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How Far to Great Skies?

So you love astronomy but you live in the city. Do you find it difficult just to make out the constellations? Have you seen the structure of our home galaxy, the Milky Way? Due to the ever growing amount of light pollution most of us fall in love with the idea of space through books, television and movies before we get an opportunity to glimpse the vastness of the universe with our own eyes.

At the Bent Nail Observatory a few tricks are used to cut through the light pollution for imaging. The truth is that a digitally created image can never replace that feeling of connecting with the night sky using our senses. The experience is a combination of the smell and heightened sounds of nature, the chill of the night air, and a vast and intricate view of a truly dark sky that is truly unforgettable.

So... how widespread is light pollution? How hard is it to escape it?

Unfortunately it's everywhere that people are. Humans fear the unknown. Darkness has many unknowns, so we pound it with photons to create a feeling of safety. One way we measure the light pollution of a given location is with the Bortle Scale. The BNO is located under a Bortle 7 sky. It's pea soup up there.

You can find view an overlay of light pollution for your own area by going to To truly witness the sky it is best to get to a Bortle 4 or even a Bortle 3 sky. You truly are fortunate if you can access a sky that is rated as Bortle 1 or 2.

Bortle 4 is a lot better than the 7+ that is typical in cities. So how far would we need to travel from Guelph to get to the closest Bortle 4? The northernmost parts of Guelph Lake are still under Bortle 5, but just a little further north to the Armstrong Mills area will allow a faint view of the Milky Way on a clear, moonless night. That's about a 20 minute drive.

And how about the nearest Bortle 3 sky to Guelph? Unfortunately the umbrella of wasted light stretches very far, but if you have access to a car and want a real Milky Way experience, you'll need to drive south 2 hours to Long Point, or north one hour and 20 minutes to the Southgate area. Finding a good place to park where you have a clear view of the sky and aren't trespassing are other challenges.

The night sky is a treasure that has slowly faded since the invention of the light bulb. If you live in the city and have access to transportation, watch for a clear evening with a moonless night, plan for a spot where you won't get into trouble, and go out to enjoy it.


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