Story by – Kevin Bisher
Images and Video courtesy Gary Honis
Cherry Springs State Park has been growing in popularity throughout the Astronomy community since its designation as a Gold level Dark Sky preserve in 2008. Astronomers from all over the United States, Canada, and other countries visit the park yearly. Many of them numerous times throughout the year. Since its designation as a Dark Sky park, many an Astronomer, their families, and friends have visited, spending money in our area for gas, groceries, and supplies. They also book rooms or sites at our Hotels, Motels, and local Camp Grounds. Many of them enjoy the fine foods and entertainment to be found at our local restaurants.
All of this is being threatened by Natural Gas activities surrounding Cherry Springs State Park. Since the advent of drilling activities related to the Marcellus Shale gas rush, the skies are no longer dark there. Gas Flares and Work Lights from Drilling Sites now light up the evening sky at the park. Some Astronomers have complained, and some feel the park should no longer have its Dark Sky designation.
Many of the Astronomers who frequent the park do so to take pictures of Planets, Galaxies, Nebulae, and other astronomical objects. Cherry Springs’ dark skies make this possible. Some of the objects to be photographed are extremely dim. So dim that they’re difficult to see even with a large telescope. It is the techniques related to the cameras used to capture these amazing sights in our universe and Cherry Springs’ dark skies that make them possible. A little know fact is that most Astronomical discoveries are made by amateur Astronomers.
When Cherry Springs is “lit up” by Gas Flares and Work lights, it greatly reduces the ability for Astronomers to take pictures of Deep Sky Objects. The light from the Well Pads “washes out” the very dim objects making it impossible to photograph them.
An Astronomer by the name of Gary Honis has been frequenting Cherry Springs for over 20 years. Mr. Honis is also well know throughout the Astronomy community for his work with camera modifications that make this type of photography possible. Mr. Honis is well aware of the effects the Gas activity is having on the park. Last year, Mr. Honis took some pictures and made a video highlighting the effects the Drilling activities are having on Cherry Springs State Park.
Below is a picture taken by Mr. Honis in June of last year that shows reflections of Gas Flares and Work Lights from Well Pads to the East of Cherry Springs in the atmosphere around the park. These types of things are devastating to Astrophotographers. Imagine being in the middle of what you feel will be the shot of a lifetime and then a Gas Flare goes off.
Mr. Honis has also put together a video which goes into the problem at Cherry Springs even deeper and really shows what’s happening there due to Gas activities. You can see it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBpP3uxJ3OY
Unless something is done to protect Cherry Springs’ dark skies, we may lose a precious natural asset as well as the income that visiting Astronomers provide. Please contact your legislators and let them know that the park’s dark skies must be protected and remain so. A lot can, and will be, lost without that protection.
What would hurt the most though would be the loss of the ability to take pictures like the one below taken by Mr. Honis that same June.