This was my first trip to the oft spoken about Cherry Springs Star Party. I was ready. It was time to see really dark skies. I headed out Tuesday, so I’d have at least 5 days of imaging and observing. My truck was full and ready to image truly dark skies.
It wasn’t to be this year. Every night was either fully clouded, raining or a mix. In the end we got one night (Friday) just clear enough for just long enough to polar align and then take images before it completely clouded over again. I recently read that they only have 60-85 nights a year that are ideal.
Cherry Springs is the darkest place dedicated to astronomy on the east coast. It sits in the Susquehannock State Forest in Pennsylvania at an elevation of about 2,300 feet.
The major rules for the site are exceedingly simple and clear (rules, not skies…):
- No white lights
- No bright red lights
- No lasers
- No noise before 11 am
Plug-in AC power was everywhere. You can camp right on the observing field so you’re right next to your gear. No fires of course but trailers or tents are permitted, and you can do this year round without a prearranged permit- you do need to pay a $15 fee per night at the gate. How much more could you ask for? (Realistically)
Our group consisted of 7 people by the end of the week and many more by the end of the party. From the AAA club there was myself (@helicopterjeff), Preston Stahly and his wife Linda (@preston.stahly), Adam Toder (@spacedoutpics) from NJAG and Dan Gitler (@badboysofastron) from Pearl Observatory. Then we got a surprise (Adam knew but I didn’t quite realize it…). Adam (best known to us from UACNJ) is pals with none other than Trevor Jones from astrobackyard.com. Trevor and his wife Ashley setup camp right next to us (Sorry, Rudolph couldn’t make it, no pets allowed). Trevor drew a stream of folks as people realized who he is. We all had a great time sharing stories and checking out equipment.
Between the great food (thanks Dan for cooking!!), conversations, constant forecast checking, rain, cold, wind and tornado watches we made it. A bit wetter and muddier than preferred but everything went well.
To be completely fair, despite the weather, I had a great time. The weather didn’t cooperate and even taunted us at times. We had a few hours on one night for almost perfect imaging. There were no light domes, no local light pollution and the people were great.
I got to meet a lot of people, many from Canada including Trevor. Some were veteran observers but new to imaging. I get chills remembering how incredible it was to hang around with folks from all skill levels.
Most of the “action” for myself and my new Canadian pal Rick was all the tow truck work we did. My Ford and his Dodge were the kings of the astronomical tractor pull that threatened many of the visitors and their trailers and vans. The endless rain created a lot of problems for folks with less capable vehicles. We traded off pulling trailers out of mud and sometimes trucks w/trailers still attached. I think I counted 7 pull outs over the week we were there. The running joke was either, “How many astronomers does it take to pull out a…” or, “Will tow for rye”.
The oddest thing that happened the entire trip was that my equipment worked flawlessly. Not sure what I did wrong there.
Where else can you find truck drivers, photographers, astronomers and more, all willing to literally do whatever is needed so that we can all get in, see the sky and get out again.
Hopefully more folks can make it next year. I’m going to try for the next party at Cherry Springs known as the Black Forest Star Party at the end of September.
So what images came out of my trip? Time lapses of course! I did shoot a few other deep space objects but they’re not ready yet. I’m still trying to get the clay and dirt out of my pants.
This link goes to a play list of the sequences I got. If you watch carefully, you’ll see the wispy clouds that plagued us on the clearish nights. Included is the short presentation Alan Midkiff gave about trying to find a home for his 50” scope at the park.