Everyone has a favorite camping memory, and stargazing with the kids almost always counts as one. That look of wonderment in their eyes as you point out Saturn with its rings or Ursa Major or Orion is a delight to watch. It is a great way to bond with your kids and fuel their imagination. So on your next road trip plan your stay at a campground with an astronomy program or an observatory nearby. Here are a few options.
Many national parks have astronomy programs run by Rangers.
Stargazing while camping is a given
California state parks seem to be at the forefront of conducting astronomy programs. Here are a few of them:
Many other State parks have similar astronomy programs, so check with your local state to see what they offer.
OTHER PUBLIC OBSERVATORIES
There are literally dozens of public observatories spread throughout the U.S. We have picked a few noteworthy ones to whet your appetite.
McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas is a great place to go to. One of the unique things it offers is you can see both the southern as well as the northern night sky because of their location. They have some very interesting programs there. For Solar Viewing you can sit in multimedia theater and see sunspots and solar flares as they happen with a live up close viewing of the sun shown on the big screen. The Twilight Program is especially fun for the kids where you learn about the planets, the highlight being creating a scale model of our Solar system by standing at different distances apart to simulate how far apart they really are. The night Star Party Program is fun for the whole family with tours of the constellations. Amateur astronomers bring their telescopes along so you can see the planets including Jupiter and Saturn with her rings. To top it off you get to look at a galaxy not visible to the naked eye through their large telescope at the observatory. Find campgrounds and RV parks near Fort Davis.
The Des Moines Astronomical Society, Iowa conducts public nights with guest speakers conducting lectures followed by stargazing through Ashton Observatory's telescope. Find campgrounds and RV parks near Des Moines.
UIUC Observatory, Illinois's Astronomical Society holds observing sessions open to the public and the common objects sighted are Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon, star clusters, nebulae and double stars. Find campgrounds and RV parks near Urbana.
The William Miller Sperry Observatory, New Jersey houses 2 of the largest telescopes on the East coast, and conducts two informal talks followed by viewing of the night sky where you can look at celestial objects through the 2 telescopes. As part of the talks they often talk about any current space missions. Find campgrounds and RV parks near Cranford.
Darling Hill Observatory regularly hosts star parties for children, teens and adults on most clear nights, with staff members at hand to explain phenomena and answer questions. Find campgrounds and RV parks near Syracuse.
McCormick Observatory, Virginia holds public nights and observations through a telescope, audio-visual presentations, museum exhibits, and tours of the Observatory all form part of the schedule. Find campgrounds and RV parks near Charlottesville.
If you prefer to explore the skies on your own, make sure to carry along a few essentials. For starters, don't forget to bring a flashlight and a pair of binoculars to zero in on the stars. A warm blanket for snuggling and a snack and drink will go a long way in making the experience comfortable. And of course bring a camera to pick up some surprising images and a favorite astronomy book or chart so that you will know what you're looking at.
Stargazing is a great way to spend time together as a family and create lasting memories. So pack up those binoculars for that next camping trip. Who knows, you may just be encouraging a budding astronomer! Happy stargazing.
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