Updated 9 August 2002

Amateur Astronomer's Notebook

Astrophotos from Voluntown, CT

I recently (Jan 2002) moved to a new residence in Voluntown CT. Although not the sole reason for my move, the promise of reasonably dark skies was a significant factor in my choosing this location. Voluntown is a small town on the eastern edge of CT (bordering RI), the population is about 2700 people. I do not believe there is a single traffic light in this town (and that's fine with me, I hate traffic). There are no major businesses (translation: sources of major light pollution) for miles. The nearest source of significant light pollution is probably the mall that contains Home Depot, Kohl's and Wal Mart, about 12 miles away. My house is located about 28 miles away from greater Providence RI, the largest major source of light pollution (fortunately far enough away to not be a serious detriment, although the impacts are still plainly visible)...

Above is a 30 second (unguided) tripod shot of the southern sky as seen from one end of my property. The film was Polaroid 400 (very generic film), the lens was a 28mm lens set to F2.8. Certainly not as good as the skies at Arunah Hill or the desert of California, but not bad for backyard (actually this is my front yard) skies. The Milky Way is plainly visible as are a number of the brighter Messier objects. Fortunately, there are no major sources of light pollution to my south (at least not today). I do not have a perfect view of the south, however there are "notches" in the trees at other spots on the property that allow windows of opportunity for observing objects to about -30 degrees declination.

Here is a several hour circumpolar shot. The lens was the same 28mm lens, however it was stopped to F8 for this exposure. As can be seen, there are many airplane trails in this photo. Many flights in and out of Providence go right over this area, so wide field long exposure astrophotography is not an easy thing to do. In this photo the star trails seem to fade somewhat as the stars rotated, this is due to dew that formed on the lens during the exposure. On good nights, all of the stars of the Little Dipper are easily plainly visible to the naked eye from Voluntown (in 2002 anyway).

Here is one final shot 30 second tripod shot of parts of Andromeda and Pegasus (non guided) looking towards Providence. This is my worst "light pollution" direction. Sky glow can be seen, although M31 is still visible in the photo at the upper left (M31 is still easy naked eye despite the sky glow). The extent of the damage caused by greater Providence is very much a function of moisture and particulate matter in the air. On very good nights the "dome of glow" caused by Providence is limited to about 40 degrees in height, but it can extend quite a bit further on less than perfect nights. Sadly, this glow will probably only get worse with time (Providence is probably the only city in the US with a mayor that has implemented tax incentives to owners of certain buildings that put up more lights).


As an amatuer astronomer, I feel very fortunate to be among the very few people in the US who can actually see the Milky Way clearly from a backyard. However, I am keenly aware that these are the "good old days" for me as far as dark skies are concerned. Ever increasing development and use of excessive and poor quality lights is likely to slowly erode the skies in this area. Also, an Indian tribe in North Stonington (just to my south) has recenty won federal recognition, and the tribe has expressed interest in building another casino. If this occurs, I have a feeling that the skies will go from "good" to "significantly compromised" in very short order. I am in the process of converting the outdoor lights on my property to "full cutoff" lights (either by use of homemade modifications or lights like the Glare Buster (used on my animal buildings)). Please see my Light Pollution Page for more on the topic of Light Pollution.

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