On the Astronomy Trail in Nebraska

It’s a unending quest for observers, lovers of the evening sky and astrophotographers. The place to go to get away from encroaching gentle air pollution, and discover actually darkish skies?

Most of us consider distant websites corresponding to Loss of life Valley, the Kalahari Desert or the Canary Islands relating to darkish skies. And whereas it’s true that many observers at the moment are touring farther and farther away from dwelling searching for actually darkish skies, that journey needn’t be so far as you assume.

We had the chance to go to one such usually neglected darkish sky gem: the state of Nebraska. From fossils to aeronautics and astronomy, there’s a lot of science to discover within the Cornhusker State. Although the state has a wealthy science heritage, and an lively amatuer astronomy group, Nebraska is an usually neglected darkish sky haven. However science tourism can be changing into more and more well-liked, and Nebraska has tons to supply.

Nebraska Astronomy and Darkish Skies

The state capitol of Lincoln, Nebraska boasts a number of observatories: The UNL Pupil Observatory, the brand new Branched Oak Observatory and observing website, and the Behlen Observatory outdoors of city in Mead, Nebraska, which homes a 1970’s period 30-inch Cassegrain reflector.

Lincoln can be a central Mecca for astronomy within the state. Simply outdoors of city is the brand new Branched Oak Observatory website, situated close to the Branched Oak Lake state leisure space, itself a good place to camp and observe. Branched Oak is the brainchild of Michael Sibbernsen, and options two observatories outfitted with telescopes, one fastened in a dome, and the opposite in slide-off roof observatory, together with poured concrete observing pads, piers, electrical and water hookups, and that almost all important of fundamental utilities, wifi. Branched Oak was established in 2015, and hosts public occasions a couple of times a month.

The Dome at Branched Oak. Dave Dickinson

Farther afield, don’t miss Behlen Observatory. This domed observatory is in a standalone constructing in the midst of a corn discipline within the tiny city of Mead, 38 miles outdoors of Lincoln (once more, it’s Nebraska). The Behlen Observatory boasts a 30-inch Cassegrain telescope courting from the 1972. The Behlen Observatory is open a number of nights a 12 months for public observing. The College of Nebraska additionally nonetheless sometimes makes use of the Behlen observatory of variable star analysis.

Behlen
The 30-inch reflector on the Behlen observatory. Dave Dickinson

Lastly, there’s the lively Prairie Astronomy Membership within the space, and the College of Nebraska at Lincoln additionally boasts a rumored 16” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on the roof of a parking storage situated in in downtown Lincoln, together with the distinctive Minnich photo voltaic telescope on campus. Additionally, don’t miss the Hyde observatory, situated on the outskirts of city in Holmes Park. Heading north, remember to cease and take a look at Wayne State Planetarium, providing public astronomy exhibits with a cutting-edge projector.

Light Pollution
An annotated gentle air pollution map for Nebraska. Credit score: Dave Dickinson/The Mild Air pollution Atlas.

Head north and west within the state, and also you get into some critical darkish sky nation. The city of Valentine is an efficient base of operations to discover the Niobrara River by day, and the darkish skies across the Merritt Dam Reservoir at evening. Merritt Dam leisure space is a sprawling website, and likewise hosts the annual Nebraska Star Get together.

NSP
The Merritt Dam star celebration website. Dave Dickinson

Now in its 25th 12 months in 2018, the Nebraska Star Get together boasts actually darkish skies (Bortle Scale 2/three). The annual NSP runs throughout the finish of July/first weeks of August, timed round New Moon.

scope
Establishing for a nights’ price of observing. Dave Dickinson

We had the chance to spend three successive nights on the Nebraska Star Get together this previous summer time. We had been primarily based out of close by Valentine, and made journeys out each night at nightfall. We’d advise exhausting core deep sky observers to camp out on the website. Then you definately’re in place to do some critical observing, as soon as the curious public has gone again to city earlier than midnight. This at all times implies that there’s a lot of flashlights and automotive headlights milling about early on, Although the positioning has a reasonably good ‘no white lights past this level’ rule, and most people appeared to stick to this mantra fairly properly. you’re in amongst a reasonably critical darkish sky crowd once you overhear conversations as as to whether “some purple lights are nonetheless too vibrant” within the darkness…

white light
No white lights past this line. Dave Dickinson

And don’t overlook bug spray, the upper the DEET focus, the higher, for all these creepy crawlies of the evening. In western Nebraska in the summertime, I’d spray particularly exhausting round pant legs and sneakers, and maintain sleeves rolled down. Simply do not spray down anyplace close to delicate optical tools!

scope
Seen on the NSP – A novel do-it-yourself reflector. Dave Dickinson

Skies on the Nebraska Star Get together are pristine and darkish. Actually darkish. Likelihood is, you’ve by no means seen darkish skies like these. We introduced our small 5” Orion Maksutov journey telescope, although we may have simply had a enjoyable night wandering round and searching by different attendees’ behemoth telescopes.

Milky Way
A fast Milky Method snap taken from the Nebraska Star Get together. Dave Dickinson

We had been primarily based out of the lodge in Valentine, Nebraska, and sortied out for 3 evenings on the occasion, however once more, we suggest you camp on-site, so you possibly can merely keep up all evening and sleep it off by the following day, in preparation for the following night’s spherical of observing.

We may truly see the Milky Method casting a shadow, the primary time we’d seen this elusive phenomenon. We famous this elusive impact in opposition to a excessive distinction background, on this case, the facet of a white pickup truck (not an unusual sight in rural Nebraska) and there was our shadow, barely seen as we rocked forwards and backwards. Sadly, the legendary gegenschein — the ghostly counter-glow on the anti-sunward level, attributable to illuminated mud alongside the ecliptic airplane — remained elusive.

Can’t sleep throughout the daytime? Close by Toadstool Geologic Park is nice website to discover and hike throughout the daytime, with one other nice darkish sky website for tenting at evening. With its meandering trails and weird rock formations, Toadstool is similar to the Badlands in South Dakota, situated simply to the north.

Scottsbluff is one other good base of operations to leap off to a number of darkish sky websites, together with Wildcat Hills, Robidoux Move, the Legacy of the Plains Museum, and Scottsbluff nationwide monument itself, a perch from which you’ll be able to see far into Wyoming to the west.

Different science websites to go to within the state embody:

Ashland- The Strategic Air Command Museum. highlights: Goblin, the “Wanting Glass” Chilly Warfare period flying command heart, and SR-71 and Apollo period .

Columbus- Maintain a watch out for the distinctive time capsule and sundial downtown.

Sundial
The inclined stone sundial in downtown Columbus, Nebraska. Dave Dickinson

Norfolk- A city that boasts a novel astronomy connection: native son Johnny Carson was additionally an avid beginner astronomer.

Ashfalls- A novel website to discover: a working paleontology dig, website of a volcanic disaster ~10 million years in the past that buried the state.

Don’t miss out on a visit to the good state of Nebraska, for your whole darkish sky wants.

  • Discover ways to discover these secret darkish sky websites in our new guide:  The Universe At present Final Information to Viewing the CosmosOn sale now.

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