Camping and Constellations
How to Set Up Camp and Stargaze in Greater Morgantown
The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder, but there is still time to spend a few nights camping outdoors! Grab your camping gear and binoculars for a weekend under the stars with friends and family.
Choose Your Location
We are fortunate enough to have many areas here in Greater Morgantown that are perfect for not only camping, but for stargazing, too. Try Chestnut Ridge Park and Campground for its amazing natural trails and scenery, Coopers Rock State Forest, a well-known outdoor attraction not only for its stargazing opportunities, but for its sunsets as well, or Dorsey’s Knob Park, where you can find some of the best views in town.
Other wooded areas are outfitted for traditional camping with sites for tents or RV hook-ups. The RV sites are equipped with water, electric and sewage, while campgrounds lead to nearby picnic areas and outdoor activities.
Use a Compass
After choosing your location, get your directional bearings with your smartphone that is likely to have a built-in compass application. If your’s does not, do a quick Google search for the best compass app for your type of phone. From here, you can easily select and download one.
No smartphone? Go old school and use a hand-bearing compass, or just look to the west where the sun sets.
Let Your Eyes Adjust
It takes your eyes time to adjust from bright light to darkness, so spend a few minutes in total darkness before stargazing to improve your ability to see fainter objects.
Light pollution from surrounding urban areas can affect our ability to view stars, so make sure you choose a dark enough area for your stargazing.
Look for the Moon
Both a telescope and binoculars will help you to view the moon, perhaps at its prettiest when it is a small crescent in the western sky. This occurs during the first week of each month. The best times to view gaze at the moon is when it is only partially lit. This allows a nice contrast needed to see its craters. Observing at full moon is, ironically, the worst as these features tend to be washed out without shadows to provide contrast.
Try to Spot Planets
Though binoculars won’t reveal much more than your naked eyes can see, a good telescope can show you the polar caps on Mars and some surface features, like the red spot and cloud bands on Jupiter, and most impressively, Saturn’s rings.
Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter often look like stars, but are usually brighter and do not twinkle like stars do. Mars will be brighter and more reddish, while Saturn will look more like a normal star. Jupiter should be one of brightest things visible that you can see in the sky. For an added bonus, wait until it gets completely dark outside and use binoculars to help you scan for impressive star clusters along the Milky Way.
For more stargazing, the WVU Tomchin Planetarium & Observatory is equipped with a 14-inch Celestron telescope. It is open for public viewing on select dates, with no reservations required.