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STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

Venice, Italy
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STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

Dear All,

first of all, my compliments for the very informative forum:

it has been of great help for many issues up to date!

I am packing for a stargazing trip to Morocco in the

following weeks and would have some specific questions

I have not found answers for.

Having lived in a light-polluted location all my life,

my trip to Morocco is devoted exclusively to

experiencing dark, unpolluted night skies.

On satellite night images I have identified 2 dark

destinations (hereafter referred to as "A" and "B") that

I would like to visit with a hired 2WD air-conditioned car:

(A) IMILCHIL and surroundings:

high-altitude, clean-air primary destination

(B) MHAMID and surroundings:

low-land, warmer alternative

My primary target is "total darkness" stargazing,

without any light-pollution domes or street-lights in

sight (or as little as possible) and would be grateful

for your feedback on the following points:

(1) Is it safe to stargaze in the wild near A/B? If yes,

are there any specific places you would recommend?

(2) Alternatively, are there any Hotels, Apartments or

similar near A/B for safe observing from the roof?

(SaharaSky Hotel looks too close to the light-polluted

Zagora)

(3) Is it the road Casablanca-A-B appropriate for 2WD/

asphalted all the way? Is driving this relation safe at night?

(4) Choosing between A and B, where do I have

a better probability of clear skies by night?

(5) Which Mobile Operator has better coverage in

A/B? Is Mobile Internet available (at least 2G)?

Thank you in advance for any help.

Castril De La Pena...
Destination Expert
for Morocco
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62 reviews
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1. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

You are in for a real treat. There are many dark sky sites in Morocco and the lack of air pollution and light pollution will mean you will see the Milky Way in all its glory, along with myriad stars and galaxies.

I love Imilchil and the surrounding area. It's way off the normal tourist trail and a chance to see rural life. The plateau of the lakes about 5km to the north of Imilchil would be a good site, though the hotel there, Auberge Tislite, is a bit basic, see morocco-knowledgebase.net/forum/… The high altitude means there's less atmosphere to get in the way and the cool air means there's less water vapour. One problem is that surrounding mountains can block low horizon views.

Sahara Sky ( http://www.saharasky.com/saharasky/ ) is about 20km south west of Zagora and is an excellent location with zero light pollution. The German owner has several computer controller scopes on the roof and there's definitely something to be said for stargazing with a glass of red wine at hand. I would definitely go for Sahara Sky rather than M'hamid.

Do you have your own equipment? I have a Schmidt–Cassegrain Celestron NexStar 8SE but of course this would be difficult to transport. A pair of astronomical binoculars would be better than nothing, see …man.ac.uk/astronomy/nightsky/binoculars.html

1. Is it safe to stargaze in the wild? Yes, Morocco is much safer than Europe.

3. Roads to both areas are OK. The route El Kebab to Imilchil is twisty but fine for 2WD. I wouldn't generally recommend driving long distances at night. The most dangerous time is the hour or so after sunset when there can be local traffic without lights still on the road, so take EXTREME CARE.

4. Mountainous areas tend to have more clouds.

5. Maroc Telecom and Inwi have data services in Morocco and I've used a dongle in conjunction with my laptop in really quite remote places.

If you have the time, I would suggest you visit both sites. You can travel south from Imilchil down the Todra to Tinerhir, then south to Sahara Sky. It would be a good mix.

**Do you have an exact date for your travel? If so I can look up the state of the moon and moonrise/set times.**

Edited: 21 May 2014, 08:55
Castril De La Pena...
Destination Expert
for Morocco
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9,820 posts
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2. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

Sorry, should read, "Sahara Sky is about 20km south east of Zagora"

Venice, Italy
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3. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

Dear Tim,

Thank you so much for your quick and exhaustive reply! The Milky way is of course on the top list, but even more so are phenomena I have never seen in my life as the zodiacal band, gegenschein etc.

Actually, I realized they exist only after reading the excellent Article "Bortle Dark-Sky scale" in Sky&Telescope some 15 years ago:

skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-resources/…

I have dreamed of visiting a truly dark-sky site ever since and this trip is the realization of that dream :)

I do have a telescope back home (16" SC), but this trip is all about the bare naked-eye awe-inspiring beauty of the night-sky (I do bring binos). The moon has been taken care of by choosing the new-moon period :) If you manage, I would be grateful for some additional clarifications to the below queries:

(ad 2) Does Auberge Tislite usually have free rooms, or is it better to contact them in advance? Are there any other hotels nearby you could recommend - maybe Auberge Chez Ibrahim in Agoudal?

What worries me at SaharaSky is the video below showing noticeable ammounts of Zagora Light-pollution at much more distant sites (Kasbah Ouled-Athman @0:35 left, even Dunes of Chegaga @0:53 top):

http://vimeo.com/65836919

(ad 3) The reason for the night driving is my late arrival at the Casablanca airport (17 hours) together with the desire to reach dark skies the 1st night :) Do you believe it is too dangerous to drive directly to Tislite, arriving probably around 22 hours?

