Make astronomy part of your summer travel

Posted by Alison Klesman
on Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Websites like Airbnb offer locations for those with an interest in astronomy to stay, specifically with great views of the stars. // Photo Credit: Airbnb

Mars opposition is coming — you’ve likely heard that several times this month (and week) already. What this means is that now (and the next few months) is a great time to get out there and view our neighboring world at its biggest and brightest. It won’t be this big and bright again until 2035.

If you’re bummed about the planet-wide dust storm raging across the Red Planet, which will unfortunately obscure many of its more detailed features, consider that Mars is still a sight to behold, both with the naked eye and with the aid of binoculars or a telescope. And Mars will remain big and bright in the sky for weeks to come, so as the dust (hopefully) clears in the not-so-distant future, your view will remain pretty fantastic, all told.

In fact, this time of year is great for observing some of the best our night sky has to offer. In the Northern Hemisphere, that includes the Summer Triangle, the great globular cluster in Hercules, the Andromeda galaxy, and the big, bright planet Jupiter, which shares the ecliptic with Mars.

And for those in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, keep in mind that July 27 — the same date Mars reaches opposition — you’ll also get the century’s longest total lunar eclipse, with totality lasting a whopping 103 minutes (depending on your location).

And speaking of location, when viewing the night sky, location can be everything. Factors that include local weather and light pollution can dramatically impact your ability to see or enjoy the objects and events you’re after, and summertime is the perfect time to get out and enjoy some travel, whether you journey a few hours or a few thousand miles from home. I used to work at a small private observatory just outside of Tucson, Arizona, and even getting just a few miles away from the city lights could make all the difference in the night sky. While seeing the Milky Way from the city was nearly impossible, it spread out beautifully overhead from our observatory’s location, just a short drive from the city’s center.

Private observatories and public astronomy groups often give tours or hold classes on how to view and photograph the night sky. // Photo Credit: Airbnb

So — if you’re considering summer or fall travel this year, consider the night sky you might be able to access at the same time. Picking a vacation spot with or near great night sky viewing will give you more bang for your buck, because if you’re on this site, you’re likely interested in getting closer to the stars whenever you can manage. You might also consider finding a local observatory, astronomy club, or individual that offers night sky tours or astrophotography primers and excursions. There’s absolutely nothing like coming home from a trip with not only pictures of yourself at exotic locales, but stunning pictures of the night skies you experienced as well.

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