Summer breezes and night skies on the patio are the best to share with friends and family. A basic understanding of your local astronomy and a few patio tricks can help make a magical night.
Turn off the lights
Light travels far and fast, but it’s difficult to see light from billions of miles away when a flood lamp is just a few feet above. Turn off all outside lights when stargazing. Even the weakest footpath lamp can be a distraction. Invite the neighbors over and ask them to dim their lights, too. This month, Jupiter will be at its biggest and brightest, and its signature swirls will be visible to the naked eye.
Flexible outdoor roofing is a help when star-gazing is on the calendar. A retractable awning can be the solution for a patio that is adjacent to the home. Pulling it back for a night under the stars is as easy as flipping a switch or a gentle turn of a handle. Placing the chairs up against the house may also help with another challenge to star-gazing, light pollution.
Check the calendar
There is always something special happening in the universe. In June of 2019, a strawberry moon and the summer solstice are on the calendar. A strawberry moon is just the term for the first full moon in June, the season when strawberries are ripe and ready to eat. Add some strawberry lemonade and strawberry shortcake to your starry night menu. A nice advantage of moon-gazing is that it can be done with the naked eye. But if you want to really look at the man in the moon, maybe borrow a set of binoculars or a simple telescope.
Get the equipment
Star charts may be the thing for fortune tellers, but a constellation map is all you need for a night of universe appreciation. There are some simple ones to find online, but there are also mobile applications like StarTracker Lite that use your GPS to show you the constellations that are right above you. As you move your phone, the map changes. This is a great way to teach kids how technology can bring them closer to the world around them. Another handy tool is a laser pointer; if used carefully, it can be a big help in directing views upward. A flashlight can also be used to point. The beams go farther and are more effective than just pointing with fingers.
If the lighting in the neighborhood or from a neighboring city is too bright, take a drive out to the country. Choose a cloudless and moonless night for the best chance to see The Milky Way. Bring tarps and blankets to lay down (and maybe plenty of bug repellent, too). Don’t depend on a cellular signal out in the boondocks. Print out some constellation maps before you go. And bring plenty of snacks and drinks to share.
Get out there
Star-gazing is a right and privilege of summer. It is a practice from time immemorial that has inspired art, poetry and literature. Even if it does not result in a masterpiece on the dining room wall, a quiet night admiring the awesome mysteries of the universe is good for the soul.