How To See the Milky Way at Big Bend National Park!

Thinking of seeing the Milky Way at Big Bend National Park? Consider stargazing as an activity to do while there. Today I will go over how to make the most of your experience and what you need to know!

Big Bend National Park is known as one of the best places in the United States for stargazing. It has the least light pollution of any other national park. This is because there are no large cities and few towns around this region. Making the area dark in a vast location. I will go over what is needed in order to have the best stargazing experience  and how you can spot the Milky Way while you are out here

Did you know one-third of humanity and 80 percent of Americans have not seen the Milky Way. The Milky Way sometimes called the river of stars is our home galaxy that our solar system lives in. From the Earth, it appears like a band wrapping around the sky because it is a disk-shaped structure that we are viewing from within. This view was seen by most people a little over 100 years ago and used as navigation to new lands and ways to tell stories about our ancestors.

Seeing the Milky Way At Star Parties!

Viewing the Milky Ways and stargazing at Big Bend can be done on your own and I will cover how to make the most of your experience by yourself. That being said it is worth noting that the national park does offer what is called star parties and or moonlight walks, where a park ranger with knowledge of astrology will go over what you are seeing in the night sky. You can find out when they have events here

I joined a star party hosted by the national parks here in San Antonio at the Missions one night in October. This sparked my idea to go out to Big Bend and make it my mission to see the Milky Way for the 1st time finally. I wanted to expand my view of the night sky and gaze upon the stars like my ancestors once did.

How to see the Milky Way at Big Bend on Your Own!

There are three major factors in seeing the Milky Way and they are light pollution, the clouds, and the moon! If you can get these three factors right then you are sure to have a great stargazing goodnight.

Light Pollution

Starting with light pollution, as it is the main factor in why most of us can’t see the milky way from our backyards. Light pollution is the nighttime glow of artificial light that we produce in order to see at night. The more people close together the bigger the ray of light. This glow of light produces a sort of haze covering the atmosphere around us which then inhibits us on earth from the stars behind it. Only allowing the brightest and closest stars and planets to shine through to us. 

You can use this light pollution map to see where the darkest skies are and see that BIg Bend National park is completely dark in and around the area. Making it the perfect location to spot the milky way and do some stargazing.

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The Moon

Since the Moon reflects light from the sun and also creates light pollution on its own, it is best to see the milky way when there is no Moon out. For the best time of the month, you want to plan your trip to happen on a new Moon. A new Moon means no Moon to look at in the sky, it is the opposite of a full moon which is big, bright, and round. The full Moon is the side of the Moon that is being illuminated by the Sun. On a new Moon, we see the side of the Moon that is not being illuminated by the Sun, which makes the Moon blend in with the night sky. This happens once a month.

Use this moon calendar to see when the next New Moon is! Check for the spot where there is no moon on the month you are planning your trip. What I did was check to see when the 1st new moon to happen on a Saturday would be and booked my campsite for that date. Even though the new Moon only happens once a month, the days right before and after are still very dark and you can utilize those dates as well.

 The Clouds

Could coverage is the last factor in needing a great night of stargazing and being able to spot the milky way. Ideally, you want a night with zero clouds in site to not block any of the night sky. You will be find if it is somewhat cloudy or partly cloudy but clear skies are the top goal.

We go lucky in that the night we went it was clear skies all night, unlike the day before and after, which were partly cloudy. Remember that you don’t want anything to cover the sky, blocking your view of the stars. Once you have your dates when it’s near or on a new Moon, you are outside of the light pollution zones and it’s a cloud-free night you are sure to see the milky way and some awesome stars clusters.

Gear To Have

The last thing I want to talk about is what gear is nice to have when stargazing. The 1st would be is a headlamp, preferably one with a red light setting. Human eyes need time to adjust between dark and light and every time you look into light (like the screen on your phone or a flashlight) your eyes have to re-adjust again. Once your eyes adjust they are in their prime state to view the fine details of the stars. Using red light gives you the luminosity you need to be able to see while having no effect on your eyesight needing to adjust.

A rotating star finder (planisphere) This allows you to recognize the constellations and the milky way at any time of night, any day of the year. You can find this in the Big Bend gift shop or buy it online here! This really came in handy when we looking for the milky way and wanted to see what direction it was going to aper. You set it to today’s date and what time it is. Then you face either north, south, east, or west, and it shows you want is right in front of you. 

There are also stargazing books at the gift shop and they all looked so interesting I could not decide which ones to get. If you happen to know any good ones let me know in the comments.

That’s How to See the Milky Way At Big Bend National Park!

I hope this helps you in planning your Big Bend trip. What are you most looking forward in seeing? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy exploring!

Kaylee Janell's signature

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