Where can I go stargazing in the Boston area?
November 9, 2009 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Where can I go stargazing in the Boston area? I want to take my wife to see the Leonids next week. Where can we go in the area that's as dark as possible but is convenient, comfortable, and legal?
posted by Plutor to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Someone might know more about this than I do, and it doesn't really answer your question, but the STAHR (I think?) club at Harvard often opens the university telescope for public viewings of interesting events.
posted by jefficator at 9:04 AM on November 9, 2009

How far are you willing to go? Singing Beach at Manchester-by-the-Sea is about an hour's drive north of the city, very little light pollution, and it's pretty. You'd want to bundle up and bring warm drinks, though.

For observatories: Clay Center and the Museum of Science have public viewings.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:09 AM on November 9, 2009

I had some success last year with night photography at the JFK library--The grounds are pretty empty and it can get pretty dark (the building is illuminated, but only on one side). Given that it's federal property, you're probably not going to get mugged.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:10 AM on November 9, 2009

Response by poster: oinopaponton: "For observatories: Clay Center and the Museum of Science have public viewings."

Is the MOS observatory going to be open for the Leonids? Normally they just view on Fridays. It does look like the Clay Center has an event scheduled that night (11/17) but the MOS page doesn't say.
posted by Plutor at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2009

Blue Hills Reservation maybe? Exit 3 off 93 south.
posted by xbonesgt at 9:39 AM on November 9, 2009

The Ladd Observatory in Providence is open to the public, free of charge, Tuesday evenings, from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, weather permitting. Call 401-863-2323 beforehand to check if they're open.
posted by Kattullus at 9:40 AM on November 9, 2009

You're right-- doesn't look like the MOS is open that night. They do have a phone number on the site if you want to make sure, but the suburbs would probably have better viewing anyway.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:42 AM on November 9, 2009

What do you mean by "Boston area?" Are you willing to drive out of the city? A few years ago for the Persieds I drove out on Rt. 2 to the Concord area, found a farm and pulled over. There were a ton of people there all doing the same thing and it was quite a festive atmosphere with everyone Ohhhing and Ahhhhing at the same time followed by a chorus of "Damn, I missed that one!"

Within the city limits you might just want to find a roof deck or a parking garage somewhere. Light pollution will be a problem no matter where you are.
posted by bondcliff at 10:15 AM on November 9, 2009

Also, you might want to check with the North Shore Amateur Astronomy Association. They often have public star parties and viewing nights. They have a few dark sky areas within an hour's drive of the city.

If you're only interested in the meteor shower you'll have no need for a telescope.
posted by bondcliff at 10:19 AM on November 9, 2009

All you really need is a dark, unobstructed field of view. Specifically, based on Astronomy's online piece, an unobstructed view facing east, after midnight. Given that Boston is in one of the more light polluted areas of the U.S. (see map), my guess is that the nearest dark views are probably (a) over the Atlantic Ocean (since you're looking east to see Leo after midnight, which is handy) or (b) Vermont. I honestly don't know how dark things have to be for a major meteor shower, though.

For those who may not know: meteor showers are a naked-eye event that cover most of the sky. No telescopes or binoculars. Though I imagine observatories may be open to the public for meteor shower observation, you won't be using their equipment to see it.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:23 AM on November 9, 2009

The lighthouse at the end of Marblehead Neck might be nice if you are willing to drive.
posted by o0dano0o at 10:31 AM on November 9, 2009

Response by poster: bondcliff: "What do you mean by "Boston area?" Are you willing to drive out of the city?"

I definitely am willing to drive out (in fact, I'm essentially planning on it). I like the "field on the side of a road" thing, but I don't want to drive an hour and then just drive up and down farmroads until I see a crowd. It'd be nice to go out with a destination in mind.
posted by Plutor at 10:57 AM on November 9, 2009

Well, in that case, I know the NSAAC uses Veasey Memorial Park for their meetings and viewings. I've been there once and it was very dark with some decent views. I could just about make out the milky way once my eyes had adapted to the dark. It's probably the darkest place I've been in MA. I don't know if the club has special permission to use it after dark or if it's open at all.

The Blue Hills closes at dusk. You could sneak in easily enough but any place with a view of the sky will also have views of city lights. You could try the golf course at Ponkapoug as well. Light pollution would still be a problem but you'd find some clear views.

My wife and I drove out the Mt. Wachusett area to view comet Hale-Bopp a few years ago. I think we just pulled over once we got to the reservation. It's about an hour from the city and was dark enough for a good view. Further out and even darker would be the Quabbin area.

I've seen some dark skies down the cape, particularly in Nickerson SP in Brewster. If you went even further out to the national seashore the next lights to the east would be in Europe.

Your best bet would probably to head out to the Monadnock region and pull over when you think it's dark enough. If you wanted to make a night of it there are some great B&Bs in the area. An hour from the city would be dark enough.
posted by bondcliff at 11:11 AM on November 9, 2009

There's High Rock Tower in Lynn that occasionally gets opened up for events. They have planned viewings, but I know people who have gone to viewings not on their posted schedule in the past.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:23 AM on November 9, 2009

Despite the unrefined website, observingsites.com is a great resource for finding public observing sites in the US. Here is the map for Massachusetts.

As an added bonus, the host of the site Phil Harrington is an expert in amateur astronomy and lives in Northfield Ma, so you could even contact him. Northfield is about 90 minutes from Boston.
posted by jeremias at 12:12 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to watch the sky from the end of Brant Rock. It's a walk out on a semi-ragged jetty, easy if you're used to climbing/walking on rock. There probably won't be anyone else out there on weekday nights at this time of year, but teenagers still drink out there on weekend nights. There's a new moon next week, so if there's wind or ocean is rough at all you probably shouldn't go out there at high tide. At low tide you can walk out to most of it, and only need the jetty for a short ways. If you don't make it next week, it's a good day outdoors at some other time.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:18 PM on November 9, 2009

The last time I saw a meteor shower, I was off the side of the road in rural Western Mass, and it was incredible. That said, I don't think that setting is required for viewing (though definitely pleasurable!). If you don't want to go too far out of the city, the roof of the Tisch Library at Tufts should be a good spot (though potentially busy, as I'd expect many students/locals to be there).
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:30 PM on November 9, 2009

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