Locations for Astrophotography in South-Eastern Louisiana

Tips and tricks, and maybe even a few samples.
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Joined: September 19th, 2017, 8:46 pm

Locations for Astrophotography in South-Eastern Louisiana

Post by MarinaStrachan »

Hello, myself and a couple of friends would love to try Astro photography. I have tried searching online and in this forum for locations in Louisiana with minimal light pollution but I am coming up blank. I would appreciate any pointers or location suggestions in Louisiana!
Thank you in advance!

Christopher K.
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Joined: October 12th, 2009, 3:28 pm
Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Re: Locations for Astrophotography in South-Eastern Louisian

Post by Christopher K. »

That is a very good question. Cameras can gather more light than eyes, and collect that light permanently. Still, a natural sky with limited light pollution does help.

There are some government properties that the public may have access to at night, though you'd have to check: Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge, Tickfaw State Park.

There are also some local and relatively nearby star parties. There is traditionally one in the fall in Norwood called Deep South; it's open to the public but there is a fee and I don't know the arrangers' photography policy. There is also usually a spring party at Hodges Gardens State Park, near Toledo Bend (I've heard that Park may be closing this year).

But remember, ultimately you must stop and reverse light pollution where you live, otherwise it will just follow you to the currently dark places!

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Re: Locations for Astrophotography in South-Eastern Louisian

Post by pselaphid »

I noticed this post from a while back. Dark skies are hard to come by in this part of the state. I have a private site about 35 miles north that gives me good overhead and northwestern skies. BUT, I am working on a project to establish a dark sky site near Centreville, MS about 1.5 hr driving time north. The town is quite small and the only significant light source. If everything goes through my site is far enough away from town that it won't be a serious problem. Should be nice and dark. I have approached BRAstro with the idea of a cooperative agreement to make the site available, so stay tuned, it is a work in progress.

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Re: Locations for Astrophotography in South-Eastern Louisian

Post by bsimon615 »

The search for dark skies is a never ending quest. When you find one you will find (usually) that ever encroaching light pollution and tree growth often mandates a new move some years later, and unfortunately it could be very soon.

The Deep South Star Gaze which I started in 1983 and still manage was first held at Percy Quin State Park near McComb, MS. It was held there for it's first 22 years but eventually increasing light pollution and the growth of trees around out observing field eventually forced us to move. Our 2nd home at Camp Ruth Lee in East Feliciana Parish gave us a larger field with lower horizons and darker skies. Not all that much darker, but somewhat better. We were only there for 4 years because the place got sold. Our 3rd home for the DSSG was at the Feliciana Retreat Center, located less than a mile west on Hwy 422. The facility observing field is actually north of the highway by almost a mile vs Camp Ruth Lee where the field is south of the highway by almost a mile. The skies at the Feliciana Retreat Center were the best we had seen as compared to our other two sites, but not quite the equal of the original location for the Kisatchie Star Party, especially when that event started about 17 to 18 years ago at the first location. Over the past 9 years when it is clear the skies have generally been good, quite acceptable for astrophotography but certainly not in the same league as truly dark skies as found in west Texas (west of the Pecos). As they say for the best skies you need 3 things - 1) Altitude - as you climb above 3000 feet increasing altitude really helps, 2) Low humidity - which we do not generally have, but west Texas does, and 3) Distance from light sources. In our part of the US a significant light source - metro areas like Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, the Mississippi gulf coast are typically within about 100 miles or so of any place we have considered for events large or small. Housing needs such as for the Deep South Star Gaze force compromises.

Additionally once we locate a dark area on the map, see - https://www.lightpollutionmap.info/#zoo ... BFFFFTFFFF
we then have to locate a good location in the area with both good horizons and shielding from local lights. The need for both is often in conflct. I have looked at the wildlife management areas on the Louisiana map (reference above) along Hwy 82 south of Jennings, LA and there are some truly dark skies, but I have not identified a good area to at least go scout out even as a place for 3 or 4 avid astronomers to go set up for one night. Alligators, snakes and mosquitoes are a concern.

When you look at any location you have to consider just how bright the sky might be as given on the map referenced above and with direct readings using a Sky Quality Meter. Our club site (SPMOS/Pontchartrain Astronomy Society) is a relatively small field and the trees are getting larger. The map gives it an SQM reading of 21.42. This is a Bortle 4 sky and yes we can see the Milky Way but not as well, not nearly as well as from west Texas. The Feliciana Retreat Center observing field yields a reading of 21.52 according to the light pollution maps, and we can see the difference but it is not huge. The advantage of the FRC side is better horizons, but not great horizons. We wish they had been lower but the light dome from the Baton Rouge metro area is already pretty significant. Note that the site near Centreville that was referenced above is just a bit too close to Centreville, it's SQM reading is not as good as our SPMOS site. It is a shame that it is not another 5 miles to the north where it would register a significant improvement.

As there are some "issues" with the DSSG site at the Feliciana Retreat Center we will not be returning there this fall. We have located a better site (White Horse Christian Retreat Center)in respect to the skies. The light pollution maps give it an SQM reading of about 21.65, and when there about 10 days ago I got a reading of 21.76 on my Sky Quality meter. My reading would mean it has Bortle 3 skies, not Bortle 4 like all the other sites described above. A reading like that indicates a naked eye limiting magnitude of 6.5. This puts it in the position of having skies equivalent to the Kisatchie Star Party as seen in about 2001/2002 and that is a noticeable improvement. Not west Texas but pretty darn good. Additionally the other big factor is a lower tree line. With a lower tree line a March Messier Marathon is viable as you can catch the low setting stuff early in the evening and the low rising stuff just before sunrise starts to brighten the skies. The sky seems "big" and a big sky is a better sky.

Note - look up Bortle Scale on the internet for a good overview of what you can see and not see given what sky you are under. On the light pollution maps which you can pull up using the link above the "white skies are the very worst light polluted skies of an inner metropolitan area. The faintest stars you will see are brighter than magnitude 4. On the maps when you move from white colors to red the limiting magnitude is between 4.5 and 4.9, this is a Bortle 7 sky and this is what I have from my home on a really good winter night. The sky looks relatively dark because my eyes never fully dark adapt. Dark skies with few stars. As you move out further from significant light sources the map color changes from red to orange and then to yellow. If you live under a sky designated as orange you are at Bortle 6 and straight overhead on a good night you may glimpse a bit of the Milky Way. Even under a Bortle 5 yellow sky the Milky Way is washed out. A green Bortle 4 sky gets you to a limiting magnitude between 6.0 and 6.49.

If you are lucky and can get under a Bortle 3 sky the celestial vault is really starting to look good, you are getting into Wow! country. Better yet is the grey and black colors on the maps which are Bortle 2 and Bortle 1 skies. This is typically what is seen in the really good areas for astronomy out west and pretty much unheard off in all locations east of the Mississippi River. You really have to get out west of the line that connects San Antonio and Austin and then straight north to the Canadian border, and then you have to get about 100 miles or more west of that. Unfortunately these grey and black map areas are shrinking over the decades.

Note - with astrophotography you can do post processing to at least partial cancelthe effects of light pollution but it is really nice to view a truly dark sky with your own eyes. Try it you will like it!

Barry Simon

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