By Erin Laytham Lentz
Skygazing is among the oldest leisure activities. The night sky has fascinated people for centuries. On any starry night, people can enjoy the mystery and beauty of the heavens with a pair of binoculars and a chair. People enjoy gazing at the sky for pleasure or with an astronomical interest. Even naked eye observations of the sky can reveal a great deal about the basics of astronomy. Taking your chair to the beach can produce some spectacular night time sky gazing on Hilton Head Island. Bringing along a telescope can further enhance the opportunity to peer at distant stars, planets and even other galaxies.
As cities have grown, many have become too bright to admire the night sky. Taking in the night sky is a year-round activity in the Lowcountry. Starry nights are meant for lying under the stars and watching supermoons, moon rises and meteor showers. The beach provides a dark and open sky which is a necessity for successful stargazing. The Hilton Head beaches are unaffected by artificial illumination and are an ideal place to gaze. Spread out a picnic supper or take a kayak out on the water for a truly memorable experience.
Skygazing can be rewarding if you know where, when and how. Astronomy can be daunting for beginners so start with learning the constellations or using star charts. Autumn, winter and spring offer the best times to skygaze. From the time the clocks go back in October to when they go forward in March is considered observation season. When the moon is at its fullest is washes out the light from the stars. With no moon at all, the Milky Way can be easily visible across the sky. Simply avoiding times when the moon is full will help you see more. Sea Pines and Daufuskie are some popular and special places to skygaze. Lesser known but ideal viewing spots are Burkes Beach, Mitchellville Park, First Haul Creek Park, Pinckney Island and Paige Island. These spots are sparsely populated during the off-season and the mild Lowcountry climate produces ideal conditions for viewing.
All You Need:
A dark and open sky
A starfinder/guide or sky viewing app
Flashlight with a filter
Check for local calendars of events for stargazing opportunities. The Coastal Discovery Museum has long offered classes and presentations on winter stargazing. The classes begin with a presentation on stars and objects of interest in the winter sky. The classes are followed by outdoor observation and education about specific constellations. Check their website for offerings. www.coastaldiscovery.org