Lasing Jupiter! (All pics by the Author).
Not much remains of our national dark skies along the U.S. East Coast. As more and more of civilization encroaches on these formerly pristine astronomical preserves, serious astrophotographers find they must drive ever-increasing distances to find the truly dark skies they love.
We’re happy to report that we’ve found one such dark sky holdout in the form of Dunham Farms, Georgia. Fans will recall our journey around the Florida peninsula and across the border into Georgia during the preceding weeks. Well, this charming farmhouse Bed & Breakfast in Liberty County Georgia in the township of Sunbury delivers the dark sky goods.
Dark skies at Dunham Farms.
Run by the mother-daughter team of Laura & Meredith Devendorf, we enjoyed kayaking there by day and dark skies in the realm of a Bortle Scale of 3 by night. Many astros in the Savannah area head to the Tybee Island pier for observing, but this “triangle of darkness” one hour to the south is a viable alternative.
Our adventures then saw us cross over into South Carolina and the idyllic southern town of Beaufort (which rhymes with BEAU-tiful). A stay at the wonderfully restored Rhett House Inn put us right within strolling distance of such delightful restaurants as Breakwater and Griffin Market downtown.
Tours of the old town of Beaufort can be conducted either guided or solo, on foot or via horse-drawn carriage. Many movies such as G.I. Jane, and The Great Santini where filmed in and around Beaufort, and of course, we couldn’t resist an opportunity to jog across the “Welcome to Mississippi” bridge from Forest Gump;
Run, Forest, Run!
Hunter’s Island Lighthouse is also only a 20 minute drive from downtown Beaufort offering camping, Wi-Fi at the vistors center and reasonably dark skies year round;
And although there isn’t access to the lighthouse area of the park after dark (unless you’re camping there), there is nighttime access to the nearby pier and nature boardwalk trail, fine options for dawn sunrise and nature photography.
The rites of Spaghetti Nite where then observed at Saltus in downtown Beaufort with Roasted Scottish Salmon over Soba noodles before heading out in pre-dawn hours for a dash to Greenville, South Carolina. Friday morning saw us encountering the BMW Ultimate Driving Experience in Greer just outside of Greenville. Two high performance rounds on the high speed and off-road tracks gave us a new found respect for sport car racing and fine German engineering. There’s lots of “teach-able moments” on the track that demonstrate “physics on the fly…”
The town of Greenville, South Carolina itself is amazing, a hip and trendy “Seattle of the South.” We explored the art of southern alchemy & whiskey making (and of course, bought a bottle) at Dark Corner Distilleries and found new respect for southern cuisine with a sampling of blue cheese grits (yum!) at High Cotton.
We also discovered a fascinating planetarium/science center/observatory tucked away in the Appalachian foothills in the form of the Roper Mountain observatory:
Jupiter, the Astroguyz mobile, and the Roper Mountain observatory.
We were amazed to discover that this 50 foot dome houses a grand Alvan & Clark 19th century 23” refractor, the 8th largest in the United States! Once housed at the Princeton observatory, this scope made its way to the Lowell Observatory and fell into disrepair before being purchased by the Roper Mountain observatory for the princely sum of 1$ USD! Of course, that’s minus the shipping, insurance, and refurbishing costs;
A Grand Old Scope!
The scope also received honorable mention in the radio broadcast of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds and has hence been known as the “War of the Worlds telescope.”
The Roper Mountain Observatory is open for free public observing every Friday night.
It’s also amazing to see what the community of Beaufort has done with its downtown public space. Take note of the history placed among the high tech (there’s free Wi-Fi throughout the downtown area) and keep an eye out for a statue and monument to hometown favorite Dr. Charles Towes, the father of the laser:
More to come!