Top tips for stargazing
Stargazing is a simple way to bring science alive for kids and share with them the beauty of the natural world. Taking the time to look up in wonder at the canopy of space is a powerful experience, which everyone in the family can enjoy. What's more, 'go star gazing' is no. 27 on our list of '50 things to do before you’re 11¾' activities.
We are all made of stars. Every atom in our bodies was made from the dust of an exploding star. Luckily, exploring your cosmic origins requires very little equipment, and we've got plenty of tips to help you with your stargazing adventure.
Before you begin
- Stargazing is best done before the moon is full, so check the phase of the moon before you plan a trip.
- The night sky is constantly changing, depending on the time of year and the time of night. Try stargazing at different points throughout the year to spot seasonal constellations.
- We hold stargazing events for all the family throughout the year. Give your local National Trust place a call to see if there is an event coming up near you.
- Download an app like Star Walk (iPhone) or Google Sky (android) to your mobile or tablet, and they will tell you what stars you can see from your current location. You can also install Stellarium on your desktop computer and use it to explore the skies near you
What to take with you
- Something to lie on. A blanket or camping mat will do.
- Food, drink and warm clothes to keep kids happy and warm as you wait for the stars to come out. On a cold night hot chocolate can help keep little (and not so little) stargazers warm.
- A sprinkling of imagination to keep kids entertained. How about uploading a playlist of space-themed songs to your phone? Or as the sun sets, you could read them ancient myths about the stars and tales of space exploration.
- A compass to help you find a particular constellation or star.
- Your camera to capture the wonder on the faces of stargazers or the stars above.
What to look for
- This is our nearest star, and if you hollowed out the Sun you could fit nearly one million Earths inside it. But never look directly at the sun through a camera, telescope or binoculars. You will damage your eyes, and may even suffer permanent blindness if you do. You can make a simple pinhole viewer to project the image of the sun.
- All of the world’s oceans are controlled by the moon. The moon is the reason we have high and low tides. Only 12 people have ever set foot there. But because there is no wind, if you visited the moon today you would still see their footprints.
- It wasn’t until people saw the moon through binoculars that they realised it isn’t a perfect sphere. On a clear night, it’s easy to see its craters and bumpy edges.
- When you see the stars you are looking into the past. Because light takes time to travel and stars are many light years away from us you could be seeing a star that doesn’t even exist anymore.