Sleeping under the stars – and a guide to stargazing
Few things are as jaw-dropping as the majesty of the night skies, especially an inverted sea of sparkling jewels stretching into infinity. The only problem with these astronomical delights is they are virtually invisible if you happen to live in a built-up area because of light pollution.
The constant glow from streetlamps, traffic, neon signs and numerous other urban phenomena bathe everything in harsh illumination while obliterating the majority of stars.
But it’s easy to find great places in more rural areas for a spot of star gazing.
Star gazing for a weekend
Escaping into the countryside is a fantastic alternative for a weekend break. For example you might want to spend time with your partner, friends or get to know someone after spending time in a chat room in the USA and a couple of nights of camping will provide long-lasting memories.
Just pack your tent and sleeping equipment, include some cooking and eating essentials, then head out to the wonderful outdoors.
During the day you can spend your time exploring the landscape in daylight and then after the sun sinks and the daylight fades you can turn your attention to the sky.
What can you see?
With the unaided eye you will be able to make out between 2,000 to 3,000 individual stars. The closest is Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light years distant. If that sounds like no distance at all, remember that a light year equates to the distance light will travel in that time and since it travels nearly 300 million metres in one second, when you multiply that amount by the number of seconds in one year you will arrive at a very, very large figure.
The most distant star visible with the naked eye is V762 Cas, located in the constellation of Cassiopeia. This is approximately 16,308 light years distant. In terms of translating that to kilometres, let’s just say the total would be mind-boggling.
As you take in the spectacular display, keep an eye out for the five planets that can be seen. Although not all at once, you’ll be able to make out Mercury, Venus (which are closer to the sun than Earth), as well as, moving outwards into the solar system, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. If you do pack a telescope, Saturn is particularly beautiful up close with its familiar rings.
You can spend a lot of time identifying individual constellations, or groupings of stars. Many of these are named after mythological dieties or figures, as well as astrological characters. The most widely recognised are the Plough and Orion. You can also check out the Pleiades, which come across as a mini-Plough.
Somehow stargazing has an almost hypnotic effect, and taking in the celestial beauty can place many of the stresses of city life in perspective. At certain times of the year, nature will add her own firework displays, introducing meteor showers, or occasional comets.
Depending on where you happen to be observing the night skies, you might even be treated to one of the most spectacular sights of all: The Aurora Borealis or northern lights. (Australians get to see the southern hemisphere’s equivalent, the Aurora Australis or southern lights.)
These take the form of vast curtains of light that appear to be shimmering right across the heavens, constantly shifting direction as they cast a glow that seems to alternate between all the colours of the rainbow. Completely invisible from urban settlements, a camping vacation may well introduce you to this mesmerising vision.
All-in-all, a night under the stars will stay with you for a long time.