Thursday, 30 June 2016 23:44

My Dark Adaption Secret

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By Jim Ketchum (Master Observer Certificate #3)

You aren’t in this astronomy hobby for long before you hear about the importance of dark adaptation. It takes from 20 minutes to an hour to become dark adapted. I’m guessing the 20 minutes is the minimum and to become totally dark adapted it may take up to the hour listed. To take advantage of a dark night out observing — the longer the better. I’m sure we can all agree with that I’ve had the ability to see faint objects very well. Many times I’ve tried to point out a faint galaxy to someone at my telescope only to have the person say they couldn’t see it. Sometimes it was because of the person’s experience level at viewing small faint fuzzies. It does take practice. Other times it was simply a physical ability that stood in the way. I have sort of a secret that I believe gives me an advantage in seeing small, faint deep sky objects.


When I seriously got into astronomy I read a story in a magazine. I’m not even sure it was an astronomy magazine, but it may have been. It was a story about pilots and bomber crews in World War II. Specifically, about the RAF flying night missions over Germany. The article discussed how before the crews left the air strips in England they would eat sandwiches made with bilberry jam. They had discovered the jam made from bilberry would help the crews’ night vision. I had never heard of bilberries before, so I started to see if I could find some. I didn’t find the berries, but I did find that you could buy bilberry extract capsules from health food stores, so I ordered some. I have faithfully used bilberry extract for nearly 20 years. I will give you one example of how it helped me see things others didn’t. A couple of years ago there was a fairly bright comet in the night sky. Several of us were observing it at the Dark Sky Site. The comet had a somewhat short tail that spread out in a fan-shaped configuration. When I looked at it I saw the outside edges of the tail were brighter than the rest of the tail. I mentioned it to a couple of other seasoned observers who said the tail was evenly bright across the whole tail. One of the members photographed the comet and later posted the picture. Sure enough, the outside edges of the tail were brighter than the rest of the tail. I had been able to see what others were unable to observe. So, how much extract do I take? I take a 1,000mg tablet, twice a day. One in the morning and one at dinner time. I have no reason to take that dosage, other than that’s what I’ve taken for years and it seems to work for me. And, of course, it’s always a good plan to check with your medical professional before trying this or any other supplement. Don’t expect that if you start to take bilberry, you will suddenly have superhuman vision. The difference will probably be subtle. You may not even be able to detect a difference. But I feel it helps me and like so many things in life, confidence can give you an edge. Anyway, that’s my “secret.

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