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« Steak: A Primer [CBD] | Main | Overnight Open Thread (8-4-2013) »
August 04, 2013

Spaced-Out Challenge: Guide to the 2013 Perseid Meteor Shower

It's that time again where we greet the greatest annual influx of space debris: the 2013 Perseids are here! Peak night is Sunday, August 11th through the early morning of Monday August 12th where locations in the western United States might enjoy 70-100 an hour. Even with a lower rate in the rest of the country, the Perseids will still put on a grand show, with gold and green fireballs frequently spotted.

Sure, HuffPo, the L.A. Times, Buzzfeed, and a host of other media sites will offer you a guide to the "ten best" spots, and show lots of time lapsed video from Sedona, but that isn't very useful for those of us who don't live in Nowhereville, USA.

What about a dark-sky guide for the rest of us?
Read on.

What are the Perseids?
The fireball champion of the annual meteor showers:

These are also one of the oldest recorded annual showers, with records from Chinese astronomers documenting the event back to 36 AD.

When are they this year?
Right now! The Perseids are spotted throughout late July into August, but peak in the early morning hours of August 12th. If you can't make it out of town next Sunday evening, try spotting a few streaks late evening Saturday, the 10th.

What do I need to see them?
Get away from city lights, and avoid stray lights from ruining your night vision.
Grab a chair and some coffee.
Look up and enjoy.

HELP! I don't know jack about the constellations! Where do I look?
Just look up! While they will seem to radiate from Perseus, you don't really need to know where Perseus even is in the sky. The brightest will streak straight across your stellar dome. Grab a chair, grab some coffee, and enjoy the heavens!

If you must know, here's a helpful chart pinpointing the "radiant", Perseus, and the more familiar constellations Cassiopeia and Andromeda we discussed in last week's thread:


"But but but CAC!" you might exclaim, "there isn't a dark spot for me for hundreds and hundreds of miles! You can't possibly find a place within a two-hour drive from [insert any major metropolitan area in the United States]!"
As insinuated above the fold, challenge accepted.

AOSHQ Dark Sky Directory

While nothing can beat an immaculate night sky, the experience of these flashing visitors streaking through the summer Milky Way can be enjoyed within a reasonable driving distance wherever you may be, weather permitting. Many states and towns have dedicated parks as "dark sky preserves" and are more than willing to accommodate the needs of local amateur astronomers.

Locations marked in italics are among the darkest places in the nation. A few of these have been pulled from Phil Harrington's excellent resource along with the Jshine map, where additional details for access are necessary I've linked to these sites directly. Caution: contact info for most sites is listed, but with ANY rural site be cautious about potentially dangerous unknowns such as blind cliffs and drops. It is strongly recommended you visit a site before sundown to familiarize yourself with your site.


Mobile: Little River State Forest 1 hr NE of Mobile
Montgomery: Grady and environs 45 minutes from Montgomery
Birmingham: Dirt parking lot/turnabout at Alabama 13 x 102 Vehicle traffic at minimum after sundown, 1 hr from Birmingham.
Coffeeville Reservoir Darkest sky in the state, 2 hr N of Mobile.

Go outside of your “town” and look up, so long as you aren't experiencing the Midnight Sun.
Recommended (actively advertising for the Perseids): Eagle River Nature Center

The Grand-Daddy of Dark Sky Destinations, the Milky Way lights up the summer sky everywhere but within the major metro areas (excluding Flagstaff- it's dark sky program means residents can walk to a nice sky).
Phoenix: (DARK sky site with amenities)- Alamo Lake State Park 2.5 hr W of Phoenix
Phoenix/SW Arizona: (DARK sky site go in groups due to desert)- The Antennae Observing Site 1.5 hr W of Phoenix
Phoenix: (closer, brighter dark sky site)- roadtrip W to Wickenburg 1 hr NW
Tucson: Kitt Peak National Observatory (Nightly Observing Program) Call ahead to enjoy a great evening, shuttle service available. Fantastic skies 90 minutes from Tucson.
North: Grand Canyon-North Rim Not only the darkest skies in the state, but some of the darkest on earth.

