Dark Sky Areas, Night Sky, Satellites... Casual Observations

-K2-

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big-bend-stargazing-865x400.jpg


Nope, I didn't see anything close to the above web snagged image, but, I this past week did see some amazing things with nothing but my unaided eye and a little travel.

Investigating celestial navigation for a new project of mine (which will be set roughly 5,000+ years from now), after exhausting my web searches and having less than stellar *snort*:sneaky: results at stargazing living so near to major cities, I took a little 500-mile trip to a 'dark-sky area' and spent a couple nights there. No telescope or even binoculars. The point being, to get a good look at a clear sky minimizing skyglow to get an idea what my characters might see. Instantly, I had a clear image of how different the stars will move. Polaris will no longer be the 'North Star,' as then it will be Alderamin (somewhat), and that gave me ideas for new/old 'primative' methods for navigation as they will apply.

Something I suspect some of us (including myself) don't realize, is just how difficult navigation must be when obstructing light is lessened... eliminated I'm finding difficult to fathom. In some regards, the ability to see 'less-bright' constellations improved considerably. As an example, where I live, Cepheus constellation (which contains Alderamin) is difficult to see (skyglow makes it faint). There, it was clear and obvious. But, in the dark-sky area, the additional stars 'cluttered' the sky enough that finding constellations became more difficult. In fact, the longer you looked the more cluttered it all became.

Clear views of satellites/space-junk passing was another nice surprise. I'll need to do a bit more research first regarding using them in my story (due to potential orbital decay), however, I'm positive I spotted a few. I've seen high altitude fighters passing at high speed, so, know how they look. A bit of checking confirmed a couple sightings were satellites. Here's a site to help you determine what might be passing your way: Heavens-Above

Point being... It might be worth your while, whether for your writing or simply just to experience it, to get somewhere where you can really take a good long look at a clear sky. Reading about vs. actually seeing helped my perspective considerably.

K2
 
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CTRandall

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If at all possible, try to get to a spot with significant elevation (tha Alps, Rockies or any of the West coast ranges). Even a few thousand feet above sea level makes a massive difference in what you can see. Truly awe-inspiring.

I think your initial confusion at the sheer mass of stars would quickly diminish with more experience, especially as you get attuned to using star colours and their positions relative to one another to help your mental map.

Tristan Gooley's The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs gives an exhaustive (and exhausting) guide to navigation by the stars. It probably won't help much 5000 years in the future but it gives a sense of how multiple methods can be used if, for instance, part of the sky is obscured by clouds. He also gives methods for navigating by day, e.g. how to determine the direction of prevailing winds, even on a calm day, and using flowering plants to determine north and south on a cloudy day.
 

Venusian Broon

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When I was living in London, about 12km from the centre, the night sky was amazingly sparce! This is no joke, but every time I looked up at night I would be guaranteed that planes flying into Heathrow would outnumber any stars that managed to get through the light pollution. But then 12km from the centre only puts me in zone 2 (of 6 big ones) and the surrounding 'countryside' around London feels much more like overdeveloped suburbia.

Now I live about 12km from the centre of Edinburgh. Right on the edge. I look north and I look down into the Forth Valley and the city of Edinburgh - built up but nowhere near as concentrated as London. Look South and it's right into the Pentland hills - perhaps a couple of farms and buildings but essentially no light pollution whatsoever.

So here on the edge on a clear night with a new moon you could easily see the Milky Way (I think the spectacular picture you show may be constructed through extended exposure and may not be something you'd ever see with your eyes. However perhaps there is a really dark area that rewards you with such a beautiful view.) Yes, of course some aircraft, but a few minutes of watching will guarantee you both satellites and meteors.

This was the sky I grew up with and, thankfully, it hasn't changed much since then.

Just a thought, as you mention Navigation. Stars would be wonderful if you are navigating on the ocean or through the desert. Both flat and easy to traverse. But to navigate at night on hilly or forested land would be asking for trouble. You may be able to get a bearing...but obstructions in the land will continually surprise you. With no other source of light it's really dark! ;) Perhaps travel on a bright moonlight night might be attempted. But much more sensible to use the sun and landmarks and travel by day for those biomes. However this is assuming you don't have roads! I am sure you know this, but I sometimes look at the blackness of the Pentlands at night and wonder how bad it would be to be stuck on the hills with no light :). Ideal conditions for you to twist your ankle, walk at crawling pace and probably get hypothermia.
 

