Hot summer nights are perfect for stargazing! My husband and I are fascinated by astronomy so a few years back I bought him a telescope to enhance our view. Well, lo and behold, our kids love it too and it’s become a fun family activity. We pull the telescope out on the sidewalk on summer nights and some of the neighbors come on over to view the night sky, too. It turns into a fun, mini-gathering!
If you live in a city or busy suburb, you may have a problem with ground lights obscuring your view of the night time sky. You might want to pick a clear night and head out to a forest preserve or out in the country, where you can see the stars and planets a little better. (Don’t go breaking any after hour rules or traipsing through someone’s field. Trespassing is not a good lesson to teach kids. Really!) However, you can definitely gaze at the moon no matter where you are. Kids love the funny face of the man in the moon. Or is it cheese? I can’t make up my mind on which story I like best.
If you don’t have a telescope, no problem! Grab a pair of binoculars or just lay on a blanket and stare at the sky. Ask your neighbors if they have a telescope they’d be willing to pull out and share. See if there is a Planetarium near you and check out their summer stargazing programs. In Chicago, visit the Adler Planetarium. They have several telescopes mounted on their balcony. The helpful guides will already have the telescope trained to certain stars or the moon, so you don’t have to spend time trying to find the most important objects. Psst! The balcony of the Adler Planetarium not only provides you with access to star gazing but offers one of the best nighttime views of the city of Chicago. Take your camera, tripod, and see if you can capture a nighttime skyline shot. Check their website for times and special events when they offer night time hours or Museum Overnight Programs.
If your family really gets into stargazing, then you might want to look into an astronomy-themed vacation. Check out the Primland Resort in Virginia or this article on Top 5 Places for Stargazing Family Vacations.
Summer Stargazing Highlights
So what’s up there worth viewing? In the Northern Hemisphere, Mercury is easy to see in early summer. Jupiter, Saturn and Venus are all visible at different times in the evening during late summer and early autumn. We can actually see the rings of Saturn on our telescope on a really clear night. Totally Cool! In late summer or early autumn, if you see a Harvest Moon, run and get the telescope. There is nothing more amazing than a huge red moon sitting off on the horizon. Check one of these ideas to get a better handle on what you can see each night.
Sky & Telescope gives you a weekly update of the Sky at a Glance so you can check your area.
Definitely check out your cell phone App Store and download one of the many stargazing apps. It’s amazing how you can point your phone up to the sky and it will identify the stars and planets you are seeing. This makes life so much easier than just guessing. You want to look smart in front of your kids not “Well, it might be a UFO but I think it’s really the Degoba System.”
If your family really gets into astronomy, you can learn more at the following websites that I thought were interesting.
Astronomy.com’s kids section
Amazing Space – a site for educators but there is some pretty cool stuff here
NASA’s Kids Club or Space Place
Hubble Telescope Photo Gallery – Totally impressive photos
Have fun gazing up at the summer night sky with your family. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
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