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Monday, February 23, 2009

Glimmering Skies in Pennsylvania




Glistening in the pristine skies over a promenade of thousands of real stars begin to twinkle through the inky darkness. On a perfect night preferably on a new moon, the spectacular view of the sprinkled Milky Way so splendid it casts a shadow, a heavenly sight for amateur astronomers who look at the glint in wonderment.

And its not just the North Pole that you see twinkling high, you’d see stars hundred times as bright, fading away its glory. Or the Orion, which is so dominant in winters; draw an imaginary line up from Orion's belt and it takes you to Taurus the Bull. Go down through the belt and you come to Sirius, which is the brightest star in the sky. Spotting the Big Dipper, Sagittarius and Cassiopeia among zillions of stars is enchanting.

A 275 mile drive from New York and about 4 hours from Pittsburgh, the observation field at Cherry Springs State Park in remote Potter County, north central Pennsylvania, has become a Mecca for passionate astronomers and star gazing enthusiasts from eastern seaboard and Canada who just want to lie back and ponder over the majestic universe.

Just off the State Route 44, on a high hill, over 50 acre of the main stargazing field with view stretching from one horizon to another, with plenty of low standing pines and earthen berms to block wandering lights that comes from the passing traffic is the pitch black skies, making a natural planetarium of sorts.

In times about 40 years back, when our parents were young, the skies were brimming with stars, in recent times however artificial lights or the light pollution have washed away the natural quaint.

Certified by the International Dark Skies Association for its exceptional nightscape, the park is the scene of star parties and other events summer through fall and rents four small observatories. Just pay a minimal $4 to use the observation field and $20-$25 to use one of three large white domes and a shed at the field that open so astronomers can set their telescopes inside and look at the stars, take photographs without wind affecting them.

For the uninitiated stargazers, Music and Stars programs are available for $10 per person and $17 for families. It includes a concert, hot chocolate and cookies, plus a 10 p.m. tour of the night sky and also offers star talks to private groups.

Only a few rules that is imperative. Only flashlights with red lights were allowed and to be only pointed downward. While leaving the park you are asked to keep the headlights off until away from the dark-sky field and conversations are kept hushed.

Come out of your own little worlds and witness the heavens come down on the rumpled hills that are blanketed with trees.

More Information and Rules can be found at: http://www.upstateastro.org/stars/cssp.html and
http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/cherrysprings/cherrysprings_darkskies.aspx

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