A lot of us have heard the saying, “Stop and smell the flowers,” but what about “Stop and look up at the stars?” Stargazing offers the same stress-relieving benefits as a walk in the garden, and forms an appreciation for one of the oldest, most natural activities known to humankind. And it’s fun!
From Galileo and Copernicus to modern man, humans have always had a fascination with gazing at the bright lights above come night time. Whether you’re a bona fide astronomer or simply want to learn more about what’s up there, stargazing is a fun, relaxing and educational activity everyone can enjoy. So why not organize a stargazing party for your community? Round up your neighbors, family and friends and pick a night to experience the natural wonder of the celestial bodies in the sky. Here’s how to get started!
First, you’ll want to gather your group and decide where to go (rooftop stargazing maybe?). Make flyers and tack them on the community bulletin board or ask the association to make an announcement to residents in their e-newsletter and on the community website. If your community can’t host a stargazing event on the property or you and your neighbors can’t set up nearby for whatever reason, see if there’s a local science museum or planetarium that might be holding a similar event. Check Google and your local library for additional information. Oftentimes, there are stargazing events at parks, nature centers and observatories.
Depending on what part of North America you live in, the stars of the northern hemisphere’s sky may not be visible because of light pollution from artificial city lighting. If you are lucky enough to live under a clear sky filled with visible stars, pick a public area in your community or nearby, such as a park or beach, to go to. If you don’t know one off hand, use Google to simply search something like “best places to stargaze in fill in your city”. Get an approximate headcount of your group and ask everyone to arrive before it gets dark to get situated.
Before your watch party, pick up some star maps, or star charts, to help people identify the various stars, constellations and planets in the sky. Sources for star charts include Amazon or skymaps.com, which offers a free 2-page guide each month for users of all levels. One-Minute Astronomer also has free star charts. For what can be seen specifically from your neck of the woods, check the library and Google for books, charts and information.
Upon arrival, advise your guests to observe the sky first with the naked eye. Bring a pointer to highlight what you see. Once darkness falls, it takes about 10-20 minutes for the human eye to adjust fully, so it will be an organic way to begin the adventure. Advise any guests who have telescopes or binoculars to bring them. Space.com has a list of the best binoculars for stargazing, as well as telescopes. If you can’t buy, call your local library to see if you can rent telescopes or binoculars. See if there is a local astronomy club, planetarium or museum willing to rent equipment. Be sure to brush up on the basics of using a telescope or binoculars for star gazing. In the same vein, there might also be a local science teacher, university professor or park ranger willing to lead your group in celestial exploration. Call your local community college, university, middle or high school, museums and parks to see if a guide is available.
Space.com is also an excellent internet resource for all things stargazing, including calendars of what is happening in the sky, from meteor showers to eclipses. Spaceweather.com is another great resource for news and information, like solar conditions and atmospheric phenomena. If guests would like to familiarize themselves with the stargazing process before attending your gathering, tell them to check out PBS’s “Star Gazers”, which is the world’s only weekly TV series on naked eye astronomy. Episodes are five minutes or one minute long and can be found online.
Advise guests to bring blankets, chairs, snacks, even cameras if they’d like or you can provide them. Be sure to check the weather before your outing! Once everyone settles into the exploration, fully engulfed in nature, they will begin to see things that can inspire wonder and awe. A sense of peace may even wash over everyone. Stargazing is a fantastic opportunity for communities to get together, learn, relax and have fun.
All copy by Dana Hornor, who is a digital marketing manager at the FirstService Residential’s corporate headquarters in Dania Beach, Florida.