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  • © 2024 Kevin McLin / Starwerk 0

Starwerk Resources

Here you will find a set of resources that can help you enjoy the night sky, prepare for venturing into the outdoors and what you should bring along for our programs in order to be safe and comfortable.

Preparing For Your Time With Us

Our programs are outdoors, often in somewhat remote locations. There are a few steps you should take to make sure that your experience is a safe and enjoyable one.

  • Dress for comfort. During the day you might encounter very warm temperatures. You will want clothing that is comforatable for hiking in the sunshine and that will not allow you to be chilled if you stop moving. At night, termperatures can be quite cold. You will want clothes that keep you warm. In addiiton to a coat (and maybe a blanket) you should bring a warm hat and gloves.
  • Bring water and snacks. For midday hikes you will need a full lunch. A thermos of hot coffee, tea or coacoa might not be a bad idea, but water is critical, even moreso than food. We don't advise any alcohol because it tends to dehydrate you, makes you sleepy and inhibits your body from keeping you warm.
  • Arrive early. If we are doing a hike, we cannot wait for late arrivals because it might mean we do not complete the planned route. Similarly, for night programs we will gather before dark and then let our eyes adjust as twilight fades. Headlights and flashlights from late arrivals will ruin everyone's dark adaptation, and it can take many minutes to recover.
  • Bring a light. For night programs this should be a red light. Many headlights and flashlights now have red LED bulbs that are perfect for night sky viewing. They allow you to see well enough to move around safely, but they do not affect your eyes' dark adaption. White lights destroy dark adaptation, and full revovery can take up to 20 minutes.

How To Prepare For Hiking

Most of our hikes are not extremely strenous, but anytime you will be out on a trail for an extended period you should prepare yourself by bringing a few minimal items. The Ten Essentials list on the National Park Service website provides a good overview. We reproduce it below. Obviously, not all these items need to be carried by all members of a party. Emergency shelter and first aid kit are examples. These can be shared by members of a group. Other things, like food, clothing and water, are necessary for every individual. This list should be adapted according to the nature of your trip and where it will be located.

  • NAVIGATION -- Map, compass, and GPS system

    Navigation systems are used when planning your route before your trip, and when you need help orienting yourself in your surroundings during your activity. Know how to use a topographical or relief map as well as your compass or GPS unit before going out.

  • SUN PROTECTION – Sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat

    Sun protection is necessary to protect your skin and eyes against harsh UV rays that are responsible for sunburns and skin cancer. Consider using sunglasses, sunscreen, and hats. Sun-protection clothing such as pants and long sleeve shirts can also help minimize your exposure to the sun.

  • INSULATION – Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear

    Nature is unpredictable. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather conditions. Pack an extra layer of clothing that reflects the most extreme conditions you could encounter.

  • ILLUMINATION – Flashlight, lanterns, and headlamp

    Lighting is indispensable in the outdoors where no conventional light sources can be found. Items include flashlights, lanterns, and headlamps. Headlamps are the preferred light source because they are hands-free. Be sure to pack extra batteries.

  • FIRST AID SUPPLIES – First Aid Kit

    Be prepared for emergencies by packing first-aid supplies with you. Start with a pre-made kit and modify it to fit your trip and your medical needs. Check the expiration date on all items and replace them as needed. Consider including an emergency guide in case you are faced with an unfamiliar medical emergency.

  • FIRE STARTER – Matches, lighter and fire starters

    Fire can be an emergency signal and a heat source for cooking and staying warm. Pack matches (preferably waterproof) and fire starters - items that catch fire quickly and sustain a flame (e.g. lighter). Familiarize yourself with the fire use regulations of your park before heading out. In California, and the Western US in general, campfires are generally prohibited during fire season... This is the season when most of the Starwerk programs happen.

  • REPAIR KIT AND TOOLS – Duct tape, knife, screwdriver, and scissors

    Carry a basic repair kit with you to help repair equipment. The kit should include items such as duct tape, a knife, and scissors. Consider packing a multi-tool, a compact version of many tools that can include a knife, screwdriver, can opener, etc. Be sure to bring any tools specific to your trip and your activity.


