went down to the extremely dark Conecuh National Forest Saturday 9/8 and
Saturday 9/15. Using Google Earth, I have at last located a large
field where multiple observers can set up!
9/8, I had some high cirrus clouds to contend with till about 10:30.
However, once they cleared out, the sky was spectacular. M33 was
a clear naked eye object, and M31 stretched for about 2 degrees naked eye.
The Milky Way was extremely bright, and had a very powdery, peppered look
to it. The Gegenshein was visible in northeastish Aquarius.
was the first time I had gotten to do any serious deep sky observing since
April. I seemed a little rusty at first, but soon got into stride.
Objects like the North America Nebula, Veil Nebula, and later, Horsehead
Nebula were spectacular through the 18", but the real meat of this observing
session was the Abell galaxy clusters. I observed five different
extremely obscure Abell galaxy clusters, including one at a distance of
1.9 billion light years. Towards dawn, Venus startled me with its
brightness, casting shadows.
back down to the Conecuh National Forest on 9/15. This time I met
up with Taras from the Mobile Astronomy Club, who brought along his 10"
Discovery dob and 4.5" RFT. We set up in a fairly large, dirt field
with pretty decent horizons that I had found in Google Earth images.
The sky proved very dark that night. Not only was the Gegenshein
visible, but around 1-2AM I noticed that the even fainter zodiacal band
was visible! The zodiacal band is a band of light along the ecliptic
that is caused by sunlight being scattered by interplanetary dust.
Unlike the zodiacal light, it is visible at any time during the night,
and it is also MUCH, MUCH fainter. Pointing out the zodiacal band
to Taras, he saw it too, saying "it looks sorta like the Milky Way".
Yea maybe, but 20 times fainter and only about 10 degrees wide! It
was incredible to look up and literally see the plane of the solar system
etched across the sky!
the night proved to be one of the darkest I have ever seen at the Conecuh
National Forest. Overhead, it appeared to be just as dark as West
Texas. Unfortunately, I left my front light baffle at home, and had
to construct one on-site out of some sticks, duck tape, and some black
cloth. After I finished this, I got some great views. I spent
the time hunting Abell planetary nebulae, more extremely obscure Abell
Galaxy Clusters (I spotted 2-3 galaxies in one that is 2.5 billion light
years away!!!), and I even tracked down the supernova remnant Cassiopeia
A. Taras and I stayed all night till dawn. I started
packing up when I noticed that the morning light had made it no longer
possible to see the Horsehead Nebula without a filter.
Forest Dark Sky Site
been searching for the perfect Alabama dark sky site for years. While
I still haven't yet discovered the perfect site, I've come very close.
McGowan and I first scouted out the dark skies of the Conecuh National
Forest back in May 2005. We set up on the side of a road, about 14
miles east of Brewton, Alabama (as the crow flies). When the summer
Milky Way reached meridian that night, we knew we had something special.
Since then I have scouted out two even darker sites closer to the heart
of the forest.
skies at the Conecuh National Forest are very dark- excluding the horizons
which have some light pollution hugging them, it's nearly impossible to
tell you're not in West Texas. The faint and elusive Gegenshein
is visible every night, and on a good night, the incredibly faint zodiacal
band (not to be confused with the immensely brighter zodiacal
light) is visible too. M33 is about to easy to see naked eye
as M31 from a magnitude 4.5 or 5 site. The Milky Way is incredible.
Conecuh National Forest is located in extreme south Alabama, east of the
town of Brewton, Alabama, and southwest of Andalusia and Opp. According
to the light pollution maps, it's located in a Bortle Scale 2 zone.
While there are wide swaths of Bortle
Scale 2 areas in southwest and south-central Alabama, the Conecuh National
Forest is the only Bortle Scale 2 area that I have found that is located
on public lands. Below is a map of light pollution in central and
south Alabama, showing the normal AAS dark sky site (at Bortle Scale 4)
and the Conecuh National Forest.