Tracking the Night Sky

The long, lazy days of summer beckon you outdoors. It’s the perfect time of year to look to the heavens and stargaze. Even if you live in a city or suburb where artificial masks natural light, there remain many ways to enjoy starry nights. Books, apps, and maps can help you rediscover the skies and practice your stargazing skills.



The International Astronomical Union (IAU) lists all eighty-eight officially recognized constellations on its website with downloadable maps that show the shape and location of each one. Apps can also help you find the stars. SkyView Free offers both Apple and Android apps. Simply point your phone toward the sky to see which stars, constellations, and planets are directly overhead. The app can also help you track satellites such as the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope, which can sometimes be seen from Earth.


Archeologists have found cave drawings of constellations estimated to be tens of thousands of years old. Constellations were used as navigation tools, but they also inspired legends. What We See in the Stars: An Illustrated Tour of the Night Sky by Kelsey Oseid is a book suitable for both adults and adolescents that dives into constellations and the myths that accompany them; the Constellation Guide ( does the same. For example, the Orion constellation is named for a hunter from Greek myth often depicted in star maps as chasing the nearby Taurus (the bull) and Lepus (the hare) constellations. Orion contains two of the brightest stars—Rigel and Betelgeuse—making it one of the easiest constellations to find.


The planets closest to earth put on their own nightly show. Throughout the year, five planets can be seen without the aid of a telescope: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. These five planets shine as bright as stars, making them easy to spot. Each planet orbits the sun at different speeds, which is why not all planets can be seen every night. The website EarthSky provides pictures and a list that details which bodies will be visible when and where they are in relation to the moon.


Many cities and towns support planetariums and science centers that offer astronomy programs for children and adults to enjoy. Planetariums are theaters with domed ceilings on which the night sky is projected. Astronomical observatories are less common and tend to be constructed in remote areas. Observatories house large telescopic equipment to aid in observation of celestial objects. Many are used only for academic or scientific research, but some—including the famous Griffith Observatory—offer programs for the public. The popular Los Angeles tourist attraction is a backdrop in movies such as La La LandThe Terminator, and Rebel Without a Cause. Perform an online search to find planetariums and observatories near you.



The best places to stargaze are far away from artificial light. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) tracks the most desirable locations around the world. You can find a searchable interactive map of these places on the association’s website ( According to the Sierra Club, Canada boasts more than half of the world’s dark-sky preserves and the largest one: Wood Buffalo National Park, which is located on the border of the Northern Territories and Alberta. In the US, the IDA recommends dozens of parks including Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Florida, and Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania. Written by Ronda Swaney. Photography by frederic minoue/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Save the Date

You can enjoy the night sky anytime of year, but here are some upcoming celestial events worthy of putting on your calendar.

Perseid Meteor Shower:
July 17 to August 24, 2019, peaking August 12 to 13
Transit of Mercury Across the Sun:
November 11 to 12, 2019. Mercury will move directly between the earth and the sun.
Geminid Meteor Shower:
December 4 to 17, 2019, peaking December 14 to 15
Super Moon:
February 9, April 8, and May 7, 2020

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