Clear summer nights offer a perfect opportunity for seasoned stargazers and amateurs alike to come together and look toward the sky. In fact, July 20th is National Moon Day, a holiday commemorating the day that man first walked on the moon in 1969. What better time to gather friends and family for some amateur astronomy in the backyard? It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn about our universe and learn to recognize the constellations.
Whether you’re planning a small get-together with very little equipment, or a larger event with one or more telescopes, following these simple tips can help you prepare for the big night and ensure your guests have a “stellar” time!
Clean and Set Up Early
Once the stargazing event has begun and your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, you won’t want to turn the lights back on, as your guest’s eyes must adjust all over again. Your will be moving around in the dark, so you want to prepare your backyard so it is fully cleared of unnecessary clutter, and the furniture arranged so walkways are not blocked. If your back patio has been accumulating dust all spring, it is the perfect time to do a deep cleaning. Call in the professionals at COIT to clean natural stone, tile, wooden patios, and spruce up the entire area.
The layout of your yard must be easy to navigate in the dark. If necessary, dim red lights can be used to illuminate obstacles, as this type of light does not interfere with night vision as much as other colors. Also, be sure to have guests arrive early, prior to nightfall. That way everyone has become familiar with the layout, you have a chance to visit and get comfortable, and it will build a sense of anticipation. As dusk falls, you can watch the stars as they appear in the night sky.
Know Your Equipment
Will you have one or more telescopes? An app on a smartphone or tablet for identifying stars and planets? An old-fashioned printed star chart? Green laser pointers are also a popular option for pointing out objects in the sky; just make sure you know the local laws about laser use. Whether your equipment is basic or the most complex, do a test run before the event. If you feel comfortable with your tools, you’ll feel more confident and less stressed out when the time comes to share your knowledge, and everyone will have more fun – including you!
If you’ll be using one or more telescopes, set them up a comfortable distance from one another so that people are less likely to bump them. If another guest is bringing their own telescope, they should oversee the handling of their own equipment. It can also be a helpful to set up telescopes on large beach towels, so that there’s a soft place to land if a telescope tips over, and any parts that fall are easier to locate.
Keep Comfortable and Cozy
Should the evening begin to cool off, ensure you have plenty of blankets on hand! Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are popular beverage options, particularly if you plan to stay out for several hours, and non-messy finger foods that are easy to eat in the dark are great snacks. If mosquitos are common in your area, consider investing in bug spray and burning a citronella candle while awaiting sunset.
Keep in mind that some of your guests may know more than you realized about the stars, while for others, this could be their first stargazing experience. Keep it fun by encouraging everyone to share their knowledge and by making the goal to simply enjoy some time with friends of family, gazing at the sky.