Star bright: how to plan a winter star-gazing picnic!

Ready for a magical winter experience? Light up the long evenings by taking your kids for a star-gazing picnic—we've got meal ideas that will stick to your ribs, advice on what to look for, and even sky-cams if you end up picnicking in your living room.

With sundown around 4:30 p.m. (and sunrise around 8 a.m.) across BC this month, it's the perfect time to take your kids for some unforgettable stargazing right in your own backyard. Get inspired with ideas for pre-gazing dishes you can make that will warm you to your toes, and check out some of the amazing things you can spot together in BC's January night skies!

How to prep: 

Dress warmly, pack some thick blankets to get cosy under, and fill up together before you head out into a chilly January evening. Soup is easy to prep (we’ve even got one you can make in five minutes) and these other cold-weather dinner ideaslike pumpkin chili—are sure to stick to everyone’s ribs. For the picnic part, bring energy-packed snacks with you: not only will they help you stay warm, but packing something a little out-of-the-ordinary will help your family feel like it’s truly special occasion. You can make your night time picnic really magical and roll out some star-shaped cookiesbut for heartier fare, try bringing popcorn, muffins, peanut butter filled chocolate cookies or energy balls. Don’t forget a thermos full of your family’s favourite hot beverage (you can’t go wrong with mulled cider, or hot chocolate with a dash of vanilla in it!). 

What to spot: 

The further out from the city you go, the more stars will appear—but city dwellers, don’t despair. Some of the brightest objects you can spot in our skies—like the International Space Station, the full moon and the planets—are visible even in Vancouver's light-polluted sky, so whenever there’s a break in