One of the best activities when out camping is viewing the splendor of the sky on a cloudless night. The stars provide endless pinpoints of light when you are in a remote area away from city lights. A great night of stargazing brings one back to childhood when we lay on the ground and stared up in wonder at all of those mysterious twinkling lights.
Camping under the stars allows you to return to the wonder you had as a child and witness incredible objects in the night sky. Here are some tips and tricks to make the most of it. It’s also a great way to get your kids interested in science and astronomy.
Research Before you Go
Visit your local bookstore and look for a book or guide that provides illustrations and suggestions on spotting certain stars, planets, and other celestial goodies. Additionally, there are lots of websites devoted to helping people identify constellations, comets, and more.
There are even apps you can download on your phone that will tell you exactly where in the sky you are looking, and what constellations are there. For iPhone users, Sky View – Explore the Universe is a good one. For Android users, Sky Map provides assistance in constellation hunting.
Find the Perfect Stargazing Spot
Part of the art of stargazing is finding the right place for optimal gazing. A dark, quiet place away from lights on a clear night gives the best results. Find an empty clearing away from other campsite lights. Any place that is far enough away from artificial lights will do!
Protect Your Night Vision
We humans have notoriously bad night vision. Any artificial light source can hinder our ability to clearly see the night sky. But we have to have light to get to where we’re going! Cover your lantern or flashlight with cellophane or red paper. This makes it easier to see more stars and make out constellations. Also, turn off your cell phone or turn your screen to red to protect your night vision.
Also, give your eyes time to adjust and adapt to the darkness around you. After arriving at your stargazing spot, turn off all offending artificial light and give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust properly to the darkness for optimal viewing. During this “dark adaptation,” your pupils will expand to adapt to reduced light levels. In this way, you’ll be able to see the stars more clearly.
Bring Stargazing Supplies
Having the right gear helps immensely. If you can, bring these along with you:
- A comfortable camp chair or blanket
- Water and snacks
- A star chart to help you identify constellations
- Binoculars or a small telescope
- Warm clothes
Search for Incredible Views
Look for the following phenomena as you gaze up at the night sky:
- Constellations. The sky is full of them, named after animals, objects, and people.
- Star colors. Often times stars will change color as they progress through their life cycle. Look for stars that are white, yellow, blue, orange, or red.
- The Milky Way. The best time to view it is from February through October, and it will appear as a faint cloud made up of the light of millions of distant stars.
- Moon phases. Check to see which phase the moon is in. The sun reflects on the surface of the moon differently depending on its position from the Earth. Catching a full moon or blood red moon is amazing.
- Not only will you be able to see some majestic stuff, keep your ears open for owls, bats, and ground animals as you stargaze.