    You should always be prepared for the possibility of changes to your trip plans. Pack an extra day's supply of food, preferably no-cook items that have good nutritional value in order to keep your energy high. Salty and easy to digest snacks (e.g. trail mix, nuts, and granola bars) work well for outdoor activities.

  • HYDRATION – Water and water treatment supplies

    Staying hydrated on your trip is of utmost importance! Physical activity increases your risk of dehydration (loss of water and salts from the body), which can lead to negative health consequences. If you’re active outdoors (hiking, biking, running, swimming, etc.), especially in hot weather, you should drink water often and before you feel thirsty. Prepare your water before you need it and do not allow yourself to become dehydrated. Before heading out on your trip, be sure to identify if there are any bodies of water at your destination that you could collect water from and treat using your water treatment supplies.

  • EMERGENCY SHELTER - Tent, space blanket, tarp, and bivy

    Shelter is one of the most important elements during an emergency survival situation. It can protect you from severe weather conditions and exposure to the elements. A tent, tarp, bivy sack, or emergency space blanket are all light weight options for emergency shelter.

What Is There To See At This Time Of Year?

Different parts of the sky are visible at different times of the year

This has to do with Earth's motion around the Sun. See our Article on What Stars Are Visible At Different Times Of Year to understand why. In addition, objects like planets, the Moon and comets have motions of their own. They wander against the background stars constantly. In fact, the word "planet" is based upon the Greek word for wanderer.

The stars themselves are much easier to keep track of. They are in the same place in the sky on a given day at a given time, and changes in their posiitons are only noticeble over immensely long times. You might even say that the stars move like clockwork.

The primary thing to keep in mind is that the seasons in the north and south are reversed: winter in one is summer in the other, and the same for spring and fall. Also, objects that are viewed toward the south from the Northern Hemisphere might be straight overhead, or even viewed toward the north, from a location the Southern Hemisphere. It just depends on the partiuclar celestial object and the location of the observer. These are just things to keep in mind.

The rest of this section gives a general outline of what you can expect to see at different times of year. Keep in mind that the sky visible from the Northern Hemisphere differs from that visible from the Southern Hemisphere, especially the parts of the sky closer to the poles. Our discussion will be mostly concerned with the Northern Hemisphere because that is where we (at Starwerk) are located. At the bottom of the page we link to a few other websites that keep track of things like the phase of the moon, the location of the planets and other changeable aspects of the sky.

  • First, Find Some Dark Skies - The first thing you might want to do is find reasonably dark skies near to wherever you are. The Dark Sky Finder website provides useful informaton for choosing a nearby dark site. Of course, it might be that you are not particularly close to any dark sky area. This will be true if you are in a big city or most locations east of the Great Plains (in the US). However, the dark sky website could still help you find a nearby lcation that is darker than your backyard. It has lots of other useful information about visual observations of the sky, too.

The Milky Way is visible in the Northern summer

  • The Milky Way is visible in the evening from the end of May through late in the fall. This is the brighter part of the Galaxy, the part nearest its core. The Galaxy starts out low in the east in May. It moves progressively higher in the sky as the season progresses. By the first part of November the core of the Galaxy, which is seen far to the south from North America, near the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius, has slipped below the southwest horizon. The more northern parts of the Galaxy gradually slide along the western horizon, moving northward as they set.

The times given above are for the brightest part of the Galaxy, toward its core. The other side of the Milky Way, the part opposite the core, is visible in the winter evenings running between the constellations Orion and Gemini and up past the bright star Capella. The parts of the Galaxy visible at this time of year much fainter than the parts of the Galaxy seen in the Northern summer. However, if you are in a region with dark skies you will still be able to see it.

I should also make clear that I am discussing when the Galaxy is visible in the evening. These hours tend to be more convenient for people. However, you can also view the Galaxy for several months earlier if you are willing (and able) to go out in the pre-dawn hours.

