About 5 years ago my teenage son and I took a camping trip to West Texas. We brought along a simple kid’s telescope, an Orion 3″ reflector, and some binoculars. We camped in Big Bend Ranch State Park which is situated just to the West of Big Bend National Park. This area is well known for its pristine dark skies. On this trip, we wouldn’t be disappointed. Our campsite was in a remote area alongside highway FM170, a winding highway that follows the Rio Grande River. We chose our trip during the new moon, so the skies were dark without any intrusion of moonlight. When the sun set we were dazzled by the vast numbers of stars in the sky. The normal patterns of the constellations were somewhat difficult to make out due to the many stars that urban dwellers never see. The Milky Way stood out as a wide swath of tiny stars. It turned out that this particular night and this particular site were nearly ideal. We were able to see around 40 deep sky objects in our small telescope, many of them being galaxies. It is amazing to see the capability of even a small telescope under a truly dark sky. The quality of this dark sky later revealed a rarely seen phenomenon. In the early morning hours, we watched as a brilliant Venus rose in the East. We soon noticed a distinct shadow on the ground cast by our telescope’s tripod. It became quite obvious that we were witnessing a shadow cast by the light of the planet Venus! It struck me that in over 35 years of being an amateur astronomer I’d never seen this before. I often think of this particular night of astronomy as the best night I’ve ever seen. The sky in our modern times doesn’t often give up its treasures with all the light pollution around. It’s nice to know that if we find the right spot that we can still see the beauty of the sky.
- Brian Redman, 2019