CTRandall

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But to navigate at night on hilly or forested land would be asking for trouble. You may be able to get a bearing...but obstructions in the land will continually surprise you. With no other source of light it's really dark! ;)

I laugh out loud (or LOL, in other words) when I see TV/film stars running through a forest at night and, even worse, actually managing to find what they are looking for. Utterly impossible. I've nearly gotten lost less than 50 feet from camp and that was with a small fire going in the fire pit. Couldn't see a damn thing, didn't know where I was putting my feet and constantly got thwacked in the face by leaves and branches.
 

Venusian Broon

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I laugh out loud (or LOL, in other words) when I see TV/film stars running through a forest at night and, even worse, actually managing to find what they are looking for. Utterly impossible. I've nearly gotten lost less than 50 feet from camp and that was with a small fire going in the fire pit. Couldn't see a damn thing, didn't know where I was putting my feet and constantly got thwacked in the face by leaves and branches.

Always had a laugh at those films in the 1950s that used tints (? Don't know what the create technical term - sunglasses?) to 'recreate' night while filming at day. Man that must have been a really BRIGHT moon to cast those deep shadows and reflections :)
 

AlexH

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I love staring at the night sky when it's free of cloud and light pollution. It's incredible to see what's up there.

There are a few official dark sky locations in the UK: Top 5 Dark Sky locations in Great Britain | OS GetOutside

My first exposure that made my eyes pop was in Ushguli, Georgia; Europe's highest inhabited village and almost completely free of light pollution:

georgia-ushguli-svanetian-towers-night-sky.jpg


I plan to head to Chile and its desert observatories at some point - maybe for the eclipse in 2020.

Tristan Gooley's books are excellent for navigation - I didn't find his The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs book to be exhausting!

Modern lighting could be designed so much better to aid views of the night sky.

British Sea Power have a song called Lights Out for Darker Skies:
Oh lights out baby, for darker skies
There really is no reason you need to ask why
When you fall like sparks from a muzzle

Like moths that get confused
By all the man-made moons
So go gentle in this dark, dark night
 
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goldhawk

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I laugh out loud (or LOL, in other words) when I see TV/film stars running through a forest at night and, even worse, actually managing to find what they are looking for. Utterly impossible. I've nearly gotten lost less than 50 feet from camp and that was with a small fire going in the fire pit. Couldn't see a damn thing, didn't know where I was putting my feet and constantly got thwacked in the face by leaves and branches.

I've been out at night far from any light source and it is hard to see the ground even in the open. It was also the only time I saw Venus cast shadows.
 

-K2-

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Thanks for the responses everyone, I'll look into all of that. Considering the feedback, here are a few points of note that apply to what I'm doing;

If at all possible, try to get to a spot with significant elevation (tha Alps, Rockies or any of the West coast ranges). Even a few thousand feet above sea level makes a massive difference in what you can see. Truly awe-inspiring.

I think your initial confusion at the sheer mass of stars would quickly diminish with more experience, especially as you get attuned to using star colours and their positions relative to one another to help your mental map.

Tristan Gooley's The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs gives an exhaustive (and exhausting) guide to navigation by the stars. It probably won't help much 5000 years in the future but it gives a sense of how multiple methods can be used if, for instance, part of the sky is obscured by clouds. He also gives methods for navigating by day, e.g. how to determine the direction of prevailing winds, even on a calm day, and using flowering plants to determine north and south on a cloudy day.

I agree with your comment on elevation. I'm routinely in the Smokey, Rockies and High Sierra ranges. For what I'm working on (this latest project), it really won't apply (as much... there are natural air pollutants nevertheless). In my future earth, imagine the world as pristine as it has ever been. Devoid of mankind's contributions. Although, that's changing ;)

I imagine you're right about colors and familiarity. I didn't consider using the color aspect... Consider your idea stolen! :LOL:

That said, 1,000 / 5,000 / 20,000 years into the future, though the polar North Star will change due to axial precession, their relative positions will not. So, I simply need to adjust what is my center (which is now South due to magnetic flip), and consider rotation and seasonal considerations.

