What to look out for when stargazing in spring

Stargazing at night with telescopes © The Secret Studio / Steve Sayers

Stargazing at night with telescopes

The night sky is constantly changing, depending on the time of year and the time of night. Spring brings warmer weather and you don’t need to stay out too late to see the stars, so this can be a great time for beginners and families to start stargazing.

‘There will be some nice planet-spotting opportunities this spring and – most exciting of all – there’s the possibility of a new meteor shower.’
- Rod Hebden, science expert

Here are a few sights to look out for:

  • Shooting stars
    ‘If you get the timing right a meteor shower can be an incredible spectacle. These do require a little patience though so might not be ideal for the very youngest children.

    'There are a couple of modest meteor showers in spring but the real excitement will be on 23 and 24 May when a new major shower is forecast. This is caused by the debris left by a comet that passed our sun in 2009 and will radiate from a point close to the North Star. In the UK we’ll be in a great spot to watch the show. Other key meteor showers are Perseids in August, Leonids in November and Geminids in December.’
    - Rod Hebden, science expert
     
  • Planets
    ‘Believe it or not, planets are often the easiest things to spot with the naked eye. There are five planets visible this spring, although some aren’t visible at convenient times of night. Jupiter will continue to shine spectacularly in the evening and Venus, the Morning Star, will be the brightest star-like object in the early morning.’
    - Rod Hebden, science expert
     
  • The Plough
    'This constellation is easy to spot if you imagine that you're looking for the shape of a saucepan. It is visible all year from the UK and if you imagine a line rising up from the last two stars in the Plough it will lead up to the North Star.'
    - Nick Allison, park manager
     
  • The Lion
    ‘Leo can be seen in springtime and sits just below The Plough. It really does look like a crouching lion. In Roman mythology Leo is the lion that was fought by Hercules.’
    - Rod Hebden, science expert
     
  • Sunset
    What better way to start your stargazing extravaganza than by watching our own star set? Share your favourite shots with us on Facebook or Twitter.
     
  • Finding constellations
    ‘With the free software, Stellarium, you can see how far away each star is in light years and therefore how far back in time you are seeing. Are you seeing star light from the swinging 60’s or the time of King Henry VIII?’
    - Guy Salkeld, fascinated member of staff
     
  • Satellites
    ‘If you get the timing right you can see the International Space Station. There are people up there so don’t forget to wave.’
    - Saul Burton, stargazer and park manager

    If a light is moving slowly across the sky and it isn’t flashing then it is likely to be a satellite. On the NASA website you can register for an email update when the Space Station passes over your house.
     
  • The moon
    ‘People used to think that the moon was a perfect sphere. But if you’ve got binoculars you can see that it’s covered in craters and the edges are bumpy. Can you imagine people walking on its surface?’
    - Rod Hebden, science expert
     
  • The Milky Way
    ‘If you can get somewhere with very little light pollution you can easily make out our galaxy: the Milky Way. This is a flat spiral but from our perspective it looks like a bright band across the sky.’
    - Saul Burton, stargazer and park manager

    Stellarium, can help you to locate the Milky Way.

Things to take on your family stargazing trip

You don’t need a telescope or binoculars, but there are a few bits and pieces that will make your stargazing adventure all the more enjoyable.

What to take stargazing

Mind-boggling facts about the night sky

Some children might need a little help to see why sitting around on a cold dark night, looking up, is fun. Here are a few incredible facts to help bring the sky at night alive for your family.

Amazing facts about the night sky

Where to go stargazing

Discover the perfect stargazing spot