When selling a telescope to a customer, we often give advice on how to view in light polluted areas. Simple stuff such as selecting your targets, using filters, etc. Often we asked “is there anywhere I can go and get away from the light pollution?”
The answer depends on your answer to ‘How far do you want to drive?’
One thing we have in our telescope section is a version of this light pollution map on the wall:
We’ll also be referring to a more local Philadelphia Light Pollution map:
So where do we send folks? Ideally you want to get out of the white sections of the map, and the off-the-cuff suggestions are:
Valley Forge Used by the Delware Valley Amatuer Astronomers for their star parties, the main viewing area is the RC Plane field, which you may need to ask directions to get to. Beyond that you will just have to move your telescope away from street lights and other interference. Valley Forge falls in the red zone, although some areas are better than others. From our store location Valley Forge is about 1/2 hour when traffic is light. Traffic is rarely light.
Moving futher out we often suggest French Creek Park. -This will require some advance planning as you will need a camping license to be there at night. French Creek Park is about 1 to 1-1/2 hours from our Manayunk location with light traffic. Do be careful selecting a location once you are in French Creek park as there is a public gun range in the park and one astronomer tells the story of setting up near the range and having some folks come in and start firing, despite the range being closed at night.
OK, but do you want really dark skies? Well have a look at the Pennsylvania Map , note that big black patch in the north-central part of the map. See it? That is the Susquehannock State Park, but more importantly the part you will want to know about is the Cherry Springs State Park.
Cherry Springs is as remote and dark as it was hundreds of years ago. There is a section for short-term viewing and there are rules to be followed. Flashlight use should be minimized, expect to walk some distance from your car to the sight (to keep shielded from car lights). Oh, and don’t expect a nicely light superhighway to the park.
For those wanting a bit more than a few hour’s viewing there is a page on serious stargazing. Several astronomy associations reserve viewing areas Cherry Springs for their star parties – not just Astronomy groups from PA, either – New York, Maryland, Delaware, Viriginia and even sometimes further take advantage of the dark skies. You may need to work around them.
Cherry Springs is 4 hours, 30 minutes from the Manayunk store, or so Google Maps claims.
Always check your weather forcasts and perhaps the Clear Skies page to make certain your trip will be worthwhile.
Got any other sights to suggest? Leave a location in the comments!