Northwest: Redding Recreation Area in Ozark
Little Rock: Petit Jean State Park 1 hr drive NW
Texarkana: Millwood Lake (North Side)
Southeast: Scrubgrass Campground One of the darkest in the state, if not the darkest.

Northern California, especially around Shasta, is an astronomer's paradise.
The High Sierras and the Mojave offer spectacular views to visitors and residents alike.
Northwestern: Hyampom Airport
Northeastern: Baum Lake
Bay Area North: Doran Regional Park 1.5 hr N of San Fransisco.
Sacramento: TAC-SEC's Ice House Observation Plateau Sites additional driving directions here
Bay Area South: Henry W Coe State Park 50 minutes from San Jose
Fresno: Spring Cove in Sierra National Forest 1 hr drive from Fresno
Carmel/Salinas/Monterrey: Pfeiffer Big State Beach at Big SurIncredible views of sea, sand and sky an hour south on Rte 1.
Central Coast/San Luis Obispo: Lake San Antonio <1 hr from SLB.
Bakersfield/Kern: Walker Pass Campground <1.5 hr East from Bakersfield. Very dark sky.
High Sierras/Eastern: Grandview Campground Very, very dark skies near Bishop.
Darkest sky in SoCal: Mesquite Spring Campground in Death Valley National Park most recent addition to the International Dark Sky Association's certified parks.
Vandenberg AFB/Santa Maria/Santa Barbara: VAAS' Figueroa Mt Site 1 hr drive from SB/SM/VAFB
Los Angeles/Ventura: Mount Pinos 1.5 hrs NW from downtown L.A. Haven for Angeleno amateur astronomers and astrophotographers.
Orange County/Inland Empire:
(Mountains)-Silverwood Lake Cedar Dam area.5-1hr from I.E. cities
(Desert-North) Amboy Crater Town of Amboy with iconic Roy's Gas, cold water and snacks nearby. Bathrooms and fountains. Parking area is remote, about a half mile from Route 66 which itself is rather remote. This is the darkest point in California south of Death Valley.
(Desert-South) Joshua Tree National Park Cottonwood Campground 1.5 hr E of Riverside
San Diego: Anza-Borrego Desert SP and environs 1.5 hr from downtown SD. Community within park also a great dark sky spot.

Outside of the Fort Collins-Pueblo string of cities, a five minute trip outside town gives you pristine skies.
Denver: Caribou Ranch Open Space 1.5 hr W of downtown Denver
Colorado Springs: Eleven Mile State Park 1 hr drive from Colorado Springs
Comanche National Grassland Darkest site in Colorado, one of the darkest in North America.

White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, CT Darkest easy-access site in the state. Milky Way visible from here. <1 hr drive from Hartfort, Bridgeport, or New Haven.

Trap Pond State Park near Laurel Yep, even Delaware has some darkness.

W of I-75 and N of Rte 98 is almost entirely dark sky. Wilderness snaking through the lower middle around Lake Okeechobee. If your town is within these areas, huzzah.
Panhandle: Falling Waters State Park <1.5 hr from Pensacola
Tallahassee: Bald Point State Park- Sunrise Beach Access parking lot and point are unlocked after hours per park staff, park in specified area. Very dark skies less than an hour from Tallahassee.
Jacksonville: Goldhead Branch State Park 1 hr drive time, reasonably dark skies.
Gainesville/Ocela: Shired Island 2hr drive time, darkest skies in the state.
Tampa Bay: Duette Preserve Parking Area closed at sundown, lots open 24/7. 1 hr drive time from Tampa/St Petersburg.
Orlando: Lake George State Forest 1.5 hr drive time
Naples and Miami: Kirby Storter Roadside Park 1 hr W of Miami, E of Naples on the 41.
Key West: Spanish Harbor KeyThe Girl Scout Camp here is used for the Winter Star Party.
If you can afford the trip: Dry Tortugas National Park. A challenge to get into, but one of the darkest sites on earth.

