If you’re in the Shenandoah Valley/Blue Ridge Mountains, you can, on a clear night, preferably with no moon, see a splendid display of astronomical delights. From a vantage point high up in the mountains and far from city lights, the stars, planets and constellations display a brilliance not visible from light-dense urban areas.
Shenandoah National Park, of course, is an ideal location for night sky viewing, and two astronomical programs are scheduled that will prove both fun and educational.
Night Skies allows you to join amateur astronomers as they present a presentation on controlling light pollution as you gaze at the stars through telescopes. Held select Fridays at the Big Meadows Area (mile 51, outside the Rapidan Camp Gate), the sessions are free to all park visitors. A blanket, chair, and flashlight are recommended.
In Exploring the Skies, amateur astronomer Frank Perfetti will share with you not only his love for astronomy but also for aviation, which he did as a volunteer at the National Air and Space Museum in D.C. manning a Discovery Station. During his 52 years of flying – 36 of it professionally – he has been witness to some amazing beauty and grandeur as he flew over the country. In the event of inclement weather, a video presentation featuring amazing night sky images Frank has taken over the years will be held in the Massanutten Room at Big Meadows Lodge.
Another event is the third annual Wine Under the Stars Stargazing Event held at Star in the Valley Winery in Strasburg on June 5 from 6 to 10 pm. Enjoy an evening of wine, live music by Mike Richards, and food by Wayne’s Delicious Eats. At dusk, the Shenandoah Astronomical Society will guide you through the objects in the night sky, explaining stars, planets, and constellations viewable above. Star in the Valley is uniquely situated at over 1300′ in elevation and in one of the best locations along the east coast for stargazing. June 5 will bring a new moon, and very dark skies, allowing excellent conditions for stargazing.
Poplar Forest will be holding a Stargazing Event on September 11 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Thomas Jefferson, considered to be one of America’s first astronomers, avidly studied the stars. Click HERE for more details of this event.
To pursue night sky viewing on your own, a great resource to start with is Night Sky Planner. Type in your zip code and get a current map of Night Skies as seen from your location. You can download sky maps of the current month, see a variety of sun and moon data, and get video Nightwatching Tips from NASA. The Spot the Station function allows you to choose your location and see when the International Space Station can be seen crossing the sky.
Banner photo courtesy Virginia Tourism Corporation/John Plashal