In our opinion, one of the best parts about Washington, DC is the Smithsonian. Nineteen museums and galleries are filled with centuries of history right in our backyard. However, sometimes our friends at the Smithsonian have to take us outside the city. Last Saturday, we joined the Air and Space Museum at Sky Meadows State Park for an event they call Saturday Star Parties. This evening of star gazing is a great opportunity to escape the city lights, enjoy the beautiful night sky, and learn a little about space from the experts.
Sky Meadows State Park is about 45 minutes away from Washington, DC. While it is far enough away to escape the city lights, it is not far enough to require a lot of advanced planning. The event begins about an hour before the sunset, giving your eyes plenty of time to adjust to the dark.
We attended this event last weekend (July 6) and last October. In both cases, the weather cooled down substantially after dark – do not be fooled if it is a warm afternoon in DC. In the summer months, bring a light jacket or sweatshirt. In October, we were bundled up in hats and mittens – lots of people brought hot chocolate in thermoses as well!
This event is perfect for an off beat date night or evening event for the whole family. During the first hour, the Air Space Museum presents the “Junior Astronomer” program, which engages the audience in space facts and trivia. While it is designed for the little ones, everyone can join in. We thought it was entertaining to watch all the parents try to answer the trivia. If trivia is not your thing, you can also spend this time lounging in the grass and enjoying the sun set.
Once the sun is set, the real fun begins. Tour guides scatter through the large crowd with special laser pointers to point out constellations. The guides will share various stories about Greek mythology and astronomy facts. For those that prefer a more up-close view of stars, there are also local astronomy enthusiasts with powerful telescopes. They are all friendly and
eager to share their own experiences with backyard space exploration. Visitors are encouraged to walk around to listen to different stories and check out different telescopes.
Depending on the season, weather, and galactic events, you will always get a different experience each time you go. In October, the focus was more on the mythology and storytelling. Last weekend however, we spent more time interacting with the local astronomers and looking through the telescopes at views of Saturn, star clusters, and galaxies within view.
This event runs once a month from April to November. The skies change with the seasons so different constellations will be in view. The hours of the event also change as the sun sets later in the spring and earlier in the fall, so be sure to check the website before you go. The event is free and runs until around 11:00 PM, but there is a $5 parking fee per car. If it rains, only the Junior Astronomer program is presented and the gates close at 9:00 PM. You can find dates for the next Star Party on the Air and Space Museum website.
Star gazers of all ages
Event is free, parking is $5 per car
What to bring:
- Blanket or folding chairs
- Warm clothes
- Bug Spray
- Comfortable shoes
- Flashlight (cover with a paper bag or red filter)
11012 Edmonds Lane
Delaplane, VA 20144