Why stargazing can be fun for kids, and romantic for adults
You don't need to know much about the night sky to get out under it, look up and explore other worlds.
Some constellations and planets can even be seen without a telescope if you know where to look.
With spring around the corner, it's a great time to plan your own outing. Here are some tips for stargazing with your family or for a date night activity.
What you'll need
For the best stargazing, you'll want to go out on a clear night. And you'll want to go somewhere with as little light pollution as possible, since that will make it easier to see the stars.
Before you head out to public land, like a county park, check the park's rules and regulations first. Many of York County's county parks are closed after dusk except during special events.
Once you find a place to go, you will want to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness, said Todd Ullery, vice president of the York County Astronomical Society.
"It takes about 10 minutes to get your eyes dark-adapted," Ullery said. If you plan to use a flashlight to walk to your viewing destination, you could use a red filter or put red cellophane over the light, Ullery suggested. That will help you to see without affecting how your eyes are adjusting to the dark.
You will want to bring a blanket or chairs to sit on, and wear layers this time of year since it can get colder as it gets later. You can bring a telescope or binoculars if you have them, but you don't need them.
Stargazing with children
One of the best things about looking at the stars with children is allowing their imaginations to run wild, Ullery said.
"Kids have a lot more imagination than adults do, and the great thing about constellations is there's no wrong answers," Ullery said.
Constellations, or groups of stars that form a pattern when viewed from Earth, are human constructs. Some of them were viewed thousands of years ago and their stories have been passed on through history. But children can make up their own stories if they see their own patterns or images in the sky, Ullery said.
Sometimes children like to make up stories about existing constellations, like Orion the hunter. "It's great for children's imaginations," Ullery said.
With young children, like those under the age of 5, you might want to leave the telescope at home and instead focus on more simple concepts, like teaching the difference between the stars and the moon.
Generally, children ages 5 and up can understand the concept of looking through a telescope, Ullery said, and it can be fun to find the moon, planets and stars to look at through a telescope or binoculars.
There are also a variety of planetarium shows at the York Learning Center, 301 E. 6th Ave., in York from time to time. The next scheduled shows are March 12.
There are different shows and show times for various age groups.
Date night or social stargazing
Just because you're not a kid doesn't mean you can't use your imagination when stargazing. And you also don't have to own a telescope or have prior experience doing serious stargazing to get the hang of it, Ullery said.
You can find star maps online which are updated throughout the year to accurately reflect the night sky above you at any given time. Ullery said people sometimes forget that the night sky changes with the seasons, as the Earth orbits the sun, so those star maps are really helpful.
One way to make stargazing a social experience is to go out with a group, like the York County Astronomical Society. Ullery said the group members have a variety of experience, and they share their equipment at public events they host. A public observing starwatch is scheduled for March 12 at John C. Rudy Park from 8 to 10 p.m.
If you want to make a date night activity out of looking at the stars, it can't hurt to know about some romantic constellations.
And yes, Ullery said, there are romantic constellations.
In Greek mythology Perseus killed Medusa and rescued Andromeda on his journey home. Andromeda was chained to rocks by the sea, in danger of being eaten by a sea monster when Perseus was passing by. Perseus fell in love with Andromeda at first sight, and the two were wed after Perseus slayed the monster.
Perseus and Andromeda are two constellations now visible in the night sky. You can see them easily with binoculars.
If you go: Planetarium shows
What: Planetarium shows at the York Learning Center. There are several shows tailored to different age groups.
Where: 301 E. 6th Ave., York
When: The next shows will be shown March 12. There are several afternoon shows and evening shows.
Cost: Tickets can be purchased at the door. They're $4 for adults and $3 for children and seniors. Admission to any second or third show is $1.
Learn more: Visit the planetarium's website at www.ycas.org/planetarium_learning_center.htm.
If you go: Public Starwatch at John C. Rudy Park
What: A Public Starwatch hosted by the York County Astronomical Society. Beginnings can join experienced club members to view the skies. Club members allow members of the public to look through their telescopes, or you can bring your own equipment.
Where: John C. Rudy Park, East Manchester Township
When: From 8 to 10 p.m. March 12, weather permitting.
Learn more: Visit the event page on the York County Astronomical Society's website at www.ycas.org/public_observing2.htm.