How to Host a Stargazing Party
Whether you're on an outdoorsy vacation or just getting away from the city lights for a night, one of life's simplest, though most profound, pleasures awaits you: the night sky. Late summer, with its long, balmy nights and vivid meteor showers, is prime time for a break from our usual media-driven, electric-light-saturated environment. Under the right conditions, you can see two or three thousand stars sprinkled across the sky as constellations, distant planets, and even spectacular views of other galaxies.
Why not host a nighttime viewing party that gives you an opportunity to appreciate these natural wonders among friends? We spoke with LLG Events' Lauren Grech, CEO and co-founder, and Teal Nicholson creative director, to get their nest ideas on hosting a star-viewing party that is truly out of this world.
Choose a Date and Send Invitations
Schedule your star search for the right time of month. The Perseid meteor showers provide a fireworks finale to a late-summer night of stargazing. At this time the earth is crossing paths with a comet, which sheds debris that burns up as it enters our atmosphere, resulting in shooting stars. They increase in frequency after 1 a.m. (true midnight during daylight saving time) to a rate of about one per minute. Avoid the full moon. The early phase is best, from the time when the moon is a crescent to half-lit (technically, this is a quarter moon). Then, send out your themed invitations. Grech and Nicholson suggest creating a pinwheel invitation with a center section that rotates around the constellations and spells "Save the Date." Another idea is to create a card that uses hole punches to look like a star constellation. But choosing the right themed details for your event really depends on the final theme you select: glow-in-the dark calligraphy, alien stickers, or celestial prints would be great for a stargazing party.
Pack everything you need to be comfortable-seating, blankets, and citronella candles. Grech and Nicholson even recommend setting up oversized cushions and pillows as part of your functional décor. "A lower tablescape is also a great idea for comfortable star-viewing," explains Nicholson. "Your guests can lie down and view the stars." Have several pillows on hand to accommodate all of your guests, and a few extra pillows for those who may need more than one (this Hearth and Hand with Magnolia Floor Pillow comes with a faux-leather handle for easy toting outside). The cushions and pillows should be placed in the spot that provides the best open-sky view of the stars.
If you live in the city, you may not always be able to see the stars at night. This is due to light pollution in which the lights from buildings and cars essentially block our view of the stars. If you live in a rural area or can get to any of the national parks for an overnight camping stay, you have an opportunity to glimpse the Milky Way galaxy in all its splendor. "Illuminate the tables using little fairy lights," says Nicholson. Candles and luminarias help to set the stage for a dreamy atmosphere that is perfect for star-viewing. You don't want flood lights or other types of lights that overpower the darkness.
Peek Into the Telescope
Urban light pollution obscures all but a few hundred stars. Look for an open area or a high point with a view of the horizon. Start paying attention to the heavens at dusk. The two to three hours after sunset are a special time. Those dots of light moving across the sky are satellites, two hundred miles up, and they are still reflecting the sun's illumination. When the stars are shining brightly, look for the constellations. There are 88 of them in the identification system we have adapted from the ancients, which reflected their mythologies. You might even be able to spot the International Space Station.
While plenty of stars are visible to the naked eye, a quality telescope is essential for guests who want to zoom in to see the details. The Celestron 22303 Ambassador 50 Brass Telescope model comes in stylish brass with a wooden stand. That said, you don't need to invest in a large telescope. Handheld 10-by-50 binoculars can be passed among your guests are a great way to get a closer view of the galaxy. And if your guests have access to pre-printed constellation maps or a smartphone app with a star map, Nicholson says, they can try identifying constellations in the night sky. Send a star map that unfolds with the invitation (this Maps International Constellation Map even illuminates in the dark).
Everything All Aglow
What should your guests wear? For a kids' party, pajamas and slippers are great. For adults, "think all things shiny, glittery, and metallic for attire," says Nicholson. Let your guests know the details of your theme and instruct them on attire for the evening. For the party décor, find inspiration in the cosmos: three-dimensional star ornaments, starbursts and meteors, springy shooting stars, sparkling satellites, and a night-sky blue cloth table runner stenciled with stars. Your menu can follow a cohesive theme: Glow-in-the-dark cocktails, illuminated ice cubes, and constellation-themed cookies and cakes (try our linzer stars, sparkly lemon cookies, shooting star sugar cookies, or chocolate mint crackles baked to look like asteroids) decorated with icing, and edible silver dust and glitter can add to your party's glowing appeal.
Activities and Games
Is it a party for kids? "Have an activity station for glow-in-the-dark items," says Nicholson. You can also add some education activities that teach about the solar system, constellations and space science. Kids can make their own constellations or build their own solar systems using painted styrofoam balls and skewers. On a star map, kids can mark off which stars and constellations that they are able to identify. Stargazers in teams can face in different directions to cover the whole skyscape, but if you see a shooting star, don't tell anybody else to look at it, because by the time they turn around and you point it out, it will be too late. Instead, just sit back, agape, and watch in wonder.