Tag Archives: light pollution

Stargazing at Long Sault Conservation Area

Long Sault Conservation Area

When I first took up this hobby, I had a Meade 90mm refractor and set it up in my backyard. I also set it up in the front yard, and a few times, in an empty field in my neighbourhood. This was all good for observing planets, stars, and the moon. However, I could not find any globular clusters, nebulas, and galaxies aka Deep Sky Objects (DSO’s).

I heard and read that it was either I had too much light pollution or my scope was too weak. I bought a larger scope instead: the Discovery 8 EQ.

Well, after a week, I still could not find any DSO’s so it was time to try it in a dark sky site. I found out that the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada uses the Long Sault Conservation Area once a month for star parties. So I decided to try it out because I have not joined any Astronomy Clubs yet.

From where I live, Long Sault Conservation Area is a 23 minute drive in mostly dark, mostly straight away 80 Km/h highways. It is in the Oak Ridges Moraine region so it is quite elevated. When I first scouted the area, I noticed how it was clean and well maintained. There were a few cars in one of the two parking lots. Visitors walked their dogs, biked, and hiked. There are 2 washrooms in the main parking lot, and a solar powered pay parking machine.

After sunset, and people started to leave, it got very dark and quiet. The trees around the main parking lot can block up to 10 degrees above the horizon, but they shield you from the breeze. There were no stray light sources from anywhere, even from a distance. In my first 2 scouting trips, it was too cloudy and foggy to see the sky. But on my 3rd trip, I was in for a treat: I found the Milky Way Galaxy for the first time in my life with my naked eye.

On August 3rd, 2013, I joined 8 other amateur astronomers from the Royal Astronomical Association of Canada Toronto (RASC Toronto) in Long Sault Conservation Area. I didn’t really know what to expect, and how to behave around other observers. I had a few “firsts”. This was the first time I observed with more than 1 other astronomer, my first star party, and the first time I looked through a 12.5″ telescope (a dobsonian).

It was a cloudless night, seeing was above average, and I did not notice any fog on the way there. People were very friendly. Sometimes, someone would call out an object that they have in the eyepiece and we would come have a look. Besides a couple of people with binoculars, I was the only one with an unguided telescope.

In my rush out the door, I forgot to bring my Nightwatch book. But the organizer (“Stew”) was kind enough to help me locate M15 using his binoculars and his green laser. He also let me borrow his star atlas and offered me a couple of sketching tips using a kneaded eraser.

If you plan on observing at Long Sault Conservation Area, take note of the following:

  1. Parking is not free. You must pay for parking even at night to help pay for maintenance of the park.
  2. If your mobile provider uses WCDMA (i.e. Wind Mobile), you will not get a signal unless you roam.
  3. The nearest gas station is at least 15 minutes away, so make sure you have enough gas for a round trip.
  4. The area is officially closed and off limits after dark, so do not wander off into the woods.
  5. The parking lot surface is gravel, so if you drop your eyepieces, it will scratch them.
  6. For your own safety, bring a buddy and avoid observing alone.

Overall, it’s worth the drive to Long Sault Conservation Area for stargazing. I still observe there because it is convenient, very dark and well maintained. I also heard that the parking lot is ploughed during the winter. For more information, visit http://www.cloca.com/con_areas/CAlongsault.php.

Durham Region Light Pollution and where to find a Dark Sky Site

Light pollution map of Durham Region.

When I first started observing with my telescopes, I had an idea what light pollution meant, but did not realize its impact on visual observation especially on Deep Sky Objects (DSO’s). I thought I could observe anywhere I wanted  as long as it was a cloudless sky. I live in the Durham Region after all. Not so fast.

I spent an entire week hunting for the M13 and the Andromeda Galaxy to no avail. Why? Because my sky was brighter than these faint objects. I eliminated most of the local light pollution from my backyard by turning my kitchen lights off, my cell phone, light shields for my telescopes, and used a blanket over my head to block out my neighbour’s lights. After 15 mins of dark adaptation, I still see nothing of these objects.

It turns out that there is a ‘light dome’ high above my sky. The light pollution map above represents the intensity of this light dome super imposed over a map of Durham Region and eastern Greater Toronto Area (GTA). In the order of brightness level:

  • White – Entire sky is grayish or brighter.
  • Red – Milkyway at best very faint at zenith.
  • Orange – Milkyway washed out at zenith and invisible at horizon.
  • Green – Some dark lanes in milkyway but no bulge into Ophiuchus.
  • Yellow – Zodiacal light seen on best nights.
  • Blue – Low light domes on horizon.
  • Grey – Faint shadows cast by milkyway visible on white objects.
  • Black – Gegenschein visible. Zodiacal light annoyingly bright.

I live a suburb of Oshawa in a red zone and within a few minutes of a white zone in the core of the city. By driving to an orange zone 20 minutes away, I was able to see some of the Milky Way’s ‘spilled milk’ look across the sky whereas it was not at all visible from my backyard. I finally found M13 and it didn’t take long for it to ‘pop’ out of my eyepiece. If you want to know the light pollution map in your area, check out Dark Sky Finder by Jonathan Tomshine: http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/ and you will find some dark sky sites around the GTA area within an hour’s drive.

In the Durham Region, I do most of my DSO observations from Long Sault Conservation Area which is just outside the grasp of the red zone. Sometimes I use my local club’s DRAACO observatory which is well within the orange zone. It is well worth the drive for a great night of visual observation and sketching.