When I was young, my father and I spent a lot of time exploring the natural world at night. In the summer, we would go for nature walks, armed only with flashlights and curiosity. In the winter months, when most of the biggest meteor showers happen in the Northern Hemisphere, we’d make hot chocolate and sit in the car at 2:00 AM to watch the show.
Looking back, no matter what season or activity, something that stands out to me is that we were always the only ones. On night time summer nature walks, we were the only ones on the trail. Sitting in the country side watching a lunar eclipse, we were always the only ones.
I think night time outdoor activities are seriously underrated. These are my 10 favorite things to do outside at night.
Space is vast, and we’ve barely even begun to explore a fraction of it. It doesn’t matter if you have the world’s most powerful telescope or just a pair of binoculars, there’s always something new to see.
Planet-spotting is one of my favorites. Different planets are visible throughout the year. During the winter, Jupiter is bright in the sky, often appearing near the moon. In the summer, Venus is highly visible at around sunset near the horizon. Other planets, like Venus, Mercury, and Mars are visible at different times of the year.
Another fun thing to do is watch for satellites and see how many you can count. Satellites are often slow moving, fairly dim objects that appear and disappear within minutes or seconds.
There are also much rarer events that can be seen often with the naked eye. Comets tend to come around every few years. I can still vividly remember comet Hale-Bopp with its double-tail. Even rarer are celestial events like super novas, but it’s hard to say if we’ll ever see one in our lifetimes.
Meteors, sometimes called shooting stars, are a pretty common occurrence in a dark night sky. You can easily see several every hour. I like to make a game of not only how many I see, but what color they are. The color of a meteor is determined by the chemical composition of it.
Red meteors are composed largely of nitrogen and oxygen. Green meteors are made of iron. Blue-purple meteors are comprised of calcium, while yellow meteors are made of sodium. Magnesium meteors have a light blue or cyan coloration.
There are a number of meteor showers to see throughout the year too. You can see the Quadrantids in early January, the Lyrids during mid-April, the Perseids in July and August, the Orionids in September and November, the Leonids, arguably one of the brighter showers, during most of November, and the Gemenids in December.
For some people, a vacation might consist of a long flight to a foreign land or a relaxing weekend at a spa resort. For me, nothing beats the relaxation of a camping trip. You could put me in the world’s softest bed and it wouldn’t beat the night’s sleep of a sleeping bag under the stars.
There’s a lot to do when you’re camping, but sitting outside around a fire at night, talking to your friends, or even just sitting peacefully alone, is among my all time favorite things to do outside at night. You might see shooting stars above you and you might hear wolves in the distance howling. There’s nothing quite like it.
Hiking is good for you, that much is clear. Spending time on a hiking trail raises your heart rate, calms your mind, and frankly, soothes the soul. But most people only think of going for a hike while the sun is still up.
Night hikes are a whole different ballgame. Under moonlight, everything looks so different. There’s different critters to see and sounds to hear. But night hiking does come with some additional safety needs. Always bring back up flashlights and if you live in an area prone to predators, be sure to bring with you the appropriate deterrent just in case you find yourself in a situation you need to get out of quick.
Camping trips, night hikes, and late night meteor showers get a little bit more difficult when you have young kids in tow. A great way to start introducing little kids to fun night time activities is to simply go for a walk in your immediate neighborhood.
Once the sun is fully down, grab a flashlight and walk around the neighborhood. See what looks and feels different about your area. Doing this can help kids feel more confident in their ability to navigate their immediate, familiar settings at night.
Another awesome way to get your kids more comfortable with the community at night is to make up a little scavenger hunt of easy to find things around the neighborhood.
This is another really awesome option for people with younger kids. Instead of going for a night hike, that may be too much for a kid, or a neighborhood night walk, which may be too easy, a nature walk organized by a local park or preserve may be the perfect option.
These are usually pretty well populated, and a guide who is well versed with the area will be leading the walk. They’ll be able to point out animals and insects that might only come out at night and make it a fun, educational adventure for everyone.
There are constellations out there that pretty much everyone knows how to find. There’s Orion, the big dipper, and Leo; constellations many of us can find easily. But did you know that there are 88 constellations total?
The sky is full of pictures painted by the stars, first seen by people many thousands of years ago. There are lions, bears, dragons, flying horses, centaurs, warriors, insects, animals, men, women, and even some inanimate objects.
If you’re having trouble finding the constellations, you might try moving to a darker location. There are also smart phone apps you can download to show you where the constellations are.
Yoga is an awesome night time activity and one that I like to incorporate into night hikes. With the cool, heavy air and the night time quiet, yoga in nature after dark is super relaxing.
Yoga has tons of health benefits as well, like increasing flexibility, strength, and mental calm. One thing associated with yoga is deep breathing too. Outdoor air is much cleaner than indoor, so when possible, do your yoga outside!
If you’ve never seen the northern lights in person, add it to your bucket list. It’s really something else. Part of the adventure is probably getting yourself to where you can see them. You have to be pretty far north to make that happen.
Sometimes the lights will dip considerably further south, but travel is almost definitely required to see them unless you’re in Canada or Alaska. The colors can range from green to red to pink depending on a few factors.
When charged particles from the sun excite oxygen atoms, the aurora glows red. When it excites nitrogen, it glows blue. Nitrogen and oxygen both excited create a green hue. Nitrogen particles excited below 100km altitude glow crimson reddish/pink.
Cities around the world often host full moon parties where friends and family gather to appreciate the moon and catch up with one another.