Several times a year I find myself outside on my tiny patio at all odd hours, staring up at the sky in hopes I will catch a glimpse of some spectacular astronomical happening in the skies over Westchester. There are meteor showers, comets, planet alignments, super moons, eclipses, oppositions and conjunctions--not to mention man-made events like shuttle launches and space station pass-overs.
Recently, a friend asked if I knew of any public spaces in the area where the skies are dark enough for stargazing--places that welcome families and amateur astronomers to observe the skies. Happily, there are several places in Westchester and the surrounding area where families can see and learn about the night sky and we've rounded them up for you.
Pack a thermos of hot chocolate, grab some warm blankets and check out these local astronomical viewing sites and activities--one might even say the views are out of this world!
It's worth noting that the annual Perseid meteor shower will peak this year between August 10-13. One of the sites below may be the perfect place for viewing.
Westchester Amateur Astronomers - Pound Ridge
Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, 4 Reservation Road
By far the most well-known star gazing spot in the county, the monthly FREE Star Parties in The Meadow at Ward Pound Ridge offer curious star gazers the opportunity to use high powered equipment--or just an old fashioned blanket in the grass--to observe the happenings of the heavens. Participants are welcome to bring their own equipment or use the equipment set up by the club and knowledgeable star enthusiasts will be on hand to explain the night sky. Starting times vary depending on the season (as late as 8:30pm in the summer or as early as 5pm in late fall) and run from March to November. These parties are open to the public and sponsored by the Westchester County Department of Parks and Recreation and operated by the Westchester Amateur Astronomers club. Check out the organization’s list of “Dos and Don’ts” before visiting to make sure everyone has an enjoyable time.
Rockland Astronomy Club - Stony Point
Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, Harriman State Park
Just a short drive over the Bear Mountain Parkway from northern Westchester (or over the Tappan Zee Bridge and up the Palisades Parkway from southern Westchester), stargazers can join summer Star Parties at the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area sponsored by the Rockland Astronomy club. Similar to the Westchester Amateur Astronomers, these Star Parties are FREE and open to the public whether viewers have their own equipment or are just looking to learn.
Eugene Levy Memorial Park - Pomona
920 Route 45
For a do-it-yourself evening of stargazing, head to Eugene Levy Memorial Park in Rockland County where you'll find a raised stargazing platform creates a flat, dry space for star viewing equipment below an open space of dark sky. Visitors using the platform are permitted to be in the park after dark, otherwise the park closes at dusk. The star gazing platform is open year-round on a first-come, first-serve basis.
If there isn’t a star party happening on the night that you’d like to go stargazing, consider camping out! We recently told you about five fantastic local campgrounds, though we recommend Ward Pound Ridge, Sal J. Prezioso Mountain Lakes Park or Fahnestock State Park for stargazing. These parks are far enough away from the bright lights of New York City and southern Westchester to offer darker skies and a clear view or the stars. Renting a campsite allows visitors to be in the park after normal closing hours, making it easy to find a fantastic spot to watch a meteor shower or look for constellations.
Lastly, though technically not in Westchester, it's worth mentioning Stamford Museum and Nature Center's weekly Observatory Vistors Night. A short drive from many parts of Westchester, this weekly event allows visitors the opportunity to use the observatory’s 22-inch research telescope to view the moon, stars planets and deep space objects. Observatory nights are FREE for members and only $3-$5 for non-members. The observatory also hosts special viewing events for meteor showers and other space events.
Want to watch the stars from the comfort of a planetarium chair? Take a look at our coverage of the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers! And be sure to peruse our Summer Activity Guide for more ideas for summertime fun.
Creative Commons image credit: Ryan Wick