There’s no better time than summer to scan the night sky. Many attractions are visible to the naked eye, including Venus and Mars. Pointed in the right direction, an ordinary pair of binoculars can bring Jupiter and Saturn as well as their moons into focus. When you’re armed with a decent telescope, the sky is truly the limit. And if you want to see some real fireworks this season, be sure to watch the Perseid meteor shower on Aug. 12. Named after the constellation Perseus, this celestial light show happens when the Earth passes through a trail of debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle. With up to 60 shooting stars streaking across the sky each hour, it’s one of the biggest astronomical events of the year, made all the more spectacular by the darkness of mid-August’s new moon.
Summer is also an ideal time for star parties, when amateur astronomers gather to stargaze.
- Although purists prefer stargazing from remote places free of urban light pollution, New Yorkers are lining up to buck that trend. Every Tuesday at dusk, weather permitting, the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York hosts Stargazing on the High Line. Experts with high-powered telescopes are always on hand to help you see past the bright city lights.
- Last year, more than 1,500 spectators turned out for the Julian StarFest. This Aug. 18, you too can attend the annual star party in Julian, Calif., presented by the San Diego Astronomy Association. Telescopes are available for free, and only red lights (like those found on bikes) or flashlights covered with a red filter are permitted on the StarFest grounds. Give your eyes a few minutes to adjust to the pitch darkness, and enjoy.
- Located three miles from the nearest paved road, the Heavens Gate Farm northeast of Barry, Ill., is the perfect spot for the fifth annual Earth Wind and Sky Star Party, Aug. 16 to 19. The secluded 20-acre field offers unobstructed views, but try to arrive before dusk so your headlights don’t interfere with other guests’ night vision.
For a complete list of star parties throughout North America this summer, visit the Astronomy Events Calendar.
What’s your favorite spot for stargazing? Tell us in the comments below.
By David Wright