By Gail Marsh
RVing presents so many benefits, but one of the best, for me, is stargazing. If you’re lucky enough to snag an RV spot away from campground lights or boondock on secluded BLM lands, stargazing is a snap! Shortly before dusk get settled in your favorite outdoor chair. Then look up!
If you’re parked beside the RV campground’s office lights, you can still enjoy the sky’s show. You just need to walk to a darker part of the camp, park your chair, and get comfortable. (Bring along a buddy if you feel safer.) If you want an even darker spot, jump in your vehicle and head out of town to a darker place to stargaze. You don’t even need a telescope! You can see plenty through your binoculars. And on a clear, moonless night, away from cities and ambient lights, you don’t even need the binoculars. The naked eye can see about 3,000 stars!
February is a particularly great time for stargazing and to see events in the sky. Who says live shows are canceled? Here are a few things to look for in February’s nighttime sky (northern hemisphere.) Hint: a night sky phone app can help orientate your position.
February stargazing events
February 2 – Try spotting an asteroid cluster. Look in the sky opposite the moon. Or, if you have a constellation map, use it to locate the Cancer constellation. Then watch for the asteroids with your binoculars.
February 14 – Get up early and see if you and your valentine can spot the planet Jupiter in the lowest part of the east-southeastern sky’s horizon. Then use your binoculars to find Saturn, a dimmer light positioned to the upper right of Jupiter.
February 26 – Around sunset look to the eastern sky where the “Snow Moon” will rise from the horizon. (It’s called the Snow Moon because February is the snowiest month in the United States.)
February may lack the pizazz of the nighttime sky shows featured in other months, but that just means you can use this month to spot planets, satellites, and maybe even the International Space Station.
Here’s how: For planet gazing, remember that stars twinkle – planets don’t. The orange/yellowish planet Mars can be seen high in the southeastern sky at nightfall. The International Space Station (ISS) always approaches from a westerly direction. It will appear as a bright white light as it moves across the nighttime sky. You can watch the ISS approach shortly after sunset. As the third brightest object in the sky (after the sun and moon) the International Space Station is easily visible with the naked eye. (Always use eye protection and wait until the sun has completely set before viewing the sky.)
A variety of satellites are also visible in the nighttime sky. They will appear as steady spots of light, smoothly making their way across the heavens. (Any blinking lights you see are most likely airplanes.) Because satellites reflect the sun’s rays, as soon as they enter the shadow of Earth, they disappear from view.
So … what are you doing tonight? How about turning off the television and see real stars along with other amazing things in the sky? See you out there!