We went on an epic camping trip last weekend – 21 adults, 20 kids, and a HUGE telescope. I first met the team from The Travelling Telescope ages ago – a chance encounter that left me with the idea to plan a fun astronomy camping trip. This month, I finally got around to organizing it, and I am SO glad I did. I swear, there is no better way to spend the weekend than gazing at starlit skies!
Camping and stargazing are truly perfect partners. Spending the night outdoors, away from the big city lights, even the naked eye can see the immense beauty of the night sky. Whenever we go camping, sitting out under the stars is one of my favorite activities. But nothing compares to gazing at billions of stars with the help of a telescope!
Chu and Susan from The Travelling Telescope arrived at our campsite (to great fanfare from all the children!) and started setting up the telescope. By the time the sun began to set, they were ready to start us on our tour of the skies. Both Chu and Susan are serious astronomy enthusiasts (cute side story: they met in 2013 at Lake Turkana, while viewing the solar eclipse!), and they were an amazing source of information about everything in the night sky. They spent the evening regaling us with tales about the constellations, and sharing countless facts about the moon, stars, and planets.
We saw so many amazing things, that I honestly can’t figure out how to write about all of it in a narrative format. So here’s a list!
- The Orion nebula: a star-forming region found in Orion’s sword
- The Crab Nebula: an exploded star at the end of its life, after a supernova in 1054 AD (how crazy is that?!?)
- A double star: one star with another star orbiting around it
- Jupiter and 4 of its moons (Ganymede, Io, Europa & Callisto – we also learned about a million cool details about the moons of Jupiter, including the fact that Europa has an ice crust on its surface with a salty ocean beneath – maybe the most likely place in our solar system to find life outside of Earth!)
- Saturn and its rings (which are made of ice and dust, and are THOUSANDS of kilometers wide and one kilometer thick – this blew my mind!)
- The Pleiades or “Seven Sisters,” (or “Subaru” in Japanese, which is where the car maker’s logo comes from!): an open star cluster full of young stars, formed within the last 100 million years
- The Milky Way and its spiral arms, which is one of the most beautiful things in the night sky, in my opinion!
I’ve saved the best for last: the moon. You guys. THE MOON. It is absurdly beautiful, and so incredible to see up close through the telescope. It was enormous, it filled the entire view when looking through the eyepiece, and it practically blinded me with its brightness! We saw the landing zone for one of the Apollo missions, dozens of craters, double craters (craters within a crater), and the shadowy line that separates the dark side of the moon from the light side – comically called “the terminator.” I could have happily sat there and gazed at the moon for hours on end. It was truly fascinating, and a wondrous sight. I’m still dazzled by it!
As an added bonus, we also saw pretty much everything one could possibly see with the naked eye at this time of year: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and the International Space Station even passed overhead! We all waved hello, hoping that some of the astronauts inside were waving right back at us… 🙂 As the sun began to rise, we were treated to one more celestial spectacle. We looked to the west, opposite the rising sun, and saw what looked like the sunrise, but was actually a phenomenon called anti-crepuscular rays. One last treat in the sky!
I have to say, it’s been nearly a week since our camping trip, and I cannot stop thinking about all the amazing things we saw and learned. I feel like my mind was opened, and just thinking that man has walked on the moon, and that the stars we see are hundreds or thousands of lightyears away and might be coming from a star that no longer even exists, or that one of Jupiter’s moons (Io) has hundreds of active volcanoes, or that the craters on our moon are the result of giant meteor and asteroid impacts, many of which happened millions of years ago – well, it certainly makes Earth seem quite small in the grand scheme of things.
Thank you so much to Chu and Susan of The Travelling Telescope team, who taught us so much and made the evening (and early morning!) so much fun. I am completely inspired, and we have already begun shopping for our own little telescope so we can check out the heavens whenever we like.
If you want to spend your own evening checking out the night sky with The Travelling Telescope, you can either join one of their regular stargazing events in Nairobi (the next one is on 12 March at Hillcrest School – see details below!), or you can contact them directly to organize your own stargazing camping trip! (Check out The Travelling Telescope website and Facebook page!) It was an experience of a lifetime for our family!
(Lead image of campsite under the stars via Zach Dischner / Flickr. Animated night sky image via Bureau of Land Management / Flickr. All other night sky images courtesy of Daniel Chu Owen / The Travelling Telescope.)