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Stargazers' Guide

Prepare for Your Night Under the Stars

Why worry about finding a five-star hotel, when camping offers an estimated 300 billion stars in just the Milky Way alone? The night sky has a way of captivating gazers, new and old. This simple guide will prepare you for a memorable night under the stars.

family camping under the stars

Mind-Boggling Facts About Stars

1. Closest Star: The closest observable star to Earth is the Sun. It’s about 93 million miles away.

2. Twinkling Stars: The scientific term for the twinkling of stars is “astronomical scintillation.” As starlight travels through Earth’s atmosphere down to us, it gets bent by turbulence. Some light reaches us directly, other light is slightly bent. This looks like twinkling to the human eye.

3. Adjusting Eyes: When you step outside from a bright room, it might take up to 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.  Give it time and see more stars!

4. Stars vs. Sand: There are multiple stars for every grain of sand on Earth. A rough estimate says there are 5 to 10 times more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the world’s beaches.

5. Not Red Hot: The coolest stars in the sky are red, while the hottest stars are blue. Seems counterintuitive; but blue light (shorter wavelengths) is more energetic than red (longer wavelengths), and therefore hotter.  And of course, there are exceptions to the general rule.

Make It a Game

Star Surfing
Participants have 15 seconds to look up and choose a star. Keep their eyes locked on it.  When the timer says “begin,” participants spin in a circle as fast as possible while keeping their heads up and their eyes on their designated stars. After 30 seconds, the timer says “surf,” and everyone jumps into a surfing position, bringing their gaze back to normal. Participants should be very dizzy, and it will be hard to stand straight up. Stumbling, falling, and laughter should ensue.

Design a Constellation
Bring along some black paper and stickers and let kids design or replicate constellations.

Starry Night Craft
Take a look back over the last 4,000 years of picturing the stars, including van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” one of the most famous artistic depiction of the night sky. Bring black construction paper and pastels to make an art project out of it!

woman photography the stars at night

Photographing the Night Sky

It can be difficult to capture the awe of the night sky with photos, but a few tips will hopefully make it easier, and may even help you capture surprising images of nighttime wildlife too.

Use a tripod. Night photos have very little light available, and each photo takes longer to process. This means every small shake can end up blurring your photograph. A tripod, table, log, or other solid surface will help.

Get away from light pollution. It’s estimated that getting at least 60 miles from a city helps reduce light pollution. If you’re taking photos of stars, consider whether light from the moon will interfere.

Get to know your equipment. You don’t always need the fanciest equipment, but it’s very helpful to learn how it works. Test automatic settings or learn how to manually adjust them.

Test your settings. Learn the recommended settings for what you’re trying to photograph, and then test them. Sometimes a small adjustment to your settings can make a huge difference in your photos.

Practice. Practice, practice. Take a lot of photos and see what works and what doesn’t. Review, and repeat!

Adapted from "Gazer Guide: Prepare for Your Night Under the Stars" by Dani Tinker