On Friday and Saturday, October 13 and 14, Dark Sky New Mexico (DSNM) and The Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) will host a star party in southwestern New Mexico. The second America’s Darkest Sky Star Party will occur in 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 12 things that might help you make up your mind.
1. An almost ironclad promise of a clear sky.
It will be mid-October in the Desert Southwest. Days are warm and sunny, and nights are cool 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 DSNM 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.
On Saturday, members of the TAAS, along with Eicher and Bakich will present short illustrated talks on a variety of astronomical subjects. Maybe you want to catch up on recent news in astrophysics. Or perhaps you’re wondering what’s the best scope or mount for you. If so, don’t miss it.
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. Thanks to members of TAAS, there will be plenty of telescopes for attendees to view through.
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. Star cities in the fall sky.
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 Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the Pinwheel Galaxy (M33) in Triangulum, the Silver Coin Galaxy (NGC 253), and lots more. And perhaps we’ll take some time to gaze in wonder at Stephan’s Quintet. It’s tough to see, but our sky will be dark. By the way, have you ever seen NGC 1? No? C’mon down!
10. Other stellar wonders
Besides galaxies, some terrific double stars, open clusters, and globular clusters are visible. Marvel at the Double Double (Epsilon Lyrae), Albireo (Beta Cygni), and many others. Human eyes have subtle differences, so we’ll compare how the colors of the stars appear to each of us. Regarding open clusters, the Double Cluster in Perseus will be a popular target. Because it’s so large, the two star groups look better through binoculars than through a telescope. And although we might catch the Hercules Cluster (M13) before it sets, another great globular will be high in the sky — M15 in Pegasus.
11. A feast of planetary nebulae
Finally, autumn features some of the best planetary nebulae in the sky. First up will be the Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra. The Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula might be next. Then perhaps we’ll venture south to the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) in Aquarius. All will wow you. And for those who haven’t yet had enough of these former Sun-like stars, there’s NGC 40 in Cepheus, M76 in Perseus, NGC 6781 in Aquila … you get the picture.
12. Your dream site?
If you like what you see, chat with the owners of Dark Sky New Mexico. For a 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!