8/01/2013

the dark skies of burning man

light pollution map showing northern nevada
light pollution map of northern nevada
Those heading out to northern Nevada to attend the annual burning man art festival might not know that one of the attractions may be the night sky. While the moon will be out during this years event, it will be in its waning phase, festival goers will likely still have quite a show with a moon only 25% illuminated during the climax of the event.

Why would the sky be interesting? It is because the Black Rock Desert is one of the few places in the contiguous United States with a low enough light pollution level to rate a 1 out of 9 on the Bortle Scale, the best rating. The bortle scale, named for its creator John Bortle, came into being in the year 2000 to give everyone a standard to judge the darkness of a sky. John described a Class 1 on the bortle scale as being "An observer's Nirvana". The good news for sky watchers at burning man is that most of the year its one of the few places left in America that one could see what one may have seen before cities polluted our skies. The bad news is that there is a lot of light created by the event itself.

lasers and stars in the sky at burning man
the busy sky over burning man
Thankfully, for those attending the event, there is plenty of space to spread out. With an event site spanning over 14,000 acres one can easily get away from the more populated and bright areas of the festival to find a dark spot to spend looking up at the show in the sky.

But attendees should be careful. Those venturing far out into the darkness are advised to have some way of lighting themselves up to avoid being accidentally run over by someone on a bike, or someone in one of the hundreds of roving art vehicles.

Along with some glow-sticks, or perhaps a red light, so that they can be seen, sky-watchers heading to this years event could also ring a pair of binoculars, or even a telescope. A simple set of binoculars can reveal many things the naked eye cannot see. With many attendees coming from populated urban areas this may be one of their few chances to see such a dark sky and it is right up there for them to see.

(source of map: cleardarksky dot com)