What’s the idea?
Go stargazing and learn the different star constellation names to see what you can spot tonight.
What’s the story?
There is nothing more beautiful than a starry night sky. I remember going out into the African bush as a child and stargazing with my family.
Away from the bright lights of the city, the sky was dark and vast and dotted with millions of twinkling stars.
We would lie on a mattress and try to identify the different constellations.
Every now and then, a shooting star would fly across the sky before burning out and I would quickly make a wish.
We would often spot satellites slowly making their way around the earth.
We would also see aeroplanes and try to guess where they were coming from and going to.
People should do this because…?
Stargazing is a great adventure for the whole family.
It’s summer time in the Northern Hemisphere, which means warmer and often clearer nights for venturing outside.
Stargazing is a great way to celebrate the summer solstice on the 20th of June. It’s a fun way to cap off the longest day of the year.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the nights are long and crisp.
The winter solstice is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the longest night and study the different constellations.
If you want to enjoy the sky in the daytime, why not try cloud watching?
How do you do it?
Grab your binoculars or even a telescope, if you’re lucky enough to have one, pack plenty of blankets and snacks, and search for a scenic spot away from the city.
An open field or the top of a hill would be ideal. It also helps to have a star map to help you identify constellations.
The following are some of the better-known star patterns and constellations to look out for…
- The Big Dipper – This is one of the most recognisable star patterns and is located in the constellation, Ursa Major, which means, ‘big bear’, in Latin. The dipper’s, ‘bowl and handle’, are fairly easy to spot and appear to pour its contents onto the earth.
- Polaris – If you follow the outer edge of the dipper’s bowl and come down toward the horizon, the next brightest star you come across is Polaris, also known as the North Star. This is part of the, Ursa Minor, or, ‘little bear’, constellation.
- Orion – Orion’s Belt is the easiest part of Orion to spot. Look for three stars that are very close together and form a line. The belt is in the middle of the constellation, which is named after a famous Greek hunter.
- Draco the Dragon – As its name suggests, Draco depicts a dragon. Its head extends north of the constellation, Hercules, and its tail sits between the big and little dippers. The brightest star in Draco is, Etamin, which glows orange.
- Alpha Centauri – This Southern Hemisphere star system is the closest to earth. The Alpha Centauri is the third brightest star in the sky. It is actually made up of three stars that appear as a bright single point to the naked eye.
- Southern Cross – This was the first pattern I learnt and its fairly easy to spot. It is part of the constellation, Crux, and is shaped like a kite.
- Carinae nebula – This is not a star, but a giant cloud of gas and dust. It can be spotted if you follow the Southern Cross’s arms to the right, until you reach a bright cloud-like object.
- Milky Way – Although visible from both hemispheres, the Milky Way’s glow is more noticeable in the Southern Hemisphere. This is our home galaxy and it’s easy to get lost in the haze of millions of stars on a dark night.
- When looking at faint objects like stars, allow your eyes to adapt to the dark for 15 minutes. Try not to look at your phone or any other bright devices.
- Before heading out, have a look at what you can expect to see that night by checking out sky at a glance.
- If you are using a star app, switch on the red night vision mode.
Stuff you may need
- A view of the clear night sky from outside the city
- A pair of binoculars or telescope (or just your eyes!)
- Warm clothing and snacks
- A mattress or blanket if you would like to lie down