The night sky can be an awe-inspiring thing. But the view we get depends on a variety of factors. For our latest installment of Carolina Curious, listener Jessica Blackstock, who lives in Statesville, asked for some recommendations:
What is the best spot in North Carolina to stargaze and see the most stars? North Carolina has a lot of light pollution so it's hard to find a good spot.
To find some answers, WFDD's Bethany Chafin spoke with David Morgan, President of the Forsyth Astronomical Society.
On the ideal conditions for viewing the night sky:
[There would be] no moon in the sky, very low humidity, and the nearest large town is probably more than 30 miles away which would make for less light pollution. No wind and comfortable temperatures. Now, that being said, these conditions rarely exist in North Carolina. The humidity in the western states is much lower than it ever gets in North Carolina. There are few places in North Carolina without cities nearby. The temperatures in the spring, summer, and fall are comfortable, but the summer haze usually sets in by early May and can last through mid-October.
On light pollution:
Light pollution is the result of outdoor lighting that is not properly shielded that allows light to shine into the eyes or the night sky. Direct light that shines into your eyes is called glare. And as to light pollution, it has now been quantified by something called the Bortle Scale. It is an index of light pollution. The scale goes from one to nine. Charlotte downtown is an eight to nine. Winston-Salem downtown, and most of the other major cities in North Carolina, is a seven. Pilot Mountain is a four, and the darkest places in North Carolina only get to three. You have to go out west in the vicinity of the Great Basin in order to achieve the best rating of one.
On the best places in North Carolina to see the most stars:
Well, anywhere 30 miles or more from a major city would be a good part. The lower population densities of eastern North Carolina, the less inhabited spots of the North Carolina coast perhaps in a few spots, and the western North Carolina mountains all have suitable spots. The coast has truly dark sky to the east where it borders the ocean but suffers along with northeast North Carolina from high humidities and haze. The altitude of the mountains is an advantage when it comes to haze, but they're subject to much colder weather and wind. There are many sights along the Blue Ridge Parkway that are suitable for observation. Pockets of class three dark sky sites are in the Doughton Park area, Rocky Knob ... in Virginia, Mount Rogers in Virginia and the Nantahala area in southwest North Carolina. The local state parks are all pretty good: Pilot Mountain, Stone Mountain, Hanging Rock.
On what the night sky looks like in ideal conditions:
The sky background is very dark, almost black. The visible stars will be so numerous that picking out familiar constellations becomes difficult. Several deep sky objects become naked-eye objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy, which would be clearly visible, and it's quite surprisingly large. Air glow is visible and Venus and Jupiter are so bright that they inhibit dark adaptation and actually cast visible shadows.