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  #1  
Old 02-04-2009, 03:33 PM
OldGuy OldGuy is online now
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Best viewing time for Milky Way?

At what time of year is the Milky Way visible an hour or so after sunset? And any advice (other than the obvious be someplace away from interfering city lights) for getting the best view?

(And yes I know it's always visible because we're in it. I mean for seeing a spectacular swatch across the sky.)

Last edited by OldGuy; 02-04-2009 at 03:35 PM..
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  #2  
Old 02-04-2009, 03:45 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Hi

Roughly late Feb for the winter milky way, then 6 months later for the summer milky way which is much more spectacular IMO. Without better references handy thats the best i can do at the moment.

What big city do you live near. Maybe we could give you some good pointers on where to escape the city lights. People REALLY underestimate the importance of this and how HARD it is anymore to actually do.

Having said that, when you can really SEE the milky way like its meant to be seen, its something that will stick with you the rest of your life. It literally looks like a milky river across the sky.
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Old 02-04-2009, 04:05 PM
Squink Squink is offline
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Originally Posted by billfish678 View Post
What big city do you live near. Maybe we could give you some good pointers on where to escape the city lights. People REALLY underestimate the importance of this and how HARD it is anymore to actually do.
Dark Sky Finder

Observing Sites.Com
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  #4  
Old 02-04-2009, 04:54 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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It's not just your opinion that the summer Milky Way is more spectacular, billfish678. It's thickest and densest in the approximate direction of Saggitarius, a summer constellation. The best viewing will be some time near midnight (true midnight, which will be somewhere between 12:30 and 1:30 by the clock, if you're on daylight saving time) in July.

It's even better if you have a pair of binoculars: That portion of the sky is so thick with open clusters, nebulae, and other deep-sky objects that you can find several just by randomly sweeping around near Saggitarius.
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Old 02-04-2009, 05:16 PM
Nars Glinley Nars Glinley is offline
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Originally Posted by Squink View Post
Fascinating links. It appears to be almost impossible to get a good look at the sky from the eastern half of the continental US. That makes me sad for millions of kids that have no idea what the sky actually looks like.

I'm also somewhat surprised to see that I live in a purple area instead of totally dark. I can usually see the Milky Way pretty clearly in the summer.
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Old 02-04-2009, 09:57 PM
Savannah Savannah is offline
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Originally Posted by KRM View Post
That makes me sad for millions of kids that have no idea what the sky actually looks like.
It's hard to explain the wonder and awe of the night sky to someone who looks up and maybe spots three or five stars (or planets) at most. Maybe there'd be more interest in astronomy and less in astrology if people really could see the skies as they really are.

International Dark-Sky Association.
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  #7  
Old 02-04-2009, 11:22 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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The best I've ever seen was on Haleakala Volcano on Maui. At first I was thinking, "Damn, I can't see the Milky Way because of that cloud across the sky . . . oh wait."

A lot of people were taking pictures of it . . . with flash.
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Old 02-05-2009, 03:33 AM
si_blakely si_blakely is offline
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The best I've ever seen was on Haleakala Volcano on Maui. At first I was thinking, "Damn, I can't see the Milky Way because of that cloud across the sky . . . oh wait."
Yep. Only on moving to the UK did I realise what a privilege it was growing up in rural NZ, with dark, clear skies and the glory of the Milky Way across the night.

That said, I didn't appreciate how visible and distinctive the constellations of the zodiac really were until I moved to the Northern hemisphere. They are upside down and hidden on the horizon in the south, so they got ignored. The only guidance I ever needed from the stars was provided by the Southern Cross and the pointers, which can be used to indicate South (no polar star in the Southern Sky).

Si
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Old 02-05-2009, 09:01 AM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Originally Posted by si_blakely View Post
Yep. Only on moving to the UK did I realise what a privilege it was growing up in rural NZ, with dark, clear skies and the glory of the Milky Way across the night.

That said, I didn't appreciate how visible and distinctive the constellations of the zodiac really were until I moved to the Northern hemisphere. They are upside down and hidden on the horizon in the south, so they got ignored. The only guidance I ever needed from the stars was provided by the Southern Cross and the pointers, which can be used to indicate South (no polar star in the Southern Sky).

