Surrounded by dark stretches of water, the North Fork offers some of the best stargazing on Long Island, with the Milky Way frequently visible in summer. And you don’t need expensive equipment to see a lot more of the universe. “Galileo would be jealous of the binoculars or telescopes you can get at Wal-Mart,” joked Steven Bellavia, senior member of the Custer Institute and Observatory in Southold.
Here’s what you need to get started:
A pair of binoculars. “The moon reveals a wealth of detail through binoculars,” said Alan Cousins, director-at-large at Custer. A pair of 7×50 Porro prism binoculars will be handy for both stargazing and nature walks.
A refractor telescope. Look for an 80mm to 100mm refractor telescope on an altitude-azimuth mount tripod. Cousins and Bellavia suggest trying it out in person at Camera Concepts and Telescope Solutions in Stony Brook.
A star map. Custer Institute recommends the printed and online resources from Astronomy magazine (astronomy.com) and Sky & Telescope (skyandtelescope.org). Or download an app like Night Sky or SkyView.
A good spot. The Custer property, Long Island’s oldest observatory, is a designated dark-sky area, open on clear nights for stargazing and offering tours of facility and the night sky on Saturdays (weather permitting). Long Islanders can purchase a StarGazers pass that allows access to state parks after dark; while the chance to buy for 2021 has passed, you can buy a pass for next year starting Sept. 7.
Once you have your stargazing gear assembled, mark these dates for celestial events happening in the North Fork sky this summer.
Thursday, June 10: Partial Solar Eclipse This annular eclipse, best viewed at sunrise, allows for the sun to peek from around the edges of the moon, creating a “ring of fire.” Although we’ll only get a partial eclipse, you still need a sun-safe filter to view it. Get out those special eclipse glasses you bought in 2017!
Sunday, June 20: Solstice At 11:23 p.m., the Earth will be at its maximum tilt toward the sun. The shortest night of the year is not ideal for stargazing, but wonderful for welcoming summer.
Thursday, June 24: Super Strawberry Moon June’s full moon is the last of three supermoon events in 2021, meaning the moon may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.
Wednesday, July 28 and Thursday, July 29: Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower You may see as many as 20 of these shooting stars per hour in late July and early August. Look toward the constellation Aquarius an hour or two before dawn.
Monday, August 2: Saturn at Opposition With its rings and dozens of moons, Saturn is the most exciting planet to view through a telescope. Opposition means it is lined up with the Earth and sun, and thus at its closest and brightest.
Sunday, August 8: New Moon True stargazers love a new moon, when the sky is darkest. August’s offers one of the best chances to spy the Milky Way galaxy.
Thursday, August 12 and Friday, August 13: Perseids Meteor Shower These colorful explosions, created when our atmosphere burns up the debris in Swift-Tuttle comet trail, should be especially bright this year. See them with the naked eye after midnight.
Thursday, August 19: Jupiter at Opposition Jupiter will be brighter than any star all month, and peak around this date. Look for it rising in the east after sunset, and use binoculars to see its four largest moons.
Sunday, August 22: Blue Moon In seasons with four full moons — like this summer — the third is called a blue moon. Enjoy the bonus beauty.