Cary, NC — With 6 more weeks of winter forecasted by Mr. Groundhog yesterday, it’s a great time to think about bundling up with a warm drink in hand to enjoy some of the best stargazing of the year.
So, to make the most of the available time before spring is upon us, here are some of the best ways to see the night sky lit up in and around Cary.
Why Not Summer?
The best time to go stargazing is from the end of Autumn to the beginning of Spring, at least where we are on the planet. This is not because the Earth’s rotation is giving us any better stars and constellations to look at but it has to do with temperature.
If you have ever been on the highway on a hot day, you will have no doubt seen a shimmering and distortion in the air. That is “heat haze” and when you are stargazing, it can get in the way of your viewing. When the ground is heated up by solar radiation in the Summer or on a particularly hot day, you will see that heat haze and you will not be able to see the night sky as clearly.
So if you are going stargazing, plan to go soon before Summer really hits and also look at the weather forecast. Find some cooler days to choose from, or at least avoid real scorchers.
Thinking About Light Pollution
Even more than heat, the biggest threat to a stargazer is light pollution. Many street lights, business signs and other bright bulbs will cut down on the dark appearance of the sky. This will create difficult conditions to make out any stars or other celestial bodies.
The bad news is that Cary, as fast as we are growing, is in the midst of a lot of electric lights and finding a good spot for stargazing is tough. If you want to find a truly dark sky that is open for stargazing, save for a planetarium or a private observation lounge, the nearest spot is out in Western Pittsboro.
But there are still good spots in Cary. The stretch of Old Apex Road, between the intersections with SW Maynard Road and SW Cary Parkway, is isolated from much of the light pollution in Cary and there is a wide swath around it that is similarly protected.
Locals have also had good luck around some of the area’s lakes and parks. Bond Park, Umstead Park and Jordan Lake offer many wide-open spaces where you and your friends and family can set up a telescope free from much of the light pollution in the region. Cary’s country clubs offer a similar experience but you would need permission to set up there and Jordan Lake remains the best and largest spot nearby.
Groups to Contact
If you are curious about some good places in and around Cary to stargaze, there are some groups to contact. The Raleigh Astronomy Club has a lot of expertise here and even collaborates with some residents who have private observation lounges. The group organizes monthly meetings to watch the phases of the moon, stars, distant planets and more.
Also, if you have not already, Morehead Planetarium is a must for any local space fanatics. Located in Chapel Hill, not only does this center teach about outer space and hold presentations but they are a great resources with news, maps and more.
And before you go out, there are some light pollution maps created by committed fans online. We recommend these two.