Great skies in the north along the Smokies, the southern border with Florida is swampy but dark as well.
Atlanta/Macon/Augusta/Athens: Ocatee Observing Field Within 1.5 hr drive from all of these cities.
Valdosta: Stephen C Foster State Park <1.5 hr east of Valdosta, darkest in the state.
Southwest/Columbus: Providence Canyon State Park (overlooks) <1 hr from Columbus STAY IN THE PARKING/OVERLOOK AREA. CANYON DROPS SUDDENLY.

If you can't get atop Mauna Loa:
Haleakala National Park next-darkest in the state, one of the darkest in the US.

Another state with incredible skies throughout, there is a small region in it's SW corner, bordering Nevada, that is one of the darkest sites on earth:
Duck Valley Indian Reservation Mountain View Reservoir Bortle Zone 1 Sky

Chicagoland: Green River Conservation Area near Dixon <2 hrs West
Central: Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Conservation Area
Southern: Shawnee National Forest Darkest skies in the state.

North: Potawatomi Wildlife Park First Dark-Sky Preserve in Indiana <1hr from South Bend, 1 hr from Ft Wayne
Indianapolis/Central: Camp George Cullom in Frankfort <1 hr from downtown Indianapolis
South:Patoka Lake & Environs <1.5 hr from Evansville, Bloomington

Much of Iowa is blue/green zone outside of the towns and cities.
Eastern: Buzzard Ridge Wildlife Area <1.5 hr from Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Davenport
Central/Des Moines: Springbrook State Park 1 hr from Des Moines
Western: Thul Woodland 1 hr from Souix City
Nine Eagles State Park Darkest site in Iowa

Virtually anywhere 15 minutes outside of town (western three fourths of the state)
Nearest Wichita: Cheney just 25 miles West.
Topeka/KC: Hwy 99&Cyclone Very dark sky

Plenty of rural locations, especially in the eastern third.
Eastern: End of Chimney Top Road in Daniel Boone National Forest
Western: Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area

North: Caney Creek Lake State Park
Central: Catahoula Lake in Catahoula NWR
New Orleans: Delta NWR <1.5 hr from downtown
West: Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge and Game Preserve

Northern half of the state is near-pristine.
Acadia National Park Darkest easy-access site in the state.

Baltimore Metro: Green Ridge State Forest near Flintstone, MD Darkest sky in the state.
Southern/DC Metro: Point Lookout State Park
Eastern Shore: Tuckahoe State Park near Denton

Shady Pines Campground, near Savoy, MA Darkest sky in the state, <2hr drive time to Boston
Marconi Beach <90 mins from Boston

Detroit Metro: Lake Hudson State Recreation Area The First Dark Sky Preserve in Michigan. 90 minutes from Detroit, 1 hr from Ann Arbor
North/Central: Lumberman's Monument National Forest Svc. Campground & Park
Upper Peninsula: North Country Natl Scenic Trail- Hiawatha National Forest Darkest Site in Michigan

Another state dominated by darkness with too many sites to list.
Duluth: Savannah Portage State Park
Twin Cities: Father Hennepin State Park 1.5 hr N of Minneapolis-St Paul
NW: Old Mill State ParkVery dark, almost "disorienting".
Voyaugers National Park Redefines the definition of dark. Incredible site, darkest in the state.

