When you're making summer travel plans, stargazing might not be top of mind. But when you can't travel far, you can escape into the night sky and look into the vast wonders of the universe! A warm night and clear skies makes for a perfect time to spend some time with friends, family or by yourself, looking into the night sky for something special.
Before you head out to your stargazing destination, be sure you are prepared. Not having the right supplies can make or break your stargazing experience. For instance, it can be extremely helpful to bring a starwheel - a spinnable sky map that shows the position of visible stars and planets at your selected date and time. You can also download a point-and-identify astronomy app to help you out like Starwalk, Google Sky Map & Exoplanet. Below is a list of items that will make for a more enjoyable experience.
- Bug Spray
- Blankets (one for laying on and one for keeping you warm)
- Warm clothes
- A red flashlight or headlamp (for walking in the dark) * red light does not have the same effect on the eyes as blue or white light, and will not impair your night vision.
- Hot chocolate, coffee, tea ( a tasty warm or cold beverage)
- Astronaut Ice Cream -- the perfect no-melt space-aged treat!
- Binoculars or a portable telescope
While the naked eye can still see some of the brightest stars in a light polluted area, it's best to find an area with low light pollution for stargazing. For instance, driving up to the mountains or to a remote area can help you catch a better view. If you live in a city, get up high on buildings that don't obstruct your view. And as a good rule of thumb, when it doubt, travel south. If you go south, it puts the light pollution in the northern sky! Of course, once you find an area with low light pollution, look for a flat, relatively comfortable area to sit back, relax and look up at the night sky.
There's always something to see in the night sky. With the help of your starwheel or stargazing app, you can create your own treasure hunt and look for particular constellations or planets. And who knows -- you may even see something you weren't looking for -- like a lucky shooting star! As a helpful tip for differentiating between planets and stars, if it's a star it sparkles & if it appears stationary it's a planet!
While high-tech tools can help us navigate the skies, you can also forego these tools and just gaze up with your naked eye. Our ancestors saw the sky like this for thousands of years. See if you can spot Orion the hunter or Scorpius gorgeous constellations that with practice, you can know in the sky by heart.
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