Whether you’re camping in New Mexico’s Cosmic Campground or trying to catch sight of Venus’s bright orb around sunrise or sunset, summer nights seem to invite us to look up at the twinkling sky and wonder at our place in it all. Stargazing and toasty bonfires just go together, like cecropia trees and Azteca ants.
As part of our ongoing Summer of Wonder series, we recently asked readers on our Facebook page to tell us about their favorite stargazing memories. We compiled some of the most heartwarming and hilarious responses below, from meteors showering down on a newly eloped couple in Big Sur, California, to happening upon a friendly astronomer on top of a mountain on Hawaiʻi’s Big Island. If you’d like to join the conversation (and potentially be featured in other Atlas stories throughout the summer!), watch for more opportunities to share on our Facebook page. We can’t wait to hear from you!
A Meteor Tradition
“In the mid-1970s, my dad had a farmhouse, barn, and one-room schoolhouse in central Ohio. He was not a farmer, but he liked living in the country. Every year in early August, my parents would invite friends over to watch the Perseid meteor showers. After grilled fresh corn, burgers, and hot dogs, we’d drag blankets and lawn chairs out to the field and watch the skies. The meteors would streak across the starry sky, some fell slowly and faded. At the peak, there would be one a minute. This was an annual event until my parents sold the farm and moved to Florida. I was grown and gone by then, but I didn’t forget. I would find dark skies in the Texas Hill Country and head out at 4 a.m. with bleary-eyed friends to watch meteors. Years later, I would rouse my young daughter before dawn to see the dark sky on the edge of the city. We’d stop for doughnuts and cocoa, lay out the sleeping bag in the bed of the truck, and watch the sky.
My dad died last year. In his last days, he apologized for not being more present. I assured him that he left me many gifts, most notably the meteor habit. Thanks to him, I have been watching the Perseids for 50 years.” —Faye Hanson, New Hampshire
Freezing for a Blood Moon
“On January 21, 2019, my family and I braved the extreme cold to look at the blood moon. We drove up to the top of a large hill in my neighborhood and took turns sprinting outside and looking at the moon for a few minutes before rushing back to the car to get warm again.” —Conall RT, Washington D.C.
Dark Skies and Patience
“In 2019, my husband, my four-year-old son, and I went to Utah. I knew that Canyonlands National Park was a designated ‘Dark Sky’ park, so I planned the day around stargazing. We set out later in the day. I packed a picnic dinner. After watching the sunset, my husband and son started to get antsy to go back to the hotel. I reminded them that we were supposed to stargaze and that it would take a while for the sky to get dark enough, but no dice. Eventually, one star came out and they were both like, ‘Ok can we go now?’ I gave up and drove back in a snit, furious that their impatience cost us a unique opportunity. Fast forward to 2022, we made a trip to Shenandoah National Park. One night I convinced my husband and son to check out a meadow down the road where we might get a look at some stars. It turned out there were tons of people out stargazing and it was practically a 180-degree view of the milky way. My husband was so amazed that I had to drag him back to the hotel.” —Kate Lynch, Haddon Township, New Jersey
Benefits of a Blackout
“Back in 1986/87, I was on USS Nimitz on a North Atlantic tour. We were in blackout conditions, so no external lights. We were up along the coast of Norway, and I thought it’d be cool to see the stars. I was extra lucky because the northern lights were just amazing. I’ll never forget those northern lights filling the sky with color and motion.” —Steve Emerson
“My ex-husband and I were in Hawaiʻi on the Big Island. I wanted to do a ‘tour of the night sky’ but I didn’t realize you had to pay for it. We went up [to an observatory], wearing shorts—it was cold. About that time, this car comes flying up the mountain with [blinding] bright lights. We were looking for a restroom next to the observatory when the guy from the car comes over with keys to open the building. He was an astronomer and told us if we helped him pull out his telescope, he’d let us use the bathroom. The scope was huge, about 7 feet tall and 3 feet wide. He told us to stick around if we wanted to see some cool stuff, so of course, we did! The telescope was so amazing we were able to clearly see galaxies colliding, the spirals intertwining. It was a pretty amazing night!” —Rebecca Van, Florida
“I was traveling alone in Brittany, France, staying in a youth hostel about 2 miles from this cute little medieval village called Dinan. I went to see a movie and on the walk back it was very dark. The hostel was in an old mill and I was walking beneath huge trees in this river valley. I could hear the water running next to me and I remember I would hide from cars as they drove by because I was nervous to be on my own. Suddenly, the trees gave way to the sky and there were stars everywhere. That was when I first experienced what I came to learn is often called the ‘oceanic feeling.’ I felt a oneness and peace that I’d never experienced before or since. I tried to hold onto that understanding, but all that’s left is the memory.” —Rachelle McCoy, Austin, Texas
“I once saw something remarkable I’ve still never figured out the name or explanation for—northern lights, I assume, but not the kind I always see in photos. These were rings of light in different colors radiating from a particular point in the sky to the horizon in short bursts. Like ripples from dropping something in water, or—I’m guessing—whatever reaction was happening spreading horizontally across an upper layer of atmosphere. This was in northern Wisconsin at a summer camp where I used to work about 20 years ago. Definitely the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen in the sky.” —Andrew Thompson, Winona, Minnesota
“My husband and I eloped in Big Sur in November 2012. My favorite stargazing memory is hiking to the top of the hill behind our cabin that night (we stayed at Deetjen’s—a true gem!) and looking out over the pitch-black of the ocean at more stars than we had ever seen. We saw several shooting stars, which we learned later were part of the Taurid meteor shower. When we got our wedding photos back, we realized there is even a meteor visible in the background of one, since the photos were taken at dusk. Truly magical! (And of course, when we took our kids back to the same spot for our 10th anniversary last year, it was overcast both nights, so stargazing was a bust!)” —Renée Hesketh, Roseville, Michigan
Way Off the Grid
“In 1984, my now-husband was in his first field season at a research station in the tundra near Churchill, Manitoba. I was spending the summer waitressing in Churchill but managed to wangle my way onto a helicopter to visit him in camp for a few days. One night, I was coming back from the outhouse in the pitch black, and happened to look up—a small green point of light started to move, and over the next 30 seconds, it boiled across the sky in huge eruptions of pink and green. It was the most amazing display of northern lights I’m ever likely to see!” —Leslie Ambedian, Toronto, Canada
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.