52867
52868


Just a thought, as you mention Navigation. Stars would be wonderful if you are navigating on the ocean or through the desert. Both flat and easy to traverse. But to navigate at night on hilly or forested land would be asking for trouble. You may be able to get a bearing...but obstructions in the land will continually surprise you. With no other source of light it's really dark! ;) Perhaps travel on a bright moonlight night might be attempted. But much more sensible to use the sun and landmarks and travel by day for those biomes. However this is assuming you don't have roads! I am sure you know this, but I sometimes look at the blackness of the Pentlands at night and wonder how bad it would be to be stuck on the hills with no light :). Ideal conditions for you to twist your ankle, walk at crawling pace and probably get hypothermia.

Fortunately, my work takes us to the vast desert of North America. So obstructions, even cloud cover due to jet stream changes, will in most cases not be an issue.

I laugh out loud (or LOL, in other words) when I see TV/film stars running through a forest at night and, even worse, actually managing to find what they are looking for. Utterly impossible. I've nearly gotten lost less than 50 feet from camp and that was with a small fire going in the fire pit. Couldn't see a damn thing, didn't know where I was putting my feet and constantly got thwacked in the face by leaves and branches.

and @Venusian Broon ;

That said, perhaps I'm simply blessed with excellent night vision, but even just airglow (not skyglow) and starlight produces shadows if you look close enough and look for it. In fact, on brightly moonlit nights due to the intense shadows, it (for me) actually makes it more difficult to see at times due to the contrast (extremes of light and dark). With that in mind, my slightly evolved humans will have acquired more attuned night vision. Nothing on par with mammals with tapetums, but, better than what the average human has today. Even still, most folks I believe need to simply grant themselves a little time. It's amazing how some folks will stare into a campfire, or insist upon using flashlights, then wonder why they can't see in the dark. A little light avoidance then 'trusting what you see,' can make a world of difference.

I plan to head to Chile and its desert observatories at some point - maybe for the eclipse in 2020.

Tristan Gooley's books are excellent for navigation - I didn't find his The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs book to be exhausting!

Modern lighting could be designed so much better to aid views of the night sky.

Chile would be awesome if some of the photos are even close to actual... Regarding navigation, however, I'll look into that, but, I need to keep in mind a much different, almost primitive society. Time won't be as important to everyone BUT the navigators... Even then, they'll need to use the star's rotation to determine time. IOW, I'm thinking and leaning toward, what if my protagonist had a short staff or plate with a group of holes in it... That staff/plate, he matches up to the stars (Cepheus would be one constellation... bearing in mind that Alderamin will NOT be true north sweeping on an arc), and then using a gravity plumb, that lays a line over a protractor like scale. There is your time at night.

So, though I'll take modern and ancient navigation methods using those lessons, I want to develop slightly new/different (not passed down, considering a break in the historical record) path that this culture developed to navigate by. The stars won't change (though I am considering perhaps some becoming bright or blinking out for fun), but I'd like the navigation tools to evolve on their own path.

As to modern lighting, there may be hope! One of the towns I was in at one time was rather developed due to the local, now long defunct, SAC base. Though small and essentially rural, I noticed that they have replaced all of the many streetlights leaving (not in) town with what I can only 'guess' are more night vision friendly fixtures. Though not a true red, they're all now a dimmer dark orange vs. the bright white. What that translates to is, as you leave town your vision begins to shift to that for darkness though the streets are still lit.

What makes it surprising is, the community is rather impoverished. So, it had to be a significant expense. Due to the positioning, I can only guess that's what it is. The fixturing has even been changed to direct the light down, so it is surprising they didn't go with white LED's, and I'm doubting that they're high pressure sodium (though the color is 'similar').

@goldhawk ; nice comment regarding venus and shadows!

Besides the navigation research you all suggested, I still need to discover if some/any of our current satellites and junk will still be up there. 5k+ years is a long time to clear all that up... Hopefully, some will. My intention is to use them as one of those little hints that you're actually on Earth (which naturally isn't revealed until very late in the story).

Thanks all for letting me hash this out a little!

K2
 
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Venusian Broon

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Thanks for the responses everyone, I'll look into all of that. Considering the feedback, here are a few points of note that apply to what I'm doing;



I agree with your comment on elevation. I'm routinely in the Smokey, Rockies and High Sierra ranges. For what I'm working on (this latest project), it really won't apply (as much... there are natural air pollutants nevertheless). In my future earth, imagine the world as pristine as it has ever been. Devoid of mankind's contributions. Although, that's changing ;)

I imagine you're right about colors and familiarity. I didn't consider using the color aspect... Consider your idea stolen! :LOL:

That said, 1,000 / 5,000 / 20,000 years into the future, though the polar North Star will change due to axial precession, their relative positions will not. So, I simply need to adjust what is my center (which is now South due to magnetic flip), and consider rotation and seasonal considerations.

