The days of long, lingering sunlight are finally upon us! We can’t wait to get outside and play in the sunshine but you can’t deny that one of the best and awe-inspiring things about camping is seeing that night sky lit up like millions of diamonds and wishing upon shooting stars blazing over the treetops. Getting away from city lights and seeing the Milky Way puts everything into perspective. The sky is captivating on any clear night across the country but there are a few celestial events that shouldn’t be missed this summer!
When Star Gazing is the Best!
This summer’s full moons are:
- June 9
- July 9
- August 7
- September 6
The forest and lakes are beautiful shimmering in the light of the full moon but if you’re interested in seeing the Milky Way or some further stars that you don’t get to see very often, you’re better off going around the new moon when the sky is at its darkest. Those dates are:
- June 24
- July 23
- August 21
- September 20
Go to the Dark
If you want to do some serious stargazing, look for a Designated Dark Sky Spot in your vicinity. The International Dark Sky Association are stewards of the night sky and conservers of the dark. IDA is a nonprofit organization that endeavors to protect dark sites free from artificial light so that the view of the stars is optimal. If you want to find a Dark Sky Community for the next celestial event or just for enjoying the stars and planets, go to their website: http://www.darksky.org/idsp/ Some of these spots have observatories or astronomy clubs that gather during celestial events and offer the use of telescopes to guests.
It’s Raining Stars
If you’ve ever spent the evening in the wilderness away from city lights you know that shooting stars are a regular occurrence. However, during certain periods we are treated to a storm of stars blazing across the night sky from passing comets. Each summer there are two main meteor showers.
- The Delta Aquarids in late July. These meteors radiate from the constellation of Aquarius. This shower peaks between July 27 – July 30 with the best viewing being the hours just before dawn. The best view of this shower is in the Southern Hemisphere or in the tropical areas of the Northern Hemisphere. To find Delta Aquarii look south before dawn and find the Great Square of Pegasus. Below the square, closer to the horizon you should see the bright star of Fomalhaut. Between these two points, also close to the horizon is Delta Aquarii, the brightest star of Aquarius.
- The most popular and most easily viewed each year in the Northern Hemisphere is the Perseids. The Perseids peak this year between the night of August 12 and the morning of August 13. The shower is best viewed before dawn in the early morning hours. To find the radiant point, or Perseus, look Northeast. Find the splayed “W” of Cassiopeia. Just beneath that you will see the triangle that is Perseus’ helmet. In between those two you should see meteors emerging, although they can be seen at any part of the sky.
As you know, man has been staring at the skies since the dawning of recorded history for spiritual meaning, for navigation, or for simple enjoyment. The first account of the Perseid meteor shower was recorded in China in 36 AD. The Chinese even have a holiday that involves the Perseids. It is known as The Qixi Festival and is somewhat reminiscent of Valentine’s Day in the west.
The legend that inspired this festival is a love story, as you might have guessed. In the emperor’s court a young weaver girl and herder boy met and fell in love. They spent every moment possible sneaking off to be together. Soon the herds were not being tended to properly and the tapestries of the palace had fallen into disarray. The emperor demanded to know why they were not tending to their duties and they confessed that they had fallen in love and had been distracted. Angry, the emperor demanded that they never see each other again. Now, as anyone knows who has been a teenager or has seen West Side Story, this never works. When the emperor found out that they were still seeing one another he angrily banished them to opposites sides of the sky.
The weaver girl became the star Vega, the herder became Altair. The emperor then used his sword to cut a hole in the heavens to keep them apart which their tears filled, creating a river of sliver. This is the Milky Way. Some kind magpies heard the cries of the lovers and during the meteor shower they form a bridge over the Milky Way to reunite the lovers. The bright lights of the meteors are the birds building their bridge. On this night in China people believe that it’s an especially lucky night for the granting of wishes, particularly if they have to do with matters of the heart. Festival goers will write their wishes and tie them to pieces of bamboo which they set afloat on a stream where they are carried up to the celestial river. So in August, go camp by a river, set your wishes afloat, and enjoy a sky full of diamonds raining down.
Once in a Lifetime Occurrence!
Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration but the last total solar eclipse that could be viewed from the US was on February 26, 1979 and the next one will be on October 14, 2023. Still, it’s rare and it’s going to be awesome because they don’t often cross all the way from coast to coast. The last time that happened was on June 8, 1918.