Extensive forest makes for dark but obscured viewing in much of the state, but most fishing lakes and reservoirs throughout offer decent horizons and dark skies.
Biloxi: De Soto National Forest Any open lot within the park, about an hour north.
Jackson: Lake Lincoln State Park 1 hr S of Jackson

Near Kansas City: Refer to the KANSAS listing for Topeka for a close point west, within MO closest site is Bunch Hollow Conservation Area
Near St Louis Metro: Council Bluffs Recreation Area DARK site 2 hrs from STL
Near St Louis: Cuivre River State Park 1 hr from downtown
Most of Missouri in between the big cities is blessed with good skies once you get about five minutes away from bright lights. There is one place though which is pure magic.
A very specific spot in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Darkest sky in the state, one of the darkest along the Mississippi.

Virtually anywhere
UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge Darkest sky in the state

Virtually anywhere 15 minutes outside of town (western two-thirds of the state)
Nearest Omaha: Burchard Lake Dam
Merritt Reservoir Darkest sky in the state

Austin, NV Darkest site in the state.
Las Vegas Metro: Glendale/BLM area

Most parts north of the NH/MA line are in the green.
Dixville Notch State Park Darkest site in the state

North: Jenny Jump State Forest near Hope
South: Belleplain State Forest (recreation fields) near Woodbine darkest site in the state

Much of the state is extremely dark, but here are few notable spots.
Northeast: Clayton Lake State Park Very dark sky.
Santa Fe/Las Vegas: Fort Union National Monument
Albequerque: San Lorenzo Canyon
Alamagordo/South: Three Rivers Petroglyph Rec Site
Southeast: Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Among the darkest places on earth. Milky Way takes on a three dimensional appearance.

Northern New York: Adirondacks, Darkest site in New York State is arguably Raquette Lake.
Western New York: Long Point State Park near Bemus Point
Long Island: Custer Institute in Southold Milky Way is visible here, <2 hr drive from NYC
Southern New York/Closest DARK site to New York City: Pepacton Reservoir <2.5 hr drive time from downtown Manhattan

Western/Asheville: Wayah Bald Darkest point in the Smokies
Northwestern: Doughton Park
Eastern: Pettigrew State Park near Creswell Very Dark Skies
Central/Charlotte/Winston-Salem/Raleigh/Greensboro: Roy J Maness Nature Preserve Within a 1.5 hr drive from all of these cities.
Wilmington/Southern: Bladen Lakes State Forest 1 hr from Wilmington
Outer Banks: National Seashore Cape Hatteras- Ocracoke Island Campsites One of the best dark sky sites in the United States. Eastern sky is immaculate.

Virtually anywhere 10 minutes outside of town
Little Missouri National Grasslands Darkest sky in the state

NW/Toledo: Harrison Lake State Park <1 hr from Toledo
Columbus: Woodbury Wildlife Area <1.5 hr east of downtown
Cincinnati: Stonelick Lake State Park Less than 50 minutes from downtown, best site in SW Ohio.
Cleveland: Dorset Wildlife Area Parking Lot <1 hr from downtown
SE/Appalachia: Lamping Homestead Picnic Area, Wayne Natl Forest Darkest site in the state.

Virtually anywhere 10 minutes outside of town west of Oklahoma City-Tulsa
Nearest Oklahoma City/Tulsa: Robbers Cave State Park Closer spots lie between Holdenville and McAlister, but this is the closest dark campground area.
Black Mesa State Park One of the darkest skies on earth. Words fail.

Eastern Oregon, from Bend on, is some of the darkest sky on earth.
Near Portland: L.L. Stub Stewart State Park <40 minutes from downtown.
Southern/Central: Crater Lake National Park Incredible skies, to it's south east some of the darkest on earth.

Cherry Springs State Park The darkest site in Pennsylvania, and one of the darkest in the Eastern United States. Second International Dark Sky Park named.
Scranton: High Knob Overlook
Pittsburgh Area: Ryerson Station State Park <1.5 hrs from downtown
Philadelphia Area: Hawk Mountain Road, State Game Lands Area #106 <1.5 hr from downtown Philly
Harrisburg/Gettysburg: Pine Grove Furnace State Park
York/Lancaster/AmishMafiaVille: Susquehannock State Park

Frosty Drew Obeservatory, Charlestown, RI Darkest site in Rhode Island, Milky Way is visible from here. <1 hr from Providence.

