Great Basin Milky Way

See the Milky Way!

Dr. Tyler Nordgren

One of the last true dark skies in America...
On a clear, moonless night in Great Basin National Park, thousands of stars, five of our solar system's eight planets, star clusters, meteors, man-made satellites, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. The area boasts some of the darkest night skies left in the United States. Low humidity and minimal light pollution, combined with high elevation, create a unique window to the universe.

Can you make a difference with light pollution? Yes, look at the International Dark Sky Association website.


2015 Astronomy Program Schedule

Click for Great Basin National Park's Astronomical Forecast

All astronomy programs will start with a ranger talk at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center followed by ranger led telescope viewing. No telescope is required as we will have them available.


Weekly Astronomy Programs
Weekly Astronomy programs are conducted on Saturday nights April and May, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night Memorial Day to Labor Day and Saturday nights in September and October.

Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday - Memorial Day to Labor Day
Saturday - September and October
Saturday - April and May

See our calendar for program start times. The programs are held at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.


Summer Holiday Weekends
During the holiday weekends of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day astronomy programs will be given both Saturday and Sunday nights. See park displays for start times.


Solar Telescope Viewing
On select summer afternoons, join us on the back porch of the Lehman Caves Visitor Center for safe solar telescope viewing of our closest star, the sun. Great Basin has state of the art solar telescopes to view sunspots, prominences, filaments, and magnetic storms. Fun for all ages.


Full Moon Guided Hikes
Join one of Great Basin's Dark Rangers for a nocturnal adventure. These highly popular guided hikes start shortly after sunset and traverse Great Basin under a moonlit sky. These programs are only offered during the summer full moons.

Full Moon Hikes schedule for 2016 TBD.

A limit of 40 people are permitted on these popular guided hikes and they are first come, first served (no reservations). Free tickets are available the day of the hike at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. Although we keep the location of the full moon hike secret until you pick up your tickets, expect an easy to moderate two-mile hike above 10,000 feet. For the safety and enjoyment of the hiker and the group, the rules listed below are strictly enforced; violations can disqualify hikers from attending this event. Call or email for details.

Full Moon Hike Rules

  • All participants must have a Full Moon Hike ticket.
  • Ages 8 and up.
  • Durable footwear is required, we suggest wearing hiking boots or ankle supporting shoes.
  • We will be stopping at times so please bring warm clothes, preferably layers, and bring water and a snack.
  • You can bring a flashlight or a headlamp but their use will not be permitted on the trail except with the ranger's permission.
  • No flash photography.
  • Ranger can cancel the hike anytime due to trail, weather, or sky conditions.
  • Ranger can disqualify anyone from hiking for any reason.

Astronomy Festival - September 29 - October 1, 2016
Great Basin National Park will be hosting its annual Astronomy Festival. Enjoy three days and nights of astronomy themed events including the famous ranger talent show and viewing through over 30 different telescopes! Click for details.



Ideas on Stargazing at Great Basin National Park

Where to Go
Any location that is open, and away from outdoor lighting, will provide fantastic views. Mather Overlook, and other pullouts along the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, can provide more panoramic views with fewer obstructions. The Baker Archeological Site, located just outside the town of Baker, offers expansive views from horizon to horizon.

When to Go
Stargazing is a year round activity at Great Basin National Park. Two factors will determine the best night to go: cloud cover and the current phase of the moon. Cloudy or stormy skies will obviously obstruct all views of the cosmos. The moon is the brightest and most prominent object in the night sky. You can see more stars during a new moon phase, when the moon is not visible, than during the full moon, when the bright light obscures most of the stars.

Click for Moon Phase Calculator

What to Bring
To make your time stargazing more enjoyable you may want to bring along a few items:

1. A warm jacket, extra layers of clothing, and a hat. Evenings are cool, even in the summer. A thermos of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate isn't a bad idea either!

2. A blanket. Use a blanket to make lying on the ground, or in the back of a vehicle, more comfortable. Sitting can be uncomfortable and can cause neck pain, unless you have a reclining chair.

3. Binoculars. A pair of 7x50 binoculars is comparable in magnification to an entry level telescope. You may need to brace yourself for steady observing.

4. A simple star chart. These are available for purchase at any visitor center bookstore.

5. A red flashlight to read the star chart. Covering the end of the flashlight with red paper will preserve your night vision. Regular white light will disrupt it.

What To Look For
What you will see in the night sky depends on the time of night, the season of the year, and your location on planet Earth. Star charts can help you identify objects visible in the sky tonight.

Constellations are meaningful patterns of stars, known primarily by the names given to them in ancient times. Eighty-eight constellations make up the night sky, most of which are visible in the northern hemisphere, depending on the time of year. Orion is the most famous constellation, identifiable in the winter sky by three equally bright, evenly spaced stars in a straight line.

While stars twinkle, planets reflect a steady light. They can be seen along a low path in the sky, never higher than 30 degrees above the horizon. (Holding your fist out at arms length with the thumb on top is approximately 10 degrees. Three fists will equal about 30 degrees.)

The planet Venus, often seen just after sunset and just before sunrise, is the second brightest object in the night sky, next to the moon. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn can often be seen later at night.

Click for Planet Viewing Guide

The Milky Way is one of the most striking and awe-inspiring sights in the night sky. The swath of stars and dust is unmistakable, and is most visible from mid to late summer and again in midwinter. Because we are buried deep within the spiral arms of our galaxy, our view is from the inside looking out. Everything we can see in the sky from the continental United States is within the Milky Way. The only exceptions are the Andromeda Galaxy and the Triangulum Galaxy- the two objects beyond our own galaxy visible with the naked eye.

Man-made satellites can often be spotted crossing the night sky. Look for a bright, steadily moving object that does not twinkle and is moving in a straight line. Communications satellites orbit the earth moving east to west. Military satellites travel north to south.

Click for Satellite Pass Over Times

"Shooting stars" and "falling stars" are both terms describing meteors, small fragments of debris that create streaks of light across the sky when they come in contact with the Earth's atmosphere. Shooting stars can be seen any night of the year, but the best opportunities for seeing them are during meteor showers.

The meteor showers that usually offer the best shows are the Perseids in August, the Orionids in October, the Leonids in November, and the Geminds in December. Meteor showers are named after the constellation they appear to originate from.

Click for Meteor Showers and Viewing Tips


Telescopes available at all astronomy programs has been generously funded by the Great Basin National Park Foundation.

Did You Know?