Si
Funny thing is, skies that are too dark can be a problem navigation wise. Even many experienced amatuer astronomers get "lost" in skies darker than they what they are used too.

Has happened to me many times as well.
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  #10  
Old 02-05-2009, 11:19 AM
KlondikeGeoff KlondikeGeoff is offline
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Originally Posted by OldGuy View Post
At what time of year is the Milky Way visible an hour or so after sunset? And any advice (other than the obvious be someplace away from interfering city lights) for getting the best view?
Dark skies are more difficult to find all the time, but fortunately here in the West, many more good locations. And, if you ever climb high mountains in places like the Sierra, above 10K feet, you will be amazed at how bright all celestial objects are. Even at the Grand Canyon, the skies are astonishing.

BTW, not only at what time of year is important, but also what time of the month. Avoid the damn moon like the plague! Astronomers would be happier if the moon never rose.
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  #11  
Old 02-05-2009, 07:41 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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BTW, not only at what time of year is important, but also what time of the month. Avoid the damn moon like the plague! Astronomers would be happier if the moon never rose.
In fairness, the Moon can be an interesting target in its own right.

And climbing mountains is good, but only to a point. When you start getting low on oxygen, one of the first symptoms is that your visual sensitivity decreases. I've heard that from the very top of the Hawaiian volcanoes, the naked-eye view is actually no better than from the suburbs of a typical city... Until you take a breath from your oxygen bottle, and the heavens open up.
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  #12  
Old 02-05-2009, 07:47 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
And climbing mountains is good, but only to a point. When you start getting low on oxygen, one of the first symptoms is that your visual sensitivity decreases. I've heard that from the very top of the Hawaiian volcanoes, the naked-eye view is actually no better than from the suburbs of a typical city... Until you take a breath from your oxygen bottle, and the heavens open up.
IIRC you have to keep it somewhere under 10,000 feet to have enough ambient oxygen to not loose too much low level light sensitivity. And if you are used to near sea level oxygen levels its probably lower than that.

Another thing many forget is that it can literally take an hour or more with NO exposure to anything brighter than the sky itself to get truelly dark adapted.

Jumping outa the car after a drive in the country and waiting a few minutes just aint gonna cut it. More like 45 minutes in near total darkness minimum.
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  #13  
Old 02-05-2009, 07:51 PM
squeegee squeegee is online now
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
I've heard that from the very top of the Hawaiian volcanoes, the naked-eye view is actually no better than from the suburbs of a typical city... Until you take a breath from your oxygen bottle, and the heavens open up.
Oh, come on. Mauna Loa is only 13.7k feet high, just a bit over half the height of Everest above sea level. There's plenty of oxygen up there, though its easy to feel winded. But oxygen bottles?
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  #14  
Old 02-05-2009, 07:52 PM
Mindfield Mindfield is offline
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I actually saw it this past summer on a clear night around optimal viewing time -- right in the city, too, with all of the attendant light pollution, which should tell you how spectacular it is if you can get to a dark area. Even with the light pollution it was an incredible sight to behold; the milky swath across the sky with bands of cosmic dust lanes stretching from one horizon to the other is quite amazing. I'd love to get out to a dark area and take a deep exposure shot through a telescope, but tracking scopes are pricey.
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Old 02-05-2009, 08:01 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Originally Posted by Mindfield View Post
I actually saw it this past summer on a clear night around optimal viewing time -- right in the city, too, with all of the attendant light pollution, which should tell you how spectacular it is if you can get to a dark area. Even with the light pollution it was an incredible sight to behold; the milky swath across the sky with bands of cosmic dust lanes stretching from one horizon to the other is quite amazing. I'd love to get out to a dark area and take a deep exposure shot through a telescope, but tracking scopes are pricey.

Great for you.

But unless that city was Hooterville, you aint seen nutin yet
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  #16  
Old 02-05-2009, 08:05 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Oh, come on. Mauna Loa is only 13.7k feet high, just a bit over half the height of Everest above sea level. There's plenty of oxygen up there, though its easy to feel winded. But oxygen bottles?
That high enough that astronomers and workers there have a hard time thinking, so yes that is TOO high.

