Friday, January 3, 2014

Black Friday 30,000 years ago

The following conversation with my sons caused us to have a quite different Black Friday than is the norm:

Evel: "Mom, what does Milky Way mean? I don't mean the candy, but the real Milky Way."
Me: "The Milky Way is our galaxy. It's lots of star all swirling together."
Evel: "Can we see them?"
Me: "Yes, they are right up there in the sky."
Mr Entropy: "In Mexico?"
Me: "No here, just look up and you see ... oh, you don't see anything, actually ... uh ..."
Evel: "Wow, I think I see 40 stars, maybe even 50!"

And that was true. We live so close to metropolitan Philadelphia, that the sky lights up at night and it is barely possible to see the brightest constellations. You CAN count the start we can see at night.

So on Black Friday we set out to experience Black Friday the way it was 30,000 years ago - completely dark.

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy from the Mountains of West Virginia by Forest Wander

As luck would have it, Cherry Spring Park, PA, a gold-rated International Dark Sky Park is almost in our backyard (okay, big backyard). The idea is simple - a dark sky park is a place so far removed from light pollutants, that we can see the sky the way it is meant to be. With stars in it. Lots of stars.

So we packed some beach chairs, bundled the kids into snow suits (it was November after all) and spend an evening looking at the sky. They watched in awed silence for over 15 minutes. As parents you know that with a 6, 4 and 2 year old the only other methods to achieve that are pizza or coma.

Next summer we plan to use the camping ground on the other side of the park, so we don't even have to leave our beds to see the sky. And a telescope is on top of my wish list now.

Some useful tips:

Bring a flash light for each person, it is REALLY dark there (tape them with red foil so you don't disturb the night vision of fellow star gazers)

Print a star chart customized to your expected day of visit before hand, and practice locating major constellations before hand. Once at the park, you don't want to take out a flashlight and destroy your night vision. It takes up to 10 minutes to get it back.

Expected visibility and weather conditions at Cherry Springs Park (they were very accurate during our trip)

If you can't wait to make a dark sky trip of your own, watch this Mauna Kea timelaps in the meantime.

Geek Factor: 5 out of 5
Fun Factor: 4 out of 5

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