With summer days becoming increasingly hotter and more humid, the nights are warming up as well.
After the sun goes down, it is much more comfortable to be outside, and with no school to wake up for in the morning, my son and I want to make the most of these summer nights.
Sometimes we take a stroll around the neighborhood and catch fireflies or go out for some late-night ice cream, but on clear nights we also like to go out back on the lounge chairs and check out the bright summer sky.
The best part about stargazing is that it can be done in the comfort of your backyard. I took an astronomy class in college, so I know a bit about the constellations and the moon, but with modern technology, the resources are endless when it comes to researching what you are viewing in the sky.
There are also websites that can help you determine what night will have the clearest sky and when the moon will not be bright. Too much humidity or scattered light from the moon can make some of the stars and constellations less visible.
The website cleardarksky.com is a good resource to use to check out the cloud cover, transparency, humidity and temperature in Reisterstown so you can pick a good night to stargaze. If the sky is really clear you might even be able to see some planets, as well.
You may want to just sit back with a cool drink and some snacks and enjoy the beautiful night sky, but if you want to delve a bit further into finding out what you are looking at, there are many options.
I use the Star Tracker — Mobile Sky Map app to find out what stars I am looking at. It is an awesome app that can use GPS to locate exactly what stars you are looking at. You can just hold your phone up to the sky and the app will tell you what stars and constellations you're viewing in real time. The app has a compass feature as well.
If you are not very technologically savvy or you don't particularly like the idea of looking at a paper map, there are star maps available to download, or you can purchase glow-in-the-dark star maps online. You can also use a compass to help you locate certain constellations. If you are looking to see a bit more detail in the sky, you could start out with a pair of binoculars or a basic telescope, as well.
An astronomy diary is also a great way to record all of the stars, constellation and planets you see. You could just jot down the date, what you used to detect the celestial bodies — binoculars, telescope, etc. — what stars you located and where you spotted them.
Besides your diary, you might also want to bring along some insect repellant as well as a flashlight and some fun snacks. If you are not seeing the stars clearly right away, you might want to give it some time. It can take around 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust after being in the light before being able to see clearly in the dark. A good trick is to wear sunglasses indoors for a bit before you go outside stargazing, because this might speed up the adjustment process. You might also want to put some red cellophane over your flashlight or light source so your eyes will not be re-exposed to the light. You might also want to bring your camera along to capture rare sightings.
If you are looking to expand your stargazing horizons, you could also research area astronomy clubs, such as the Baltimore Astronomical Society, or attend a stargazing event.
Two stargazing events will be held at Soldiers Delight Natural Environmental Area, at 5100 Deer Park Road in Owings Mills, this summer. Both will take place from 8 to 10 p.m., with one occuring July 11 and the other Aug. 8. The events are hosted by the Westminster Astronomical Society and are open to the public. You can bring a blanket and some binoculars or a telescope and enjoy the gorgeous local night sky. For more information about the events, you can call 877-794-0606 or visit http://www.westminsterastro.org/?page_id=32.
Summer goes by quickly, so take some time out of your day — or evening — and enjoy the natural wonders our region has to offer.