Western: Bad Creek DamVery dark sky, access road provided by Duke Energy, <2 hr from Spartanburg
Columbia and Charleston: Lone Star Ghost Town Not quite dead yet, but plenty of open spots for parking and observing. 1 hr from Columbia, 70 minutes from Charleston.

Virtually anywhere 10 minutes outside of town
Rabbit Creek Reservoir Darkest sky in the state

Western/Memphis: Chickasaw State Park (around Lake Placid) 1.5 hr east of Memphis
Nashville/Central: Water Valley Overlook on Natchez Trace Pkwy milepost 411.8, 1 hour from Nashville.
Eastern/Chattanooga/Knoxville: Cherohala Skyway Turnoffs Darkest location in the state.

West Texas has incredible sky, just ask any Texan. Even in the more "congested" parts of the state there are some great sites within a short drive.
Big Bend National Park- Persimmon Gap Picnic Area Mind-blowingly dark.
Amarillo: Rita Blanca National Grassland Very, very dark sky. 2 hr drive N to near OK border.
Dallas/FtWorth/Austin: Hubbard City Lakes
Houston: Lake Livingston (North End)
San Antonio/Laredo/Corpus Christi: Big Alamo Tank

Dark skies abound out here, but if you live in Provo/SLC you'll need more of a drive (about an hour) to get away from the lights. One immaculate site near the metro area can be found here. One of the darkest skies on earth can be found towards its southern border.
National Bridges National Monument The first International Dark Sky Park, and for damn good reason. Incredible scenery topped only with near-perfect skies.
Bryce Canyon National Park Darkest spot in Utah, one of the darkest on the continent.

The middle of the state is best, as light pollution from Montreal begins to brighten the northern third.
Branbury State Park Darkest in the state.

Western: Whitetop Mountain Arguably the darkest site in Virginia. Spectacular views.
Northern: Shenandoah National Park-Matthews Arm Campground drivetime 2hrs from downtown D.C.
Metro Northern VA: Sky Meadows State Park <1 hr from Arlington.
Central: Bear Creek Lake State Park
Eastern/Delmarva: Savage Neck Dunes parking lot Very dark considering it is less than an hour from Norfolk.

From Mt St Helens to the NE third, much of the state is an astronomer's paradise.
Tacoma/Seattle: Lake Easton State Park 1 hr from Seattle, 1.5 Tacoma
Spokane: Fishtrap Lake Parking Lot <30 minutes from downtown Spokane
Palouse Falls Darkest site in the state.

Charleston/West: Calhoun County Park Sky can rival Spruce Knob depending on weather.
Spruce Knob and environs The darkest site east of the Mississippi River.

Nearly all of SW and NW (particularly near Kickapoo) has excellent dark skies, the same for the regions bordering Michigan and the Iron Range.
NE Wisconsin: Newport State Park (call ahead)
Green Bay: Kroenke Lake SNA 1 hr from Green Bay
Milwaukee Metro: Kettle Moraine State Forest (North) 45 mins from Milwaukee, Fon du Lac, Sheboygan
Madison/Janesville: Magnolia Bluff Park
The Darkest Site in Wisconsin, Chequamegon National Forest

One of the few states where I can't really point out the "darkest" sky.
Hwy 131 leaving Lander south is one of the darkest of the dark.

With the moon setting early, this week is also a great time to check out the summer Milky Way (detailed guide here: part 1 2 3 4 5 6) and some of the fainter objects in the light pollution targets list, where they take on whole new dimensions away from city lights.

Well that about wraps up this week's edition. There will be none next Sunday for obvious reasons, so until then, go out next weekend, may your skies be clear and keep looking up!

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posted by CAC at 07:00 PM

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