The magnificent Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula will be a late-night target at the Darkest Sky Star Party. // Mark Hanson
On Saturday, April 29, a unique star party will take place in southwestern New Mexico. America’s Darkest Sky Star Party (DSSP) will occur with a variety of telescopes in Lordsburg and Animas, New Mexico, a lovely area dominated by antique silver mining that now boasts one of the best skies in the world for stargazing.
Astronomy magazine Editor David Eicher and Senior Editor Michael Bakich, well known astronomy personalities, will be your hosts to all things celestial. If you’re wondering whether you should join us, here are 10 things that might help you make up your mind.
1. An almost ironclad promise of a clear sky.
It will be late-April in the Desert Southwest. Days are hot and sunny, and nights are warm and starry. We can’t guarantee a clear sky, of course, but based on solid, long-term climate statistics we can come awfully close to doing so.
2. You’re walking on air.
At the star party site’s elevation of 4,600 feet (1,400 meters), 15 percent of Earth’s atmosphere lies below you. That’s a great advantage over many other sites in the U.S.
3. Ultra-low light pollution.
No large cities lie close to the DSSP location. Small communities do exist, but their light output is tiny, and it will not degrade our views of even faint celestial quarry.
4. More than just stars.
Earlier in the day, Eicher and Bakich will present two illustrated talks each on a variety of astronomical subjects. Maybe you want to catch up on recent news in astrophysics. Or perhaps you’re wondering where you should travel to experience the upcoming total solar eclipse August 21. If so, get there early.
5. “I thought stars were supposed to twinkle.”
As the night progresses, you may notice something strange. Most of the stars will stop twinkling. The atmosphere at the star party site has such great seeing (atmospheric steadiness) that there’s almost no discernible twinkle except for stars near the horizon.
6. Access to telescopes.
You can bring your own telescope. In fact, you may want to just to see how it performs under a pristine sky or to ask a specific question about it. But you don’t have to. There will be plenty of telescopes for attendees to use.
7. Experts at your side.
The Astronomy magazine team can answer your questions. About galaxies. About telescopes. About the birth of the universe. About astrophotography. About observing. About astronomy — period.
8. You’ll make some cool new friends.
Amateur astronomers are a friendly bunch. They love to talk about the sky, observing, equipment, travel, and lots more. If you’re just starting out in this fascinating hobby, their experiences can make the road you travel a whole lot smoother.
9. The fabulous Virgo Cluster.
As darkness falls, our telescopes will locate and track what many observers consider the most beautiful and enigmatic targets in space — galaxies. We’ll have great looks at the Whirlpool Galaxy, the Sombrero Galaxy, the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, and lots more. And we’ll take some time to gaze in wonder at the Cigar Galaxy — a place where star formation is occurring at an astounding rate. Then, if you can hang around just a few hours after twilight ends, we’ll turn our attention to objects much closer to home as we gaze into the spectacular heart of the Milky Way.
10. Your dream site?
If you like what you see, chat with the owners of the Dark Sky New Mexico site. For a small monthly fee, they’ll lease you a plot of land where you can put up your own observatory and telescope. Then you can visit regularly. Or image remotely. It’s your choice. Imagine!