DO THIS!

Billy.

BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT MENTIONING YOUR EXACT LOCATION, AS THERE COULD BE SPAMMERS

 

ADMIN COULD YOU PLEASE EDIT THE LOCATION DETAILS

Edited by faulksy
edit locations

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35 minutes ago, faulksy said:

BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT MENTIONING YOUR EXACT LOCATION, AS THERE COULD BE SPAMMERS

 

ADMIN COULD YOU PLEASE EDIT THE LOCATION DETAILS

I've made a couple of tweaks, so should be okay (except I've just noted the location is also in your post).

Do you really think there is a risk to that though? Genuine question; not really seeing how the information could be used, but I may be being naïve here.

Billy

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1 minute ago, billyharris72 said:

I've made a couple of tweaks, so should be okay (except I've just noted the location is also in your post).

Do you really think there is a risk to that though? Genuine question; not really seeing how the information could be used, but I may be being naïve here.

Billy

hi billy, don't know to honest but do you want to risk it. i will get my post edited :icon_biggrin:

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4 minutes ago, billyharris72 said:

I've made a couple of tweaks, so should be okay (except I've just noted the location is also in your post).

Do you really think there is a risk to that though? Genuine question; not really seeing how the information could be used, but I may be being naïve here.

Billy

done :icon_biggrin:

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22 hours ago, mikey2000 said:

I'm a backyard astronomer and I can't seem to imagine packing my scope up then driving out to some field in the middle of nowhere.

 

 

It might perhaps depend a little upon how adequate your backyard is for observing and even if your own, more urban, space is adequate, occasionally venturing to a dark sky location, the effort required is most definitely worth while. If you are unsure how best to proceeded, perhaps consider joining a regional astronomically society, members may be able to advise on local spots and the club may have a routinely attended dark sky location. Then as many on here have said, if you are familiar with your regional rural environment, Explorer series and Landranger OS maps will hold the key to locating a suitable spot. I have a few locations that I like to head out to, some are small pull-ins off minor roads whilst others are larger carparks, each in a fairly remote location.  Unless planning on stopping overnight, I like to keep distances travelled to no more than one hour each way, fatigue on the way home has to be taken into account - you can only drink so much coffee.  As has been said, tell someone of your intention, ensure that your mobile is charged but be prepared that you may not have a signal and if required might have to walk some way to gain one. For late summer observing, take along some kind of insect repellent. You may encounter others but they will not necessarily be the unwelcome kind. Depending upon where I am, I have encounterd photographers, ecologists, entomologists , aurora hunters and even other amateur astronomers. More often it is the nocturnal habits of wild life that is apparent.

Experiencing a dark sky is mesmerising and will become addictive, dark skies have became a valued resource, these precious areas are continually under threat. A lot can be absorbed naked eye, binoculars and smaller aperture, as your eyes become fully dark adapted you become in harmony with the wildlife amidst.

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