Discover the Night Sky
When the sun starts going down, why not take your family outside and discover the night sky? You don't need a degree in astronomy or an expensive telescope to explore the night sky with your children. Stargazing is an accessible and low-cost activity that’s fun for the whole family!
Whether its at home, at a star party in your local neighbourhood, or at one of Canada’s designated dark sky sites, you can choose the location that best suits your family’s interests, comfort level, and budget. Check out the activities and tips below to get started!
What You Will Need:
- Blanket or lawn chairs (for reclining)
- Pillows, soft blankets, stuffed animals, and any other bedtime comforts
- Insect repellent
- Warm clothes
- Snacks and hot chocolate
- Red-filtered flashlight or headlamp (won’t affect your night vision)
- Star Finder
- Binoculars or telescope (optional)
Make your preparations more fun by getting kids involved in packing their own Star Bag!
Share Your Experience to Earn a Stargazing Badge!
Snap a picture of your nighttime explorations and upload it to the Gallery, or share your own tips and activities with others on the Discussions page and you'll earn a digital Stargazing badge. All you need to do is log into, or sign up for, your own WILD Family Nature Club account.
Astronomy at Home
Interested in trying some at-home astronomy? You don’t have to travel to a remote area to explore the night sky! In fact, there are many objects that can be viewed from the comfort of your home with the naked eye.
While urban light pollution may prevent you from seeing some things, you will still be able to spot some of the larger and brighter objects, such as the moon, planets and few well-known groups of stars.
Try looking for these objects during your next at-home astronomy night!
- The Moon - With its many craters, mountain ranges, and phases, the moon is a great starting point for family observing! The best time to view the moon is when it is waxing or waning, as the shadows are longer and the details stand out better.
- Planets - Depending on your location and the time of year, you may also be able to see planets such Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This interactive night sky map allows you to see what planets are visible tonight in your area.
- The Big and Little Dipper – These well-known groups of stars, called asterisms, are part of two larger constellations called Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. No matter what time of year you look, the two outer stars in the Big Dipper’s bowl always point to the North star, which is the last star in the handle of the little dipper.
For the objects you can’t see from home, or for cloudy nights, Stellarium - a free open source planetarium - allows you to explore a realistic sky in 3D on your computer!
- Check the weather and choose an evening that is forecasted to be clear.
- If you are stargazing inside through a window, ensure the area is free from clutter, turn off your lights and get comfortable.
- If you choose to stargaze in your yard or garden, turn off all the lights inside your home and any outside. Make sure there are no tripping hazards first.
- Be aware that it takes about 20 to 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.
- Keep younger kids engaged by telling or reading stories about the night sky, or exploring indigenous sky lore. While looking at the stars might not keep their attention for long periods, stories will.
- Encourage kids to make up their own constellations! After all, that’s what ancient sky watchers did long ago, and those are the constellations we see today.
Attending a local star party or astronomy night is a great way to become more familiar with the night sky and learn from others! Star parties are gatherings where professional and amateur astronomers set up their telescopes in a common area for public viewing so families can come and learn about the night sky.
Not sure how to find a star party near you? Check out your local planetarium, science museum, or astronomy club! The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada also provides a calendar of annual star parties across Canada.
- Pack a Star Bag filled with flashlights, a star map, binoculars, a blanket, snacks, and a thermos filled with a warm beverage like hot chocolate.
- Check the weather in advance and dress warmly (clear nights can be cold).
- Bring a flashlight for yourself and your kids, but make sure they are red-filtered light or covered with red cellophane to help protect everyone’s night vision.
- Take care around telescopes and always ask for permission before touching anyone's viewing equipment.
- Stay together as a family to ensure nobody wanders off in the dark.
- Take the opportunity to ask questions about what's in the sky!
Dark Sky Places
To truly take in the wonders of the night sky, you’ll need to get away from the impacts of light pollution. When you look at a light pollution map, you can see how the lights from cities and town affect the level of darkness in the sky.
If you’re ready to take your family stargazing trip to the next level, try visiting one of Canada’s designated dark sky sites. These sites are dedicated to protecting the nocturnal environment by limiting the amount of artificial lighting and educating the public about the negative impacts of light pollution.
Dark sky sites are the perfect place to observe some of the most spectacular celestial objects and events, plus you can combine them with other outdoor activities like camping.
See if you can spot these on your next trip:
- Milky Way - The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our solar system. When you look out at the whitish hazy lane streaking across the sky, you’re looking out toward the outer regions of our galaxy! The summer months are the best time of the year to observe the Milky Way from the northern hemisphere.
- Meteor Showers – During the few major meteor showers that happen every year, you can witness a fantastic display of shooting stars streaking across certain sections of the sky. In mid-August, for example, you may spot around 50 to 100 meteors per hour during the peak of the Perseid Meteor shower!
- The International Space Station - Orbiting the Earth, 400 kilometres up above us, is the International Space Station, home to (usually) six astronauts from around the world. You can easily spot it with the naked eye as it flies from west to east. Go to spotthestation.nasa.gov and enter your location to see when it’s due to fly over you!
- Do you want to catch an astronomical event or simply enjoy the night under the light of a full moon? Figure out what you want to see, so you can plan when to visit.
- Check the weather in advance and dress appropriately.
- Pack a “star bag” with flashlights, a star map, binoculars, a blanket, snacks, and a thermos filled with hot chocolate. Bring lawn chairs if you don’t want to sit on the ground.By Marcelo Zurita - CC BY-SA 4.0Share your plans with a friend or family member so they know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
- Plan to arrive and set up at or before dusk. Turn off your phone. Give your eyes the chance to properly adjust to the darkness as it falls.
- Find a clear spot where you can see the horizon. Getting higher up can also give you a great vantage point.
- If you are interested in testing out a telescope, check with your local public library or astronomy clubs. Some have telescope loan programs that provide easy-to-use stargazing equipment and guidebooks to help get you started.
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