One of the most amazing parts of an overnight visit to a Virginia State Park is looking up into the sky on a clear night.
Unless you live in a rural area without surrounding houses, you have probably gotten used to not seeing a sky filled with stars. This past February my husband and I rented cabin 3 at Chippokes Plantation State Park. I ran to the store after we got settled and on the way back, when I got our of the car I looked up and the sky was blanketed with stars. Frankly none of the pictures I could find do any justice to what I saw that night because your eye captures the stars at night better than any camera.
Photo Courtesy of the National Science Foundation
Because our parks have a minimum of ambient lighting, the sky is about as dark as it gets and the view particularly awesome. A number of our parks offer stargazing programs where astronomy clubs or organizations bring telescopes out and talk to participants about the night sky. Many of our parks also offer moonlight paddling programs which also afford a great view of the night sky. But all you really need is a clear night and your own two eyes to enjoy! Find programs and events by clicking here.
Star Trails photographed at Caledon State Park
Some times of the year are better than others to view not only stars but what we refer to as "shooting stars" are meteors. Several times of the year we experience meteor showers or an increase in the number of meteors. This video from NASA's YouTube Channel talks about the summer meteor shower called the Perseids.
Star Date, a website from the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, provides a schedule of anticipated meteor showers. Best viewing of meteors and stars will be found during the new moon or before the moon rises or after it sets. Like the houses in your neighborhood, the moon's brightness can be a star spoiler.
For the ambitious primitive camper, try reserving an ocean site at False Cape State Park during the Perseids, camp next to the dunes, and watch. Years ago I spent several August evenings on the beach at Sandbridge to the north of the park and it was fantastic. The park is even farther from Virginia Beach lights. Primitive camping is not for amateurs, so please check out all you need to know before making such plans.
But for a great night sky view, an open area in any of our parks will do. The best advice I have found comes from Star Date:
Treat meteor watching like you would the 4th of July fireworks. Pack comfortable chairs, bug spray, food and drinks, blankets, plus a red-filtered flashlight for reading maps and charts without ruining your night vision. Binoculars are not necessary. Your eyes will do just fine.
Wishing you many happy evenings of stargazing in Virginia State Parks!