The August new moon period has been spectacular so far: I got wonderful nights at the Oregon Star Party and could see the youngest new moon that is possible at the solar eclipse of August 21. Back home, I rounded it up with an excursion to my favourite deep sky observing spot.
Across the world, the best deep sky observing spots would be at the most remote places. Far from any light pollution, which in many cases also means far from any infrastructure, pristine skies would greet the observer who would dare to travel so far.
In central Europe, things are different. There are no remote places without light pollution. But there are the Alps, the beautiful mountain ridge that crosses the continent. With it comes altitude, a very powerful ingredient for dark skies. And at the same time, the observer enjoys all the benefits of a fully equipped mountain resort.
The place to go: Edelweißspitze
2571m above sea level, Edelweißspitze is among the highest places that are accessible by car in the Alps. Sitting just north of the main ridge of the Alps highlighted by Großglockner (3798m), a road runs right to the top of that mountain. It is part of the Großglockner-Hochalpenstraße, one of the most beautiful and scenic tourist routes of the Alps.
Ascending from Zell am See, the road climbs 1800m in only 25km. The views of the rugged mountains, with several glaciers in between, get better with every meter going up, and are simply breathtaking when the final destination is reached. At the top, it feels as if you would be standing on the roof of Europe. I always like the exposed nature of the parking lot, and the striking silhouette of the mountaintops that surround it.
The place to stay: Edelweißhütte
As it is, Edelweißspitze is a spectacular place to do astronomy. At the same time, it is one of the most comfortable places to do astronomy. Directly below the parking lot is Edelweißhütte, a typical Austrian mountain hut. There is a restaurant, shop, and accomodation in a charming chalet or comfortable rooms. The views through from there are every bit as wonderful as from the observing platforms.
The Lederer family, which runs the resort since the inauguration of the Hochalpenstraße in the 1930s, are very welcoming and friendly towards amateur astronomers. Breakfast is served late, and if the sky is clouded over, a good selection of fina Austrian food and drinks will cheer disappointed observers.
The best of the northern sky
At 47° 7′ northern latitude, the summer milky way can be seen as far as the tip of Scorpius. This is one of the best places in Europe to observe far southern objects. This time, the northern sky was scheduled, as we had friends from Australia joining us.
With my 20-inch Dobsonian, we got some good views of the Andromeda Galaxy M 31, M 33 with its HII regions, edge-on galaxy NGC 891, the double cluster, Kemble’s cascade and the beautiful planetary NGC 1501, among others. On the first night, the seeing was good, so small targets like the Cat’s Eye Nebula NGC 6543 and the Ring Nebula M 57 could be viewed at 450x. This night was pretty cold at 6°C, though. On the second night, which was much warmer and less windy, the moon only set at midnight. While still above the horizon, its light illiminated the mountain slopes beautifully, adding an extra effect to the stunning sourroundings.