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Enjoy the Wonders of the Night Sky

August 02, 2023 12:00 AM

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For centuries, the night sky has enthralled people, shaping traditions and beliefs, assisting with navigation, and sparking art, poetry, and wonder.

Interest is renewing in viewing a sky brimming with stars; however, due to a number of factors, it is estimated that more than half of the people in the United States cannot see the Milky Way from their homes or communities.

Pennsylvania state parks and forests offer some amazing opportunities for dark sky viewing and have been expanding facilities and programs for stargazing.

Stargazing in Pennsylvania State Parks

A starry sky over a field of people and tents in the dark

One state park in the Pennsylvania Wilds has been certified by DarkSky International as an official Dark Sky Park, and there are other opportunities for night sky viewing not impacted by light pollution at a number of Pennsylvania’s 124 state parks.

Cherry Springs State Park is nearly as remote and wild today as it was two centuries ago. The 82-acre state park is surrounded by the Susquehannock State Forest. 

Night sky enthusiasts flock to the park for stargazing and its dark skies which are famous for great views of the Milky Way, planets, and other phenomena.

The park has a public night sky viewing area and an overnight astronomy observation field for serious stargazers. You’ll find a number of public programs at the park on the DCNR Calendar of Events.

A number of improvements to ensure visitors have a great experience are underway and planned at Cherry Springs.

In planning a visit for night sky viewing at a state park, first check the park’s website for facility details, hours, and park rules.

You can view the night sky at a state park if you are staying the night or attending public programs. Here are some additional parks to consider:

  • Cowan’s Gap State Park in Fulton County
  • French Creek State Park in Berks County
  • Greenwood Furnace State Park in Huntingdon County
  • Laurel Hill State Park in Somerset County
  • Moraine State Park in Butler County
  • Prince Gallitzin State Park in Cambria County
  • Promised Land State Park in Pike County

To respond to increased interest in stargazing, DCNR has been expanding its programming on night sky viewing.
Find more than 50 upcoming stargazing activities on the DCNR Calendar of Events.

Dark Skies in Pennsylvania State Forests

A persons silhouette is seen next t oa large dark shape in front of a starry night sky

Pennsylvania’s 2.2 million acres of state forests offer good conditions to watch the heavens -- as, in many cases, they are far enough away from sources of light.

Here are some higher elevation locations in state forests to view the stars:

Visitor Tips for Night Sky Viewing

People stand outdoors during dusk in a field in front of trees, standing around a tube shaped telescope

  • Check that the location you plan to visit allows for night sky viewing and visitation.
  • Check the moon phase and if visiting a state park, the park’s event schedule – the best time for stargazing is during a new moon.
  • Allow your eyes time to adjust to the dark and use a red flashlight to keep your dark eye adjustment.
  • Attend a public star party to learn about stargazing.
  • Check weather forecasts for clear night skies.

Digital Tools for Stargazing

There are various apps to help even the most novice of individuals enjoy the night sky.
With various uses and price ranges, each of these apps offer something unique to every night sky appreciator:

  • Sky View Lite -- Found for free on both the Apple and Android app stores, this app uses augmented reality to help individuals identify stars, constellations, satellites, and more. Paid versions of the same app with both Apple and Android include additional features.
  • NASA -- With NASA’s free app, users can view the latest images, videos, and livestreams from NASA, use augmented reality to view the objects in the night sky, and track the International Space Station. It can be found on both Apple and Android app stores.
  • SkySafari 7 Pro -- This app contains the largest database of any astrological app. With this app, one can find objects in the night sky, stimulate past or future celestial events, explore outer space, and more. This app is $39.99 on the Apple app store and $29.99 on the Android store.
  • Good To Stargaze -- Showing the weather forecast, transparency, and light pollution all in one place, this app allows users to see when and where it is good to stargaze. It is free on both the Apple and Android app stores. 

How to Help Protect the Night Sky

A crowd of people sit in a field in camp chairs and blanket. Some groups of people have a telescope set up.

Limiting the use of outdoor lighting not only helps protect the night sky, but also benefits birds and wildlife.

Light pollution is controlled by relying on the five principles of responsible lighting, as outlined by DarkSky International.

Responsible lighting includes lighting that is:

  1. Useful
  2. Targeted
  3. Low level
  4. Controlled
  5. Warm colored

There are actions all of us can take to help reduce light pollution and create darker skies, including:

  • Use outdoor lighting only when needed.
  • Only light an outdoor area that needs light.
  • Minimize blue light emissions.
  • Utilize fully shielded light fixtures outdoors.
  • Close blinds at night to keep indoor light inside.
  • Look for the International Dark Sky Association fixture seal of approval on lighting products and companies.
  • Help spread the word about the effects of light pollution and how to reduce it!

Pennsylvania’s amazing outdoor spaces offer some unique opportunities to view the night sky.

Reach for the stars and visit one of our state parks or forests for some stargazing!

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