America's Darkest Sky Star Party a Smashing Success

Posted by David Eicher
on Tuesday, October 17, 2017

America’s Darkest Sky Star Party took place October 13–14, 2017, near Animas, New Mexico. Photo by David J. Eicher.

As I’ve said repeatedly, one of the gravest dangers a love of the universe poses is the lack of a dark sky. Light pollution maps show almost everything east of the Mississippi River, in the United States, as badly light polluted. Some 80 percent of Americans now cannot see the Milky Way from where they live. 

One of the greatest skies in the United States looms over southwestern New Mexico. Near Animas, a tiny village, Dark Sky New Mexico put on a star party October 13–14, 2017, that was a marvelous success. Altogether, some 50 people arrived at the ranch where this group has established telescopes for viewing and for high-end imaging. The group, whose website is here: https://darkskynewmexico.com/, already has some two dozen scopes on the property. Dedicated amateur astronomers can place a scope in this spectacular sky to conduct remote viewing or imaging from wherever they live. On this magnificent and warm October weekend, we got together to celebrate the cosmos. 

Using the 20-inch PlaneWave scope owned by Al Acker and Rex Groves, we had some of the very best views of planetary nebulae and galaxies I’ve *ever* seen, including Stephan’s Quintet, NGC 7008, NGC 40, NGC 6826, and many, many others. It was a spectacular night even by the standards of this amazing site. 

Astronomy Senior Editor Michael Bakich and I traveled to the star party and each gave talks: Michael on star death and me on galaxies, a prelude to the Random House book I’m now writing. 

We also had great talks from officers of the Albuquerque Astronomical Society, the club helping to sponsor the event. Dee Friesen spoke about the club’s amazing observational outreach programs — they won Astronomy’s Outreach Award several years ago — and Dale Murray talked about telescope types and how to choose a scope that’s right for you. 

As always, I brought my Canon 6D camera along, and just for fun, set the ISO to 25,600, wandering off to take some wide field images by simply bracing the camera on my rental car, on Clyde Tombaugh’s 16-inch telescope, which stands on the site, or elsewhere. I show you the hurried results here. 

Dark Sky New Mexico is trying to establish an important community for dark sky observers and astroimagers who want access to a world-class sky but cannot be there on site all the time. I heartily encourage you to check them out, and to support their valiant efforts. 

Many thanks to Larry Rosenberg, Michael Hensley, Steven Blum, and the whole DSNM crew for a job well done. 

— D. 

Zenithal Milky Way shot from Al Acker’s observatory, Canon 6D camera, hand-braced, ~20-second exposure, 12mm lens, ISO 25,600. Photo by David J. Eicher.

Observing at America’s Darkest Sky Star Party, Animas, New Mexico, October 14, 2017. Photo by David J. Eicher.

“Center of the Galaxy with Windmill” — this is a ~20-second exposure with a Canon 6D camera braced on the hood of a rental car, 12mm lens, shot at ISO 25,600. Photo by David J. Eicher.

“Man with a green flashlight.” Photo by David J. Eicher.

Field including the Perseus OB-1 Association, the Double Cluster, and the Andromeda Galaxy, Canon 6D camera, hand-braced, 24mm lens, ISO 25,600, approximately 10-second exposure. Photo by David J. Eicher.

Cygnus Milky Way, Canon 6D camera, hand-braced, 24mm lens, ISO 25,600, approximately 10-second exposure. Photo by David J. Eicher.

Sagittarius, Scorpius, and friends, Canon 6D camera, hand-braced, 12mm lens, ISO 25,600, approximately 20-second exposure. Photo by David J. Eicher.

Toward Perseus, Canon 6D camera, hand-braced, 24mm lens, ISO 25,600, approximately 10-second exposure. Photo by David J. Eicher.

Cassiopeia rising over Clyde Tombaugh’s 16-inch scope, Canon 6D camera, 12mm lens, ISO 25,600, approximately 10-second exposure. Photo by David J. Eicher.

The Milky Way overhead — shot with a Canon 6D camera, 12mm lens, ISO 25,600, braced on the hood of a rental car, for approximately 20 seconds. Photo by David J. Eicher.

And yes, I spoke about galaxies, foreshadowing my upcoming book. Photo by Michael E. Bakich.

Astronomy Magazine Senior Editor Michael Bakich spoke about star death. Photo by David J. Eicher.

Dee Friesen of the Albuquerque Astronomical Society spoke about the group’s outstanding observing programs. Photo by David J. Eicher.

President Dale Murray of the Albuquerque Astronomical Society spoke about telescope types. Photo by David J. Eicher.

Solar observing at the DSNM Star Party. Photo by David J. Eicher.

Solar observing at the DSNM Star Party. Photo by David J. Eicher.

Solar observing at the DSNM Star Party. Photo by David J. Eicher.

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