Explore the Universe, Even When You’re Stuck at Home
When it comes to at-home fun, amateur astronomy opens up a whole new world.
Between the upcoming SpaceX launch and the clear summer nights, it’s the perfect time to take up backyard stargazing. No need for a fancy telescope or expensive equipment. You don’t even need a vast knowledge of the cosmos. Just head out on a clear night and watch as the stars and planets light up the night sky.
Outdoor activities have helped us pass the time lately, but nothing says you have to head inside when the sun goes down. So flick off the TV, round up the family and head out on the porch for a night under the stars.
Just Look Up!
Getting started is that easy.
Astronomy might seem daunting at first—how are we supposed to find anything among hundreds of glittering stars? No worries! It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing cosmic dot-to-dot and finding all the constellations or if you’re content with simply finding the Big Dipper and gazing at the moon. Backyard astronomy allows you to learn at your own pace.
You can practice astronomy almost anywhere as long as it’s a clear night. The darker the sky, the more you’ll be able to see, so you’ll have better views if you live in the country. However, you can still go stargazing if you live in the city and suburbs. Streetlights and lights from houses and buildings will wash out the sky a bit, but you’ll still be able to see the brighter stars and planets.
You don’t necessarily need a telescope to enjoy the dazzling display of the night sky. Your vision alone will reveal some spectacular views. In fact, the most distant object you can see with the naked eye is the Andromeda Galaxy, which is located about 2.5 million light years away.
To get a closer look, a pair of binoculars will work just fine. Special astronomy binoculars are available, but an ordinary pair you have around the house is enough to zoom in to star clusters or check out the craters and mountains on the moon.
So… What Am I Looking At?
Once you learn a few landmarks, it’s easy to go “star hopping.”
Navigating the night sky is easy with a stargazing app, which uses augmented reality to help you track down stars, constellations, planets and more. Just point your camera to the sky, and it will tell you what you’re looking at. Star Walk 2 and Night Sky offer free versions, while SkySafari is a highly-rated paid option.
Your view will also change with the seasons, so check out resources like the Hubble Space Telescope’s “Tonight’s Sky” videos, which give an overview of which constellations are visible each month. Reports from websites like like Sky & Telescope are more in-depth, providing each night’s highlights about the planets, moon and more.
You’ll also want to mark your calendar for must-see events like meteor showers. The next one is the Perseids, which will peak in mid-August.
You can also spot manmade objects, like satellites and flyovers from the International Space Station.
The great part about astronomy is that you can always keep learning. We’re only brushing the surface, but helpful books and websites can help as you continue to explore.
For now, it’s safest to stay home and practice from your own backyard, but when life returns to normal, you can delve even deeper with NEPA’s astronomy resources. Although they’re currently closed, the Friedman Observatory at Penn State Wilkes-Barre and the Cupillari Observatory at Keystone College frequently host open houses and lectures that are open to the public. You’ll also find stargazing events at local state parks and through groups like the Lackawanna Astronomical Society.