What are the best space/astronomy-related activities and events?
February 23, 2017 7:57 AM   Subscribe

I want to do cool, space-themed activities. Observatories, planetariums, date-specific events like the upcoming solar eclipse, incredible nighttime viewing, etc. What are the best ones in the Northeast US area, and what are the amazing, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime ones nationwide and worldwide?

Which planetariums are the best? Museums, also.
What observatories are open to the public?
What are some cool events coming up in the next year or years that I might want to plan for? (notable meteor showers, visible planets, eclipses, etc)
What are some amazing places I can go to view the night sky in general, or specific phenomena? (I suppose seeing the aurora borealis would fall under this category)

I am based in the Northeast US, tri-state area (generally impossible for any nighttime viewing unless you drive 2+ hours west or north) so would like stuff within about a 3 to 4 hour drive, but would really love to know possibilities for the rest of the US and also worldwide, for long-term planning.

This would generally involve just 2 adults, no kids/family.
posted by rachaelfaith to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It'll cost you, but Smithsonian Journeys' Inside the Russian Space Program tour is on my "if I win the lottery" list of things to do.

If you've ever wanted to spend a night with Discovery, Smithsonian Sleepovers hosts events for kids 8-12 (so you'll need to be the Cool Aunt/Uncle to some willing kids) at Air & Space's Udvar-Hazy Center.
posted by evoque at 8:22 AM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

For a once in a lifetime experience, Mauna Kea Observatories on the Big Island in Hawaii. I recommend going during the day for a tour, sunset in the evening and a star party at night. Absolutely stunning. While on the big island, you can also see Volcano National Park, also pretty amazing.
posted by SJustS at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

My dad had an astrophysics degree and was really into this sort of thing. I grew up in Central MA and one of the things I remember most strongly when I was a kid, even though we probably only did it once or twice, was laying out in the backyard watching the Perseid Meteor Showers. This is a thing you can plan little vacations around and go somewhere dark. Here's a loose schedule but Perseids and Leonids are usually the ones I see up here.

- A lot of amateur stargazing clubs have mailing lists or other ways to let you know when the local observatory has public viewing (many do). Their mailing lists are also good alerts for bigger events.
- planetariums are great because a lot of them are modestly priced and have a number of different shows they do. Here's the one near me up in VT. Wikipedia, as you might expect, has a list of planetariums but this may be a better source.
- the Googleable term for some of this is Dark Sky Tours or Night Sky Tours. There are a lot of parks that have things like this (like this one at Bryce Canyon) and might be worth schedulig a vacation around.
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

The National Park Service offers night sky activities in certain parks around the nation.

The weather didn't cooperate when I was at Badlands in South Dakota, but I'd definitely go back to try there again.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:37 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is also MIT Haystack Observatory in Westford, Massachusetts, a radio telescope facility; their general email is info@haystack.mit.edu.
posted by theredpen at 8:41 AM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Death Valley is an excellent dark sky spot, and if you time a visit right you can join up with a ranger-led night sky viewing tour. One of the benefits of its geography is that, for tremendous stretches of much of the year (not now, it's the wet season) there are few-to-no clouds.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:49 AM on February 23, 2017

The Hayden Plantarium/Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC is a great planetarium. The regular shows are great, but also consider one of the Astronomy Live programs where they actually use their amazing Zeiss star projector.

Most colleges and universities run nights for the public to come look through telescopes these are usually either called a "Public Night" or "Open House." In the tri state area, the ones that Columbia runs are particularly good. But, really, if there's even a moderate sized college or university near you, they probably have a public night.

And similar to the Mauna Kea observing that SJustS linked to, the Kitt Peak observing program in AZ is also quite good.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:38 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Science Getaways
posted by bq at 10:06 AM on February 23, 2017

The Ladd Observatory in Providence is open to the public on Tuesdays when the weather is good.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:19 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

There will be a solar eclipse August 21, not viewable from the northeast, worth traveling to someplace sunny to see, Colorado maybe. Get eclipse glasses - I got some at the Museum of Science for an eclipse in the 90s, and they enabled my son's class to enjoy the eclipse much more.

Subscribe to some skywatching pages on facebook. The nearest university to me has a planetarium and occasionally hosts events, like comet-watching. See what's available in your area. Check out the Dark Sky Assoc.

I'm in Maine and have seen the Aurora Borealis a few times, because I got lucky. Rare, magical, unpredictable. And Maine is overcast a lot. Get in the habit of looking up. I live out of town, where it's not really dark, but dark enough that I have been enjoying seeing bright Venus in the evenings lately. I get home on a clear night, get out of the car, and look up. It's occasionallydark enough and clear enough to see the Milky Way.
posted by theora55 at 2:04 PM on February 23, 2017

I came in to mention Mauna Kea. Consider going with a tour operator rather than on your own. Most car rental companies on the big island explicitly forbid taking 4wd vehicles to the summit and the altitude change can be hard to deal with so you may regret driving yourself anyway.
posted by potrzebie at 3:37 PM on February 23, 2017

You can get free eclipse viewing glasses for just an SASE -- check out 2017solar.com to make sure they didn't run out yet.

(PM me if they did run out: I got four pair and would share. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:24 PM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you're ever in the southern hemisphere, make sure to go somewhere dark so you can see the Magellanic clouds.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:36 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you want to see the solar eclipse this year, make sure you are in the path of totality. A helpful website to guide you:

Path Through the US

Alas, anyone attempting to view it from CO shall be sorely disappointed.
posted by dissolvedgirl22 at 10:11 AM on February 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you're far away, though -- say, CO or New England -- won't you still see something?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:20 AM on February 24, 2017

Sorry about that, and thanks for the correction. New England, nuthin, really. An eclipse is worth the trouble, and if it's cloudy, you'll miss the good part.
posted by theora55 at 4:41 AM on February 25, 2017

Thanks, all.

jessamyn - My dad and I often watched meteor showers while laying on the hood of his car, hot chocolate thermos in hand. I've always been interested in astronomy, but my current beau has rekindled my motivation to find more cool things on this spectrum.
posted by rachaelfaith at 6:13 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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