Click for Great Basin National Park's Astronomical Forecast
2013 Astronomy Program Schedule
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.
Astronomy Train on the Northern Nevada Railroad in Ely, NV - Saturday May 24, 2013
Enjoy an evening with a astronomy themed train ride on the Northern Nevada Railway. Great Basin Dark Ranger's will be onboard to talk about astronomy but the highlight will be when the train stops out of town and passengers disembark to look at planets and the Moon through the dark ranger's telescopes. Tickets are available online at the Northern Nevada Railroad website.
Memorial Day Weekend - May 25 & 26, 2013
Great Basin kicks off the summer astronomy season at 8:00PM both Saturday and Sunday nights of Memorial Day Weekend. The Dark Ranger's will have an astronomy themed presentation followed by viewing through the many park telescopes. Bring a camp chair and a jacket to the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.
Weekly Astronomy Programs
Beginning Memorial Day Weekend join Great Basin's Dark Rangers every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night (Memorial Day to Labor Day) for astronomy programs. Explore our beautiful night sky with star themed talks and park provided telescopes. There will be no astronomy programs the nights of Full Moon Guided Hikes (June 22 and August 20).
Perseids Meteor Shower Watching Party - Monday August 12, 2013
Join Great Basin's Dark Rangers for the year's most active meteor shower. The rangers will be on hand to explain the science of meteors and to pass around actual samples. This program is at 10:30PM at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.
Astronomy Festival - September 5-7, 2013
Great Basin National Park will be hosting it's 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!
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 are scheduled for June 22, July 22, August 20, and September 20, 2013
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. Rules are strictly enforced and you will not be permitted to hike. Call or email for details.
Full Moon Hike Rules
- All participants must have a Full Moon Hike ticket.
- Ages 8 and up.
- 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.
Where to Go
Any location that is open, and away from outdoor lighting, will provide fantastic views. One of the best spots in the park is the Wheeler Peak/Bristlecone Trail parking lot at the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. Though surrounded by trees, which will limit views of the horizon, viewing stars at over 10,000 feet is unparalleled. Mather Overlook, and other pullouts along the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, can provide more panoramic views with fewer obstructions. The , 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