On any given night, it can be hard to find a visible star, let alone a constellation, here in the City. With all of the ambient light, you might think it's near impossible to do any star gazing at all. But even with the neon signs and lights, there are amateur astronomy clubs that gather weekly and find wonders in the nighttime skies, not to mention the university observatories that are open to the public.
For all of these places, kids are more than welcome to come explore, and just need to be respectful of their surroundings and the equipment. First timers should expect to wait a little if sharing telescopes and binoculars with others, and bring chairs and blankets for down-time when you're just looking up and enjoying the sky sans lenses.
Here are 4 places that'll take you out of this world:
AAA (Amateur Astronomers Association)
Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Catskills
Far from letting life under some of the world's most light-polluted skies deter them from actively viewing the night sky, AAA members are dedicated not only to observing the heavens but to introducing the public to the wonders of astronomy. The club hosts regular observing sessions at a number of locations in New York City, and each has its own webpage, with details and instructions on getting there. The annual Urban Starfest happens every Saturday evening in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park in the fall. It is completely free and open to the public, and also free of glare from local lighting and where almost the entire sky can be seen. Many club members and other amateur astronomers bring large telescopes so that they and the public can share in the heavenly views.
The Inwood Astronomy Project
The Inwood Astronomy Project uses the neighborhood and its resources to bring dark skies and celestial wonders to all who come to join them. They meet on Wednesdays at the Baseball Diamonds at Inwood Hill Park, on Saturday nights at the Overlook deep in Inwood Hill Park, at Fort Tryon Park (right by the Cloisters) every third Wednesday of the month and at the NYPL Inwood Branch. Their Star Fest is in April.
Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History
Tuesdays in the Dome
The first Tuesday of every month (from 6:30PM-7:30PM) is a trip through the Planetarium's three-dimensional atlas of the universe and a digital tour through charted space. On the last Tuesday of every month, there is a live presentation under the stars of their Star Projector. It offers a view of the constantly changing night sky, and you learn about the current positions of the Moon, planets, and the stars, as well as visual spectacles like meteor showers, eclipses and conjunctions.
Columbia University Observatory
Pupin Physics Laboratory was also one of the original laboratories of the Manhattan Project, the secret project to develop the first nuclear weapon during World War II. Atop of the laboratory is the observatory, and one of the best places in Manhattan to view the stars. Twice a month there are Open nights, featuring free lectures, slideshows and guided star gazing (the next one is Aug 14). It is a very all inclusive (and free) way to experience the sky, but kids are a bit more seen than heard, especially during the lecture. Pupin Hall also hosts a program called Family Astro, which consists of various astronomically themed educational activities that teach about the Universe and our place in it. Family Astro is hosted a few times a year, so check the website for upcoming dates.
The NY Hall of Science also occasionally has an Astronomy Discover Lab event, the Evening Sky Constellation Show. Check their upcoming events to see when the next event is; it is free with museum admission.
More Astronomy Resources
The Hayden Planetarium has an amazing new space show, Journey through the Stars. Using state of the art computer animation and NASA data, they have recreated a three-dimensional universe and take viewers on a voyage through space to learn about the the birth life and death of the stars.
The Hayden Planetarium also has a website and blog where you can learn about the most recent news in our universe. Their Star-Struck email list gives readers a heads-up for upcoming astronomical events both in the night sky and on Earth.