Since the Galaxy is easily visible at the times above, all the kinds of objects that are associated with it are also visible. These include open clusters, bright nebulae like HII regions, planetary nebulae, etc. All of these sorts of objects are associated with young stars, and those are mostly confinded to the galactic disk. An exception to this rule are globular star clusters. They are not part of the Glactic disk at all, they are part of the halo. However, since the halo is centered on the disk, there are many globular clusters visible when the summer Milky Way is visible, but they are visible at other times, too.

Of course, when the Milky Way is dominating the sky, it blocks our view of objects that are not inside it - and plenty that are, actually. That means that we do not see very many galaxies durning the Northern summer and Winter. Other galaxies are best viewed in the spring and fall, in either hemisphere, when the Milky Way is not high in the sky.

So the upshot of all this is that if you attend one of our programs in the summer you are likely to see the brightest part of the Milky Way, as well as lots of star clusters and regions of active star formation. If you join us in the spring or the fall, you will likely see lots of galaxies, but the brightest parts of the Milky Way will not be easy to see. In fact, they might not be seen at all. So if you have an object or set of objects that you are keen to view and discuss, be sure you book a time when your objects will be visible.

Below we give a listing by season of which objects are easy to see.

Visible Objects By Season

Here we provide a selection of prominent and well-known objects that are easily seen in the various seasons. Keep in mind that seasons in the Southern Hemisphere will be the opposite of these. So summer is winter, spring is fall.

March to May (Northern Spring)

  • Proment Constellations: Virgo, Boötes, Leo, Cancer, Ursa Major
  • Galaxies: M51, M65, M66, M81, M82

June to August (Northern Summer)

  • Prominent Constellatiions: Hercules, Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Corona Borealis
  • Star clusters (M3, M4, M10, M11, M12, M13, M15...),
  • Nebulae (M20, M8, M17, M27, M57...), MW core

September to November (Northern Autumn)

  • Prominent Constellatiions: Pegasus, Andromeda, Perseus, Cassiopeia, Taurus
  • Galaxies: M31, M33
  • Star Clusters: Pleiades, Hyades, Double Cluster in Perseus

December to February (Northern Winter)

  • Prominent Constellations: Orion, Gemini, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Auriga, Taurus
  • Nebulae: M1, M42

The listings above are just to give an idea. They are not even close to complete. They also make it seem that the Northern Winter is not a very interesting sky. On the contrary. It is one of the most impressive skies to view by naked eye. This is because it has more bright stars collected in close proximity than can be found in any other season - though the (Northern summer) Milky Way is pretty impressive too. In any case, Starwerk does not currently plan to operate programs in the winter. It is too cold. Perhaps we will eventually expand to the deserts of Southern California where it is warmer, and where the skies are often spectacular.

Some Night Sky Resources

There are many resources available on the Web that list or describe what is upcoming in the night sky. Several are listed below.

  1. Heavens Above - A listing of what us up in the sky on any given night. This is focused on visual (naked eye) observations and can be customized for location and time. Limited to solar system and Earth-orbiting objects, both natural and artificial. So if you want to know when the Hubble Space Telescope or the International Space Station will pass overhead, this is the place to check.

  2. In The Sky has a nice listing, and a calendar, of events happening in the night sky. So does Stardate, the popular radio program.

  3. Photographer Alyn Wallace has a YouTube channel on which he describes what will be visible in the night sky every month.

  4. You can explore the sky on your computer to acquaint yourself with what will be visible in your area. There are several excellent planetarium software package for doing this. One of the best is Stellarium, which is free and runs on just about any computer platform. They even have a web-based port. Or if you want to go a little fancier, our favorite package is SkySafari. It is not free, but they have several different price levels with different users in mind. The entry level is quite affordable. SkySafari runs on Mac OS and even comes in versions for mobile devices. The same company offers another package called Starry Night that runs on both Mac and Windows. And there are other packages, too, but these are the ones we use and know best.

  5. Find a dark sky area near you. Starwerk supports the efforts of the International Dark Sky Association to preserve and promote dark skies around the globe. Visit their website to find a dark sky area near you... Or to at least to find the closest one, even if none are particularly nearby.

© 2024 Kevin McLin / Starwerk