A clear summer night is an awesome time to explore the fascinating sky above. The fall months provide extra incentive to explore the celestial sky due to majestic meteor showers seen across the horizon. The collection of stellar objects such as distant galaxies, star clusters and comets parading around the heavens creates an unparalleled (and free!) show. You don’t need x-ray vision, a telescope or even any prior experience to be a successful stargazer. Simply gather the right supplies and follow this guide for an astronomical adventure.
First, locate a dark area removed from the lights of civilization. Avoid a spot near tall trees or buildings so you have a clear view of the entire sky. Choose a night with little to no moon present, during the crescent or new moon phases. Your eyes will take around 30-45 minutes to truly adjust to the darkness, so be patient.
Once you’re settled in, try to discover a highly visible and recognized mark like the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) or the North Star (Polaris). With help from a customized star map and compass, expand from there to the more than 88 different constellations. As you examine constellations and your eyes gradually become accustomed to the sky, look for a variety of star colors. The temperature of the star determines their specific hue.
In addition to thousands of stars, five planets are visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. Check your star chart for their precise coordinates throughout the year. With the addition of binoculars, you will be able to decipher detailed features of each, such as the famous rings of Saturn or Jupiter’s largest moon, Vesta, the brightest asteroid in the sky.
As you’re observing, keep an eye out for shooting stars. Usually too quick to be seen through binoculars, these tiny rock particles ignite as they enter Earth’s atmosphere.
So, grab your girlfriends, plan a romantic rendezvous with your man or even spend quality family time cosmic gazing tonight.
http://www.skymaps.com/ This awesome sight provides a free detailed star chart that you can download every month, with tips on constellation viewing and lists of objects to see with the naked eye, binoculars and a telescope.
http://stardate.org/nightsky/weekly.php StarDate online gives explanations and locations of astronomical activities tailored to each night of that week.
http://www.Earthsky.org/tonight Provides daily updates on what to look for in the night sky.
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ataglance/ For a weekly update on what’s visible near you, check out this site from Sky and Telescope magazine.
http://www.nasa.gov Current information from NASA about galactic activities, such as the movement of satellites and asteroids.
To create an out-of-this-world experience, don’t forget these essential supplies:
- One large blanket or a couple of sleeping bags
- Lounging chair (If laying on the ground isn’t really your thing)
- Star map (Download a version specific to your location at www.skymaps.com)
- Telescope or binoculars (Optional but helpful)
- Small flashlight (Preferably red LED; found at any home store like Target or Home Depot because it’s easier on the super sensitive eyes and helps retain night vision)
- Jacket (Even in the summer, the temperature can drop significantly when the sun goes down)
- Thermos of coffee or tea to keep you warm and awake