Unlocking the Universe: Stargazing with the Family in 2023

Welcome to Outdoor Family, a space dedicated to inspiring and supporting families in embracing the great outdoors. Today, we’re delving into a celestial adventure that’s perfect for all ages—stargazing with your family. Discovering the wonders of the night sky can be an exciting and educational activity that brings the family closer while sparking a lifelong interest in the cosmos.

The Stargazing Calendar for the Rest of the Year

Before we start, let’s mark our stargazing calendars with some significant celestial events for the remainder of the year:

1. Orionid Meteor Shower

(Peak: October 21-22)

Watch as the remnants of Halley’s Comet light up the night sky with streaking meteors. Learn more here.

  • Predicted peak: October 22, 2023, at 00:05 UTC.
  • When to watch: Watch for Orionid meteors on both October 21 and 22, in the wee hours after midnight and before dawn.
  • Overall duration of shower: September 26 to November 22.
  • Under a dark sky with no moon, the Orionids exhibit a maximum of about 10 to 20 meteors per hour.
  • Learning Point for added context: Learn about the Orion constellation and Halley’s Comet.
  • Note: These fast-moving meteors occasionally leave persistent trains. The Orionids sometimes produce bright fireballs.

2. Leonid Meteor Shower

(Peak: November 17-18)

Catch a glimpse of the Leonids, known for their swift and bright meteors. Learn more here but here are the highlights.

  • Predicted peak: November 18, 2023, at 5:33 UTC.
  • When to watch: Watch late on the night of November 17 until dawn on November 18. The morning of November 17 might be worthwhile, too.
  • Overall duration of shower: November 3 through December 2.
  • Under a dark sky with no moon, you might see 10 to 15 Leonid meteors per hour.
  • Learning Point for added context: Learn about Leo the Lion constellation.

3. Geminid Meteor Shower

(Peak: December 13-14)

Considered one of the most spectacular meteor showers, the Geminids promise a show worth staying up for (And keep the kids up for? We will let you be the judge of that 😀 ). Learn more here but here are the highlights.

  • Predicted peak: December 14, 2023, at 19:27 UTC..
  • When to watch: Since the radiant rises in mid-evening, you can watch for Geminids all night around the peak dates of December 13 and 14. Plus, a young waxing crescent moon will not interfere with the Geminids in 2023.
  • Overall duration of shower: November 19 to December 24.
  • Under a dark sky with no moon, you might catch 120 Geminid meteors per hour.
  • Learning Point for added context: Learn about Gemini the Twins constellation.
  • Note: The bold, white, bright Geminids give us one of the Northern Hemisphere’s best showers, especially in years when there’s no moon. They’re also visible, at lower rates, from the Southern Hemisphere. The meteors are plentiful, rivaling the August Perseids.

Don't know where to go to watch?

A little bit of research will usually show some results near you but a great resource is EarthSky.org’s interactive map of the United States and Canada to find the nearest optimal spot for stargazing.

Leveraging Local Universities or Colleges

Many universities and colleges have observatories and astronomy programs that are often open to the public. Here’s how to tap into these valuable resources:

  • Research Local Institutions: Look for nearby universities or colleges that have astronomy departments or observatories. Check their websites or contact them to inquire about family-friendly stargazing events or programs.
  • Participate in Observatory Events: Attend public stargazing nights organized by these institutions. Often, they provide telescopes and knowledgeable guides who can help your family navigate the night sky.
  • Engage in Educational Programs: Many institutions offer workshops, lectures, or stargazing sessions specifically designed for children. These events can be both educational and entertaining for young aspiring astronomers.

Learning about Constellations and Their Stories

Stargazing is not just about spotting stars; it’s about understanding the stories and mythology behind the constellations. Here are some tips to immerse your family in the celestial tales:

  • Utilize Stargazing Apps: Download stargazing apps like Stellarium, SkySafari, or Star Walk that help identify constellations and provide fascinating stories associated with them. Make it a family activity to locate and learn about a new constellation each time you stargaze.

  • Read Books and Resources: Explore astronomy books or online resources specifically written for children. These often simplify complex concepts and share captivating stories about the stars. (Great starting point is your local library)

  • Create Your Own Stories: Encourage your children to create their own stories or drawings based on what they see in the night sky. This sparks creativity and helps them remember the constellations and their unique narratives.

Stargazing is a magical experience that can unite families and deepen their understanding of the vast universe we live in. So, grab your blankets, head outdoors, and let the cosmos unfold its mysteries before your eyes.

Happy stargazing, Outdoor Family adventurers! 🌌✨

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