View attachment 52867View attachment 52868



Fortunately, my work takes us to the vast desert of North America. So obstructions, even cloud cover due to jet stream changes, will in most cases not be an issue.



and @Venusian Broon ;

That said, perhaps I'm simply blessed with excellent night vision, but even just airglow (not skyglow) and starlight produces shadows if you look close enough and look for it. In fact, on brightly moonlit nights due to the intense shadows, it (for me) actually makes it more difficult to see at times due to the contrast (extremes of light and dark). With that in mind, my slightly evolved humans will have acquired more attuned night vision. Nothing on par with mammals with tapetums, but, better than what the average human has today. Even still, most folks I believe need to simply grant themselves a little time. It's amazing how some folks will stare into a campfire, or insist upon using flashlights, then wonder why they can't see in the dark. A little light avoidance then 'trusting what you see,' can make a world of difference.



Chile would be awesome if some of the photos are even close to actual... Regarding navigation, however, I'll look into that, but, I need to keep in mind a much different, almost primitive society. Time won't be as important to everyone BUT the navigators... Even then, they'll need to use the star's rotation to determine time. IOW, I'm thinking and leaning toward, what if my protagonist had a short staff or plate with a group of holes in it... That staff/plate, he matches up to the stars (Cepheus would be one constellation... bearing in mind that Alderamin will NOT be true north sweeping on an arc), and then using a gravity plumb, that lays a line over a protractor like scale. There is your time at night.

So, though I'll take modern and ancient navigation methods using those lessons, I want to develop slightly new/different (not passed down, considering a break in the historical record) path that this culture developed to navigate by. The stars won't change (though I am considering perhaps some becoming bright or blinking out for fun), but I'd like the navigation tools to evolve on their own path.

As to modern lighting, there may be hope! One of the towns I was in at one time was rather developed due to the local, now long defunct, SAC base. Though small and essentially rural, I noticed that they have replaced all of the many streetlights leaving (not in) town with what I can only 'guess' are more night vision friendly fixtures. Though not a true red, they're all now a dimmer dark orange vs. the bright white. What that translates to is, as you leave town your vision begins to shift to that for darkness though the streets are still lit.

What makes it surprising is, the community is rather impoverished. So, it had to be a significant expense. Due to the positioning, I can only guess that's what it is. The fixturing has even been changed to direct the light down, so it is surprising they didn't go with white LED's, and I'm doubting that they're high pressure sodium (though the color is 'similar').

@goldhawk ; nice comment regarding venus and shadows!

Besides the navigation research you all suggested, I still need to discover if some/any of our current satellites and junk will still be up there. 5k+ years is a long time to clear all that up... Hopefully, some will. My intention is to use them as one of those little hints that you're actually on Earth (which naturally isn't revealed until very late in the story).

Thanks all for letting me hash this out a little!

K2
Had a quick chuckle at your mention of colour of street lights. Here in the UK (well central Scotland definitely), street lights were traditionally, I'd say, the orange sodium ones. The whole of the built up central belt would give off an orange glow...

...but now their replacing them with blue-white ones it seems.

My guess is that it is lighting economics that is driving it. Possibly the opposite of the town you were talking about!
 

Plucky Novice

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About 15 years ago I climbed mount sinai in the middle of the night. In a desert and up a mountain, there were thousands of stars. It was beyond my imagination.

That's interesting but not necessarily helpful. However, the second thing that amazed me were the number of shooting stars. I stopped counting at 31, we'd been climbing for about 20 minutes.

This is something you rarely see for light pollution but they steak across the sky regularly.
 

Venusian Broon

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However, the second thing that amazed me were the number of shooting stars. I stopped counting at 31, we'd been climbing for about 20 minutes.

This is something you rarely see for light pollution but they steak across the sky regularly.

When it's dark enough this is wonderful to see. And of course this must still be happening when it's daylight. Just that they are blotted out by the blue sky. (unless they are big enough!)

However, I wonder how many of these meteors are now bits of satellites and old space station bolts that are coming back to earth?
:)
 

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