It’s that time of year when we can all come together to admire the stars. And no, not the red-carpet kind. Instead, check out those luminous spheres of plasma in the sky in honor of Astronomy Day, on September 30. Started in 1973 by Doug Berger, then president of the Astronomical Association of Northern California, Astronomy Day is a day dedicated to stargazers and astronomy enthusiasts alike. A bi-annual grass roots movement intended to encourage interaction between the general public and professional organizations that share one very big common interest: Space.
The first annual observation of Astronomy Day occurs on a Saturday in the spring, between mid-April and mid-May, on or close to the first quarter moon. In 2007, a fall rendition of the celebration was added because the moon then goes into the same phase between mid-September and mid-October.
Berger’s original efforts were aimed at simply setting up telescopes in high-traffic, urban locations to allow pedestrians to enjoy the view. Since his first implementations, this celestial gathering has grown astronomically (pun intended) to include multiple countries, numerous sponsorships, fun-filled festival events, astronaut lectures and more.
From neighborhood star parties to shedding awareness on light pollution, Astronomy Day is a fun and informative way to take a closer look at the unknown and learn more about the skies above. The Astronomical League’s website also offers a wealth of information regarding the event, complete with headquarter contact information and a handbook for how to plan your own Astronomy Day event.
If your head’s in the clouds, but there isn’t an event nearby, you can still join in on the fun with your mobile device. Smartphones offer a wide variety of star charting, mapping and gazing apps that bring you closer to the great beyond. Terminal Eleven’s Skyview is a great one-stop-shop for all things astronomy, allowing amateurs and enthusiasts to enjoy an augmented reality view of what’s up. You can also track satellites and use the time travel feature to view the sky as it would have looked in the past or how it will look in the future.
Ever wonder how or why the Big Dipper got its name? Curious as to who Orion is and what’s up with his belt and sword? Add a little backstory to your star chasing with Star Walk 2. Star Walk 2 not only offers an augmented reality view, but you can also learn the history of the constellations you’re viewing and the mythology behind these beauties in the sky.
Stellarium puts the planetarium in your pocket and features a catalogue of more than 600,000 stars on a zoom-able map that can be used as a viewfinder. Stellarium also allows you to identify satellites and can show you constellations from different cultures that you may not be familiar with.
Of course, there’s a world of gizmos and gadgets that goes beyond your smartphone to get you a little (or a lot) closer to all things unearthly. Stay handheld with a set of binoculars and use this handy buying guide to help you pick the perfect pair. If you’re ready to go bigger, Popular Mechanics considers both the Astronomers Without Borders OneSky 130 and the Celestron NexStar 130 SLT as great beginner telescopes.
Developers at Celestron simplified your star finding with gadgets like the Celestron Skyscout. Skyscout is an easy-to-use handheld, GPS-enabled locator. Just select what you’re looking for or point the device in towards a celestial object and let Skyscout do the rest.
If all that sounds like small space potatoes, and if you’re ready to dish out a considerable deposit, you could always reserve your seat on a flight to space and see the stars up close and personal. SpaceX already plans to take two tourists to the moon and back in 2018 and Virgin Galactic is set to follow in their space tracks towards intergalactic tourism.
With options being almost as limitless as space itself, Berger’s original endeavor of “bringing astronomy to the people” is thriving worldwide. So, grab your friends and family and look up. There’s much more in the sky than meets the naked eye.
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