Where To Go
Almost anywhere in the park will provide you with beautiful views of the night sky. Look for somewhere with an open horizon. Mather Overlook on the scenic drive is an excellent spot. For lower elevations, try the Baker Archaeological Site near the town of Baker.
When To Go
Look for a clear, moonless night. A bright moon will obscure fainter objects, so check the moon phase before making plans. Watch the weather forecast and beware of any oncoming storms. Summer nights are the best times to view the Milky Way.
What To Bring
- Extra layers, a jacket, and a hat. Summer nights can be cool.
- A blanket or chair.
- Binoculars - 7x50 binoculars are comparable to entry level telescopes.
- A star chart, which can be purchased at a visitor center and many bookstores.
- A red flashlight or headlight to read the star chart.
What to look for depends on the time of year you go. A star chart will help you identify what you are seeing. It will also show you the locations of the most prominent constellations in the northern hemisphere. Remember that stars twinkle and planets don't. If an object is moving quickly and not blinking, it is a satellite or possibly the International Space Station. Here is a helpful planet viewing guide, and information about satellite flyover times.
The Milky Way galaxy will appear as a cloudy, silvery streak across the sky. Our view is from the inside looking out. In summer, we are looking towards the center of our galaxy, so it will be denser and therefore a bit easier to see. Everything we can see with just our eyes from our location is within the Milky Way galaxy, with two exceptions: the Triangulum Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy.
If you see a "shooting star", this is a meteor, a small debris fragment burning up in Earth's atmosphere. The best opportunities to see these are during meteor showers. If you come to the park at the right times, you might catch the Perseids in August, the Orionids in October, the Leonids in November, and the Geminids in December. Check out which meteor shower you may be able to see.