Today is National Meteor Watch Day, and Michigan has many great spots to observe the beauty of the night sky.
According to the National Meteor Society, several meteors are visible every night. Of course, there are many other things to see in the night sky, like the Milky Way, constellations, planets and even the Northern Lights. There are some important factors that ensure that you have the best conditions for stargazing.
1. Get away from light pollution. If you live far out in the country, away from streetlights, your backyard may do just fine. But even a porch light from a neighbor’s house can affect your ability see the stars. You need total darkness to see the full display of light in the night sky.
2. The later, the better. This time of year in Michigan, the sun sets around 9:30, but it’s not completely dark until about 1 hour and 40 minutes later. This is because total darkness doesn’t happen in the Northern United States until the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. So around midnight, it should be completely dark.
3. Watch the moon phases. The brightness of a full moon can also wash the light from the stars out of the sky. Currently, it’s a waxing crescent, and will be visible at 45 percent tomorrow. That’s better than a full moon, but the best nights for stargazing are the days just before and after a new moon, when the moon is virtually invisible.
4. Watch the clouds. You need a clear night to view the stars. Unfortunately, clouds can erase even the most brilliant stars.
5. Find a clear view. Even if it’s dark and the sky is cloudless, trees and buildings may block your view. You need a clear view of the horizon. In Michigan, one of the best places to find that is at a beach along one of our vast Great Lakes.
There are few supplies you might want to bring along also:
- A flashlight to find your way in the dark. One with a red lens that won’t create light pollution is best. You can make your own by simply taping a piece of red cellophane over the lens of a regular flashlight.
- Camping chairs to sit in.
- Refreshments, like coffee and snacks.
- Your camera and a tripod. You’ll need to take long exposure pictures to capture the night sky, so a tripod is essential.
There is one other thing to keep in mind when star gazing in Michigan. It might get cold.
Even if it’s summer, it gets chilly after dark here. And if you’re at the beach after sunset, it can be as much as 10 degrees cooler than it is inland. We’re talking lows typically in the 50s and 60s. If there’s a breeze, it will feel even colder. You won’t need a parka, but bring a sweatshirt or jacket, and consider wearing long pants. A blanket might even be a good idea.
Here’s a list of some of the best places in Michigan for viewing the night Sky:
- Headlands International Dark Sky Park – Located in Emmet County on the Straits of Mackinac, this is the only park in Michigan certified as an International Dark Sky Area.
- Lake Hudson State Recreation Area – Lake Hudson is the only designated Dark Sky Area in Southwest Lower Michigan.
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Sleeping Bear Dunes, surrounded by dense forest with little artificial light, welcomes and encourages visitors who want to stargaze.
- Wilderness State Park – Also located in Emmet County, this park has Lake Michigan shoreline as well that provides a clean view of the night sky.
- Port Crescent State Park – In the Thumb of Michigan, this park is along the shores of Lake Huron.
- Rockport State Recreation Area – This park is also on Lake Huron, north of Alpena.
- Negwegon State Park – A rustic and undeveloped beach along Lake Huron north of Alpena, it offers a secluded place for stargazing.
- Thompson’s Harbor State Park – Another rustic park along Lake Huron, it features clear views of the night sky.
State and National Parks do require admission. Also, be sure the location where you plan to watch the night sky allows visitors after dark.