Thank you again for your help!

Venice, Italy
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4. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

REPORT Part 1 > Astronomer's first impressions

=========================================

Dear All, especially Tim ;)

After coming back from Morocco, I would like to share my experience in case anybody else would be interested in such a trip. The Report will be divided in a few parts, starting with my first impressions as an astronomer.

---o---

Coming from the throughout heavily light-polluted Europe, the first question that comes to a stargazer's mind is just how dark Moroccan skies get? The darkest nights from a 2400m plateau close to Agoudal in the Moroccan High Atlas looked something like this:

http://postimg.org/image/oguaymv9f/

Very dark indeed! With haze in the low atmosphere blocking valley lights, there were no visible traces of light pollution, leaving the Milky-Way as the main light source, reigning gloriously on the sky above :) During twilight-night transitions however, another natural light source joined the panorama:

http://postimg.org/image/6q7uoh2of/

You have probably guessed it - the Zodiacal Light! Its white glow is visible the North-Western horizon (top-right) with the Zodiacal Band and a chain of planets on it streaking throughout the whole sky, all the way to the Milky Way rising on the Eastern horizon (left) - amazing!

---o---

To the average European astronomer, Morocco offers within reasonable traveling distance a remarkably dark sky with panoramas that are back home available only...on photographs :)

Edited: 25 June 2014, 11:42
Castril De La Pena...
Destination Expert
for Morocco
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5. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

Great photographs. Apart from the High Atlas near Imilchil, where else did you visit?

Venice, Italy
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6. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

Hi Tim,

we have also visited Erg Chebbi, Alnif surroundings by night (more on that later) and had MATARKA (halfway between Debdou and Tendrara) in our plans as well, but some locals near Imilchil discouraged us to go there due to numerous nomads in that area and the connected safety concerns.

Do you (or anybody else on the forum) have any information about safety concerns stargazing in the wild around Matarka at night? Is it more dangerous than Imilchil surroundings?

Thank you in advance, Bostjan

Castril De La Pena...
Destination Expert
for Morocco
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9,820 posts
62 reviews
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7. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

I've been within a few km of Matarka (Debdou), and it seems fine. It's not an area that tourists normally visit which normally means less hassle.

Venice, Italy
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8. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

Hi Tim,

I am not sure we are talking about the same MATARKA - the one I intended is about 100km south of Debdou (see map below): do you have any experience about this one or know anybody who could give some safety advice?

www.mapquest.com/ma/maatarka-maintrkteh

I am VERY interested in stargazing from this location which is the reason why I would so much like to know about any safety concerns. My motivations for Matarka will be explained in the following posts.

Venice, Italy
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9. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

STARGAZING > Report Part 2 > Light-Pollution considerations

===================================================

In Part 1 I have presented the "darkest night" where haze blocked valley light pollution. In other nights without that haze, some valley lights made it through to the high atlas and could be detected on deep photos as slight red glows on the horizon:

http://postimg.org/image/8s6861tbj/

The North-West (top-right) glow is from Beni-Mellal while the South (Bottom) one from Tinghir. The luminosity of these faint glows is actually weaker than the natural Airglow itself (slight green cast all around the horizon), which becomes obvious when we discard color and look at the luminance alone:

http://postimg.org/image/nm18nz239/

In this situation, the slight light pollution glows are "lost" in the natural airglow and are hard to identify. What this means is that light pollution has far less influence on sky brightness than the natural Airglow itself.

THE NAKED EYE EXPERIENCE

Not many people know that the dark-adapted human eye is virtually Color-Blind: it does not detect the Colors we see in astrophotos. Furthermore, it is much is less sensitive to light than long exposures. And finally, its sensitivity to red light is very, very low. When we put all this together, the scene looked something like this:

http://postimg.org/image/ohdttoxkh/

For this "naked eye approximation", only the green channel of the original color photo was used since that is where the eye is most sensitive to light. Furthermore, brightness and contrast have been reduced to bring the view as close as possible to what it actually looked like to my eyes. In this situation, the light pollution is very hard to see at all.

---o---

In a nutshell, Imilchil surroundings do have some slight traces of light pollution, but they hardly have any effect to the night sky brightness and are hard to identify with the naked eye.

Castril De La Pena...
Destination Expert
for Morocco
Level Contributor
9,820 posts
62 reviews
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10. Re: STARGAZING > Locations, Safety, Weather, Mobile

The location you've given is in the middle of the Rekkam Plateau, a very lonely uninhabited place. I rode cross country across this a couple of years back and in 140km saw just two people. However there are a couple of tarmac roads (not always where the paper maps place them) and the Maatarka (as spelt on road signs) you've identified is on the N19, so can be reached easily.

What are your safety concerns?