Star Light, Star Bright
August 10, 2011 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Calling all Long Island/New York amateur astronomers! Which of these two sites has the least light pollution -- or is there really no difference?

So I'm snagging a Zipcar at 3 am on Saturday morning, which is the peak of the Perseid meteor shower this year -- I plan on driving out from Brooklyn to either Jones Beach or Robert Moses, watching the shower, and then driving back at dawn.

However -- on the one hand, I want the best show possible, with the least light pollution. But on the other, I'd like an easy drive, because -- I'm an infrequent driver who's going to be trying to navigate the LIE at 4 am.

Jones Beach looks a little easier to get to, but i've heard Robert Moses is better from a low-light standpoint. How much of a difference between the two is there? is it worth driving further out to Robert Moses?

Are there any other tips anyone has (i.e., Jones Beach has more cops and I may get a ticket for trespassing or something)?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any chance of getting a motel room out east, and going to Custer Observatory? I may be heading out there, but I am already halfway through Long Island.
posted by kellyblah at 8:16 PM on August 10, 2011

Can't speak from personal experience, but according to Dark Sky Finder, Robert Moses is slightly better. Whether that's significant for the Perseids or not, I don't know.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:17 PM on August 10, 2011

Robert Moses is a bit farther from NYC but at that point I would think long island would be a bigger source light pollution. But either way ocean park way always has light traffic, so it's not as far as it seems.
posted by ihadapony at 8:27 PM on August 10, 2011

Keep in mind that the moon will be (almost?) full and will be up for the entire night - this calendar says from 19:39 til 05:53, well before sunset and after dawn. I don't know what direction the moon is vs. the Perseids, but that's an important factor to consider.

(Friday is my birthday, leading to a near-annual attempt to watch the Perseids, but I think this year might be a skip. Also I'm in DC, which is NOT dark).
posted by foodmapper at 8:42 PM on August 10, 2011

Whoops, this calendar.
posted by foodmapper at 8:42 PM on August 10, 2011

foodmapper: yeah, I know about the full moon, but this is my third attempt after (2010) my cat dying the day I was going to go and (2009) the car breaking down somewhere in Babylon at 4:30 am, so by now I'm just in a mood of I am going to go this year, dammit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 PM on August 10, 2011

I've had problems with finding dark spots under relatively dark skies. By which I mean you problem may not be light pollution in the meta sense - the ambient light thrown up into your local atmosphere. Your problem may be that there are pesky street lights nearby for silly things like "security" and "safety."

One awkwardly placed street light and your attempts at adjusting your eyes to the dark will be for naught. Likewise, a nearby busy road with even occasional headlights can cause serious pain for stargazing.

In the end though, even with all those potential factors conspiring with the moon to ruin your experience... Go. Go and enjoy yourself. The Perseids are so dependable that even a boring show will be magical. You might just have to make each wish stretch a little farther this year.

A couple weeks ago during the Delta Aquarids, I saw one zip over downtown Houston... such a light polluted spot that the sky often stays pinky fuchsia all night long. So don't despair. It'll be great no matter where you go.
posted by jph at 9:23 PM on August 10, 2011

Long Beach, NY resident. Skip Jones Beach, too much light pollution to bother with. Go for Robert Moses.

What part of Brooklyn are you coming from? LIE is northshore (as is Northern State). You're going to want the Southern State (which is just the LI equiv of the Belt with considerably less traffic, as long as you're outside rushhour). You can take the Cross Island south to the Southern State if you're coming from the north.

If you're heading towards Robert Moses, I'd avoid Ocean Parkway, it's a beautiful drive in daylight, but once you get past Jones Beach, it gets barren quick, with no street lights. Southern State is at least back in civilization. Take that to the RM Causeway Southbound if you're going to go for RM Beach.

That being said, if you really want to do it right, you're still not far enough east. Kellyblah's suggestion to head to the observatory on the North Fork is best. I've been a few times and it really is nice and dark there. Plus there might be some people there you can learn from. My physics prof told me about the place a few years ago. But Long Island is really long and you're going past where the LIE ends. Thar be monsters, etc.

As far as tickets go, Jones Beach and RM Beach are state parks, and while they technically do close and state police do hassle kids/young couples looking for some alone time for hanging out and being a "nuisance", quiet stargazers are usually left alone and the worst you'll get is a "move along".

If I wasn't working 70 hours this week, I'd tell you to take the LIRR to LB and I'd pick you up and drive out myself, but the GF and I are missing this year.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:33 AM on August 11, 2011

Thanks, Brian. I'm coming from Clinton Hill -- I live a block from the BQE -- and I've actually made that drive to Robert Moses once and it seemed to be okay (I was just a little nervous about the return trip because traffic spooks me a tad). I unfortunately have neither the funds or the time to get much further from home, unfortunately, and "three hours in a Zipcar" is about my limit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:10 AM on August 11, 2011

I usually go to Montauk, tbh. Light pollution is pretty crap throughout the entire Island. I've elected to not bother this year because of the aforementioned full moon as well, plus I have family commitments at 9am on Sunday, or otherwise I'd offer to share the drive.

(we should totally schedule an NYC astronomy dorks meetup [yes, a freezing cold 4am midwinter outdoor meetup] for the Leonid shower this november!)
posted by elizardbits at 7:36 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any reason why you're picking one of these two places?

You also have the option of taking NJTransit, Metro North, or LIRR out to some weird/remote places in the state.
posted by schmod at 7:40 AM on August 11, 2011

You also have the option of taking NJTransit, Metro North, or LIRR out to some weird/remote places in the state.

I'm hedged in by committments in New York on both Friday night AND Saturday morning. Commuter trains are both too late and too early for me to do it all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 AM on August 11, 2011

Also, there's the whole question of how to get FROM the train station TO the best viewing spot once I'm there -- it strikes me that if I'd need a car anyway, to get from the train station to Park Whatever, then why not just take a car the whole way.

But if you DO know of a spot where the train station is walking distance from a good observation point, do let me know, and I may switch my plan.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:04 AM on August 11, 2011

elizardbits, i'm down for Leonid on the east end, can help arrange rides for "city folk", post a meetup when it gets closer and I'll jump in.

EmpressCallipygos, hmmm, between the moon and transportation/logistic issues, pass on this year? The LIRR is bike friendly, but you really don't want to bike around the middle of no where in the dark in a strange place. MetroNorth is annoying because it shuts down. I know the LIRR does to an extent, but I'm only used to Hicksville and LB, both of which run regularly 24/7.

Good luck, sorry I don't have better answers.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:35 PM on August 11, 2011

Nah, you're good -- the moon would have been a problem no matter how far East I was, so I'm going to try for Robert Moses anyway still. Thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on August 12, 2011

Checking back in -- as it turned out, the problem was neither the light pollution nor the moon, the problem was Google Maps SERIOUSLY underestimating how much time it would take me to drive from Brooklyn to Robert Moses. They claimed it would take about an hour -- it was more like 90 minutes. So I got there about 5 minutes before dawn, and I had to turn right back around in 15 minutes.

But even with the lights from the Robert Moses water tower, the moon, and the growing daylight, I still saw two huge meteors right as I was getting back into the car to go home, so I'm calling it "a good start and we'll just leave earlier next year." :-) Thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:39 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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