Long Island stargazers gear up to catch dazzling celestial events
It’s clear skies ahead for amateur astronomers with public observatories open again, stargazing permits available from Long Island State Parks and dazzling celestial events on the horizon.
Where (and how) can you stargaze on Long Island?
March 31 is the deadline to order a State Parks Stargazing Dashboard Permit ($35, newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com) — which is required if you want to get an unobstructed view. The permit is good through Dec. 31 for after-sunset parking and star gazing at Hither Hills in Montauk, Jones Beach in Wantagh, Montauk Point, Robert Moses in Babylon, Sunken Meadow in Kings Park and Wildwood in Wading River.
If you miss the deadline, some parks may stay open late for “major celestial happenings,” state parks spokesperson Jessica Anderson-Ruiz says.
Sue Rose, of East Meadow, president of the Amateur Observers’ Society of New York, says that beginner astronomers should start by learning the constellations. Free downloadable maps are available at skymaps.com and via smartphone apps such as SkyView Lite and Planet Finder, Rose said.
“As soon as you learn the sky and you look up at it through binoculars, it’s a whole world to see, and with a telescope, there’s a whole world beyond that,” Rose says.
What celestial events can be seen from Long Island?
In the coming months, the planets Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury will be visible at different times, in different areas of the sky, according to Dave Bush, director of the Vanderbilt Planetarium in Centerport. “Throughout spring and summer, you can also spot several fascinating objects outside of our solar system, including star clusters, nebulae, binary stars, red giant stars and more,” Bush says.
Bush adds the best viewing conditions on Long Island can be found in Montauk and Orient, where less ight pollution makes it easier to see wonders such as “the arm of our galaxy, the Milky Way, stretching out across the night sky.”
Fans of shooting stars should mark their celestial calendars for the Lyrids Meteor Shower on April 22 and 23, and the Perseid Meteor Shower, which peaks on Aug. 12 and 13, with up to 100 meteors per hour. The late summer event is “one of the most active meteor shows of the year,” Bush says.
What equipment do you need to stargaze at a Long Island park?
Essential beginner’s equipment includes binoculars ($25 to $700), and “grab and go” telescopes made by Meade Instruments, Celestron and other manufacturers ($200 to $700), according to the Vanderbilt Planetarium-based Astronomical Society of Long Island.
Where else can you go for Long Island stargazing?
Here are the best places to attend an astronomy lecture and, on a clear night, observe the planets, constellations and shooting stars.
AMATEUR OBSERVERS’ SOCIETY OF NEW YORK
Meetings with guest speakers at Hofstra University's Berliner Hall observatory on first Sunday of the month at 1:15 p.m. Stargazing at AOS Observatory at Custer Institute, 1115 Main Bayview Rd., off Route 25A, Southold, 631-765-2626. Open on clear Saturday nights, weather permitting; aosny.org.
ASTRONOMY OPEN NIGHTS AT STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY
Earth and Space Sciences Building, Stony Brook. Lectures are held at 7:30 p.m. on the first Friday of every month when classes are in session, followed by observing through a rooftop 14" telescope (weather permitting). Register at astro.sunysb.edu/openight.
Staff leads guided tours of the night sky through powerful telescopes. Saturday-night observing (weather permitting) from 7 p.m. to midnight. 1115 Main Bayview Rd., off Route 25, Southold, 631-765-2626, custerobservatory.org.
HAMPTONS OBSERVATORY (formerly Montauk Observatory)
Check website for viewing dates and access, as well as for details on frequent lectures, stargazing events and portable planetarium shows throughout the towns of the East End. Arrangements may be made for private star parties and other programs in exchange for a donation. Questions or to join the mailing list for news and event notices: HamptonsObservatory@gmail.com; hamptonsobservatory.org.
HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY OBSERVATORY
Herman A. Berliner Hall, the chemistry and physics building, fourth floor, California Avenue and Huntington Place, Uniondale. Check online at hofstra.edu/astronomy or events.hofstra.edu for stargazing programs open to the public.
VANDERBILT MUSEUM AND PLANETARIUM
Planetarium shows, Friday and Saturday evening admission is $10 adults, $9 ages 62 and older and students with ID, $8 ages 12 and younger. Daytime shows included in general admission: $16, $15 ages 62 and older and students with ID, $13 ages 12 and younger. Vanderbilt Observatory is open at 9 p.m. on Friday nights (weather permitting) for educator-guided observations of the moon, planets, star clusters and nebulae through a 16-inch telescope. Free; 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport, 631-854-5579, vanderbiltmuseum.org.