If the last time you contemplated the stars was between smooches up at Lover’s Lane, reconsider doing it again as a fun way to spend an evening while camping with your kids.
Hart Webb, a professor of astronomy at the College of Southern Idaho’s Hailey campus, teaches “Introduction to the Night Sky,” and recommends a little stargazing groundwork prior to scanning the heavens.
A comfortable pad and sleeping bag help make stargazing relaxing rather than a pain in the neck (literally). Bring a notebook and make it your “Stargazing Diary”—younger kids can take it to school for show and tell.
Hart, who has degrees in physics, environmental science and astronomy, doesn’t think a telescope is necessary. She encourages students to begin by looking for highly visible constellations like the Big Dipper, the North Star and the Milky Way. “Looking at all the phases of the moon is also a great way to talk to kids about the night sky. When there’s no moon or it isn’t up, you can see the stars better,” she explained.
A self-proclaimed astronomy lover, Hart began her education early: “I grew up in North Carolina and when I was in 4th grade, I went to Space Camp at the NASA Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama. My friend and I got to do all these cool astronaut simulations.”
For the technologically inclined, Hart suggests a nifty iPad app called “Star Walk.” Hold it up to the night sky and see stars, planets, nebulae and other celestial objects. NASA also has an “astronomy picture of the day” on their website (apod.nasa.gov) featuring spectacular shots of the galaxy to inspire you.
The second week in August is a particularly good time for stargazers to camp since it’s the height of the Perseid meteor showers. If you’re willing to stay up late, you may witness as many as 60 meteors streaking through the sky per hour.
But the most important thing you can do is get your kids outside and teach them to look up and wonder. The universe, as Hart notes, is limitless, “There are more stars in the sky than there is sand on the earth. In truth, we don’t really know how many. I never cease to be fascinated by looking up at the sky.”