Light Site Viewing - Part 1

Joe Shuster

We all know what a "dark site" is. We all know what to expect there and we know why we bother to travel so far. A dark site is where we can enjoy the pinnacle of viewing or imaging in the best astronomical conditions we can find. And many of these places combine peaceful solitude in addition to fine sky conditions.

But I want to introduce the term "light site". A light site is a place where there is more light than dark (and more people than elbow room). It has conditions that are unacceptable to the dedicated viewer or imager. There can be ambient lighting from cars, businesses, and streetlights. There might be trees or structures that severely limit the horizon (or event the zenith!). There can be intruders - civilians - who jeopardize the astronomer's tranquility as they pass by on their business. Some of these intruders bring a squad of additional disturbers (kids, dogs) who can endanger the security of our expensive equipment.

In other words, a light site is a place an astronomer drives past on the way to a dark site. It's an astronomer's nightmare come alive.

So of course you'll be happy to know we're planning some LCAS events for light sites. Why? What? How? Stay with me.

One of our missions is astronomy outreach. For years we've addressed that by responding to requests for star parties or hosting events at dark places of our choice. At these events we can show a wide range of objects from solar system to galactic to inter-galactic. We're experienced at this process and we do a fantastic job. But these events require that an event host needs to find us or that the public needs to come to us. That gets some results but we have a chance to do much more if we can take astronomy to the public.

So we are planning events that are in light sites. The perfect example was December's event in downtown Libertyville at the Cook Memorial Library. We had almost 100 viewers and only a handful knew of the event beforehand. The rest just stumbled over us as they conducted business at the library, often with kids in tow. Following that huge success we are planning other events with other libraries (including a return to Libertyville). We're also willing to consider other places where we can encounter an eager and willing public. It will be hard to get a better audience than the patrons of a library, but we can do light site event just about anywhere - even a church or shopping mall.

So if you have ideas on locations for our Moon Parties (see part 2!), contact me.

We'll be planning a lot of these events and when we publish the plans, it might seem shocking that we would commit to so much activity. However, light site viewing requires a fewer volunteers (explained in part 2) so we can cover these events with 2-4 members. And often, more volunteers would just get in the way. So it should be easy to match the small team size with the large number of events. And don't forget that weather will certain interfere with some of the plans we make.

In part 2 of this discussion I'll talk about the special aspects of light site viewing that are significantly different from our public star parties at a dark (or slightly dark) site. Light site viewing requires a very different form of planning and execution. In part 3 I'll talk about the differences between star parties and our new "moon parties" from the volunteer's standpoint so we can provide well informed information about our limit menu of viewable objects.

Published in the February 2008 issue of the NightTimes