Years ago, a famous amatuer known for very good vision found he was most sensitive WAY below the peak of Mauna Loa.
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Old 02-05-2009, 08:08 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Originally Posted by Mindfield View Post
I actually saw it this past summer on a clear night around optimal viewing time -- right in the city, too, with all of the attendant light pollution, which should tell you how spectacular it is if you can get to a dark area. Even with the light pollution it was an incredible sight to behold; the milky swath across the sky with bands of cosmic dust lanes stretching from one horizon to the other is quite amazing. I'd love to get out to a dark area and take a deep exposure shot through a telescope, but tracking scopes are pricey.
opps

forgot this.

The milky way is best seen naked eye or maybe lowww power large aperture binoculars.

The most important thing to see it are DARK skies.
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  #18  
Old 02-05-2009, 09:36 PM
Spavined Gelding Spavined Gelding is offline
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Some forty years ago in a field exercise at Fort Riley, Kansas, toward the end of July my platoon stood down at One or Two in the morning. Everyone was pretty well done in so we just bagged out in the field, ponchos and green blankets, on the open prairie. Not a light to be seen. The sky, the Milky Way stretching from on horizon to the other, was just spectacular. Because of light pollution I don’t suppose I ever see that again.
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Old 02-05-2009, 10:47 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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Isn't it also true that one can see the Milky Way better from the southern hemisphere than from the northern hemisphere?
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  #20  
Old 02-06-2009, 12:44 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Isn't it also true that one can see the Milky Way better from the southern hemisphere than from the northern hemisphere?
Probably; Sag is rather below the celestial equator. Plus, you can then also see what appears to be two detached pieces of it, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.
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  #21  
Old 02-06-2009, 08:58 AM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Chronos is right.

But for folks not so familiar with the sky or milkyway.

The further south you go, more of the sky you can see. If you live at the north pole you see the same half of the sky all the time. If you live at the south pole, you always see the other half of the sky. If you live at the equator, you get to see the whole sky, but only half of it at any given time of the year.

Yes, the farther south you go, the better you can see the milky way.

But a more precise statement would be, the further south you go, more of the BETTER parts of the milkyway you can see and the higher in the sky they get. Now, once you are further south than the equator, you start to loose the northern most (and generally weakest) parts of the milkyway.

If you live in the southern USA, the best part of the milkyway, the center, gets high enough to see reasonably well.

As I mentioned before, if you've never been in a really dark sky with no moon and the milkyway out, you really owe it to yourself to search out a darker part of the USA. Make it short weekend road trip adventure and catch some of the other sights to and from home while your at it.
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  #22  
Old 02-06-2009, 05:54 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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Originally Posted by billfish678 View Post
What big city do you live near. Maybe we could give you some good pointers on where to escape the city lights. People REALLY underestimate the importance of this and how HARD it is anymore to actually do.
This is so true. I grew up in the Hollywood Hills and used to do backyard astronomy with my dad. Even though it was in the middle of the L.A. city limits, between Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and the San Fernando Valley, we could see the brighter constellations and most stars down to the third magnitude or so.

When my brother bought a house in Santa Clarita Valley, in the mid-1980s, you could still see a lot of stars at night; but then most of the surrounding area became covered with housing tracts. The newer developments generally use sulphur vapor street lighting that are horrendously light-polluting--far more so than the older mercury vapor lights. Anyway there are now virtually no stars visible from his neighborhood either, now.

But assuming you can find ideal conditions, the best time depends on your lattitude. As with so many things astronomical, observers who live in the Southern Hemisphere are--perhaps unfairly--blessed compared with us who live in Europe or North America. The thickest part of the Milky Way is in the direction of Sagittarius, for in that direction lies the center of the Galaxy. Since that is the southernmost point of the Zodiac, for us in the North it never rises any higher than about halfway up to the zenith. And the height above the horizon is what you want when you are trying to see faint objects well. The MW rises highest for us in the summertime constellations Cygnus and its neighbors, but then you're looking out towards the edge of the galaxy, and we are already near the edge to begin with. So the MW thins out quite a bit in that part of the sky.

Sadly, the best time to see the MW can be summed up tersely as before Old Guy was even born.
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Old 02-06-2009, 06:00 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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Originally Posted by KRM View Post
Fascinating links. It appears to be almost impossible to get a good look at the sky from the eastern half of the continental US. That makes me sad for millions of kids that have no idea what the sky actually looks like.
Most of California is a wreck, too. The last time I tried to observe in the upper Mojave, I could only really see the sky from about 30 degrees above the horizon and higher. The rest was washed out by the lights of L.A. and San Diego suburbs.
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  #24  
Old 02-06-2009, 06:21 PM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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I saw it in rural VA. I had never seen it before here in suburban Dublin.

ETA: I was in the middle of the dark spot in the dark sky finder link.

Last edited by An Gadaí; 02-06-2009 at 06:22 PM..
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Old 02-06-2009, 06:29 PM
Squink Squink is offline
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Most of California is a wreck, too.
Skies are quite dark along the shores of lake Mono.
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  #26  
Old 02-06-2009, 06:37 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Mind you, you can see it even from within a city. I've regularly seen it from the heart of Bozeman (about 30,000, plus suburbs), and on a good night you could probably see it from somewhere even bigger. You just won't get a very good view of it, and it's definitely far more spectacular from a truly dark location.

For best results within a city, you'll want to be on the roof of a tallish building, with a wall around high enough (or your head low enough) that you can't see the horizon.
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Old 02-06-2009, 07:21 PM
Yeticus Rex Yeticus Rex is offline
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Last July, my best view of the Milky Way was at the ONIZUKA CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL ASTRONOMY, at the 9000' level of Mauna Kea (not Mauna Loa!) in Hawaii. We went to the summit to see the sunset with the telescopes at 13,700' and then went back down to the center for the stargazing. Absolutely the darkest skies I've seen in my 35 years of stargazing.


Also, remember:

"Kea" has "Keck" (telescope)
"Loa" has "Lava" (steam, smoke and other light scattering particles)
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Old 02-06-2009, 07:25 PM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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I forgot to say. Until I saw the Milky Way in proper dark skies I never really understood its name before. I knew where it had got its name but seeing it so clearly made it make more sense.
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  #29  
Old 02-06-2009, 08:19 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Originally Posted by KRM View Post
That makes me sad for millions of kids that have no idea what the sky actually looks like.
A number of years ago, I heard about a teenage girl in Harlem who had no idea that you could see the moon from the earth. She had seen pictures of the moon, but never thought of looking at the sky.
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Old 02-06-2009, 08:20 PM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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A number of years ago, I heard about a teenage girl in Harlem who had no idea that you could see the moon from the earth. She had seen pictures of the moon, but never thought of looking at the sky.
Is it really that light polluted in Harlem? That seems slightly far-fetched to me.
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Old 02-06-2009, 08:23 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Originally Posted by Yeticus Rex View Post
Last July, my best view of the Milky Way was at the ONIZUKA CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL ASTRONOMY, at the 9000' level of Mauna Kea (not Mauna Loa!) in Hawaii. We went to the summit to see the sunset with the telescopes at 13,700' and then went back down to the center for the stargazing. Absolutely the darkest skies I've seen in my 35 years of stargazing.


Also, remember:

"Kea" has "Keck" (telescope)
"Loa" has "Lava" (steam, smoke and other light scattering particles)
I went on that same tour in 1991 (yes, I was there for the eclipse). But the Milky Way was more spectacular from the summit of Haleakala.
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  #32  
Old 02-06-2009, 08:45 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Also, remember:

"Kea" has "Keck" (telescope)
"Loa" has "Lava" (steam, smoke and other light scattering particles)
Thank you! I've never been able to keep them straight.

And not seeing the Moon isn't a matter of light pollution, but of brain pollution. Some people just never bother to look around them.
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  #33  
Old 02-06-2009, 10:01 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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Skies are quite dark along the shores of lake Mono.
I was thinking of the back side of the Sierras as being the main exception to what I said. That, and maybe the northern third of the state, or so. When we took our train trip from Seattle to Los Angeles, we could see stars when passing through that part of the state.

A lot of these towns (like Dunsmuir) are practically unknown to most Californians, unless they've pondered the rail journey and looked at the Amtrak schedule.
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