Enjoying the stars at night can be a fun, spontaneous activity for everyone to enjoy. However, if you have time to prepare, why not make a night of it? Find a high spot where there are no trees or tall buildings to obstruct the view, and pack up your stargazing kit for a comfortable, relaxing time. Below is a list of items you might want to consider bringing along:
- Blankets to lie on or to keep you warm
- Pillows to rest your head comfortably while you’re lying on the ground
- Picnic basket of dinner or snacks (or even some hot cocoa)
- Telescope or binoculars to get a closer look
- Lantern or flashlights to keep from tripping in the dark
- Journals or drawing pads (in case you feel inspired by the vast universe)
- Constellation chart or star map
- An iPad, iPhone, or other mobile device with a constellation app
How to Read a Star Map
Reading a constellation chart, or finding stars on a star map, is less like reading a road map and more like playing connect-the-dots. On a star map like this one, it is important to first figure out the different parts of the map. For example, the dots represent stars, and the size of the dot correlates to the actual size of the star. The lines on the map represent imaginary connections amongst stars to make up the structure of constellations and asterisms. There is also a label for each one.
The circle around the stars corresponds with the horizon, where we see the sun, moon, and stars rise and set each day. Since the circle represents the horizon, or lowest point in the sky, that means the highest point in the sky is at the center of the map.
Instead of printing out a map and bringing it along, there are plenty of apps available to download.
Apps for the Stars
Nowadays, It seems as if there are as many apps in iTunes as there are stars in the sky! Here is a list of apps specifically for your stargazing adventure.
Google Sky Map | Free | 4.5 star rating | Android | This is a free app, and well worth the time it takes to download. Android users can point their device to the sky and discover various constellations. It will also map out planets, grids, and more!
Star Walk | $2.99 | 4.5 star rating | iOS | This is one of the best stargazing apps out there! Just point your device toward the stars and it will find the constellations for you. This app also has the ability to track real-life, moving satellites that are currently floating in outer space. By tapping on the screen, you will be able to see a star’s exact location in the sky. This is well worth the low price.
SkySafari 3 Plus | $14.99 | 5 star rating | iOS | Although this app is on the pricier side, it is a perfect guide for regular stargazers. Its large database includes information about a multitude of constellations. It will also help you locate planets, moons, comets, asteroids, named stars, and more.
Astronomy Picture of the Day | Free | 4.5 star rating | iOS & Android | Stoked on stars after your stargazing adventure? Download this app for a daily dose of awesome astronomy pictures.
Nasa App HD | Free | 4.5 star rating | iOS| This NASA app provides users with great information and images about the universe. It also has other features like NASA TV, videos, satellite tracker, and more.