Don’t we all occasionally stare up at the night sky in awe and wonder? Outer space is such a mysterious and mystifying construct for us to wrap our minds around—we can’t help but be perplexed. That intrigue is one of the reasons “star gazing” is such a popular activity, either during a specific celestial event or “just because.”
Speaking of special events, there are a number of meteor showers, eclipses, and other interesting phenomenon that occur throughout the year, or once in a blue moon (pun intended). You’ll find a list of some of these events listed below along with tips on how to get the best view of the night sky!
Star Gazing Tips
Star gazing is for everyone—whether you’re planning a designated star-gazing celebration to coincide with a particular event, you just love to point out (or make up) constellations, or you notice a peculiar star in the sky and wonder what it is. Here are some helpful tips to make sure you have a great time!
- Know when to look. For regular sky observing, winter is a great time of year because the low humidity provides better visibility. However, if you are attempting to observe a rare event or phenomenon, you won’t have much choice what time of year to view it. In fact—there is a popular meteor shower coming up soon; look for the details below!
- Pay attention to the moon phases. When the moon is full, it is harder to get a good view of stars and constellations because the moon casts so much light. The best moon phases are the new moon (where it’s not visible at all), or a crescent moon. Unless, however, your goal IS to observe the moon, then aim for a gibbous moon phase. Learn more about the phases of the moon and when they’ll occur for 2019 at https://www.space.com/18880-moon-phases.html.
- Find a good spot. If possible, try to find somewhere to star gaze that is away from city lights or street lamps that could affect your visibility. Look for a spot up high, such as on a hill to ensure you can see as much of the sky as possible.
- Zoom in. For beginners wanting to get a closer view, try using binoculars rather than a telescope, to view the moon or stars up close.
- Bring along a star chart or phone app (like Skyview or Starwalk) that can help you identify constellations and planets. Find out the names of stars, the origin of the name, and other interesting facts!
What to Look For
If you’re new to star gazing and aren’t sure what to look for, here are some ideas:
- The Milky Way. Astronomer Jason Kendall suggests “the best way to view [it] is from a dark spot with no streetlights for at least 20 miles. ‘Look straight up at 11 p.m. on summer nights,’ he says.” (http://mentalfloss.com/article/66316/13-tips-stargazing-astronomers)
- Specific stars. Find the brightest stars in the sky, then use a chart or phone app to learn their names and details, or what constellation they are a part of. Many stars can even be used as “compasses” to locate other things in the sky. For a list of the brightest stars in our galaxy, check out: https://www.thoughtco.com/bright-stars-in-our-night-sky-3073632.
- Planets. If you notice a particularly bright star that is larger than the others and appears stationary, there’s a good chance it is actually a planet. Most star gazing apps will indicate these for you as well. Fun fact: If you find two or more planets and trace the line between them, you’ve located the ecliptic plane (which could be used to find more planets along the same path).
- Constellations. Start by looking for the ones you know, then use a chart or app to learn about more constellations. Try to find these: Orion, Scorpius, Big Dipper & Little Dipper (Ursa Major & Ursa Minor), Taurus, Gemini, and Cassiopeia (see more at: https://www.rd.com/culture/iconic-constellation-pictures).
- Meteors. Meteor showers are events in which many meteors appear to originate from a single point in the sky (called the Radiant). Meteors (or “shooting stars”) are caused by streams of cosmic debris (meteoroids) entering Earth’s atmosphere when their paths intersect. The meteors travel at high speeds through the atmosphere causing them to burn up and appear as bright streaks in the sky. (Meteors that survive their journey and land on the ground are called meteorites.)
Bonus: Shooting Star fanatics are in luck because the most popular meteor shower is taking place right now! The Perseids Shower (named after the constellation Perseus, which is near its “radiant”), is active until August 26th, with its peak on August 12-13. (However, the moon will be near full around this time, so you may want to keep watch on multiple days to increase your chances of seeing something!) Learn more about the Perseids Meteor Shower including helpful tips at: https://earthsky.org.
You can find a list of all active and upcoming meteor showers dates at: https://www.amsmeteors.org.
Star Gazing Recipes
Now that you have all the secrets to planning a stellar star gazing party, all that’s left is to pack some galaxy themed snacks to munch on while you gaze. Take a look at these mesmerizing and magnificent star gazing recipes:
Galaxy Star Wands
Cast a cosmic spell with these Milky Way inspired star wands, made with lightly baked Martin’s Potato Bread dunked in a colorful vanilla glaze, then filled with chocolate-hazelnut spread and a pretzel rod as the handle. They might even be too pretty to eat!
Shooting Star Sandwiches
Create your own meteor shower with these simple star-shaped sandwiches. Decorate your plate with streaks of condiments, like honey mustard, to show these stars in action. (As an added bonus, you get to dip your sandwich in them at the end!) These little sandwich bites are easy to make and perfect for packing in a picnic travel bag for your late night of watching the stars.
- Fairytale Toasts (Scroll through to see the Galaxy Toast option)
- Star-Shaped Sandwich Stackers
- Star Spangled French Toast Casserole
- Cosmic Trail Mix
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