My husband and I have always appreciated the stars at night. We were delighted to read in the cabin book that anyone could borrow a telescope during an overnight stay at Staunton River State Park
Choosing where to set up
While we knew nothing about astronomy or telescopes, the staff at Staunton River State Park guided us and provided reassurance as we made our novice attempt at star gazing.
Due to its rural location, Staunton River State Park has exceptional nighttime skies. The park is working towards receiving a special designation for its education and preservation of night skies. The designation, known as Dark Sky Park certification, is given by the International Dark Sky Association.
If the park becomes certified, it will be the third park on the east coast to receive the certification.Star Parties which are well attended by professional and amateur astronomers.
Our night time adventure actually started earlier in the day. We stopped by the visitor’s center and asked about the telescope loan. The loan was free of charge and only required the completion of a short form. After the form was filled out, a member of the park staff showed us how to use the telescope, offered tips, and provided us with a star chart and the telescope’s instruction manual. We left with the telescope and kind of an idea of what we were doing.
Using the telescope at Staunton River State Park
With clear skies that evening, we chose a spot to set up the telescope. We tried several spots before we decided on the porch table. Using the telescope was awkward at first. We weren’t sure what we were doing. But, armed with telescope’s manual and the instructions we received from the park staff earlier in the day, we turned knobs and changed directions until we figured things out.
The sky charts directed us as we viewed the stars that comprised constellations we were already familiar with like Orion. Later, we picked random stars, viewed them with the telescope, and looked up the names. We saw two shooting stars that evening. Finally, we focused the telescope on the moon when it made its appearance.
The stars and the moon were fascinating to view through the lens of the telescope. We would have missed the shooting stars had we not been so intently focused on the sky. But, the most remarkable part of that evening, for me, was observing many stars that are invisible to the naked eye.
I love that Virginia State Parks provide various opportunities to learn about and try something new. We went from thinking about stars to actually viewing them with a telescope in less than a day. The support of the staff makes it easy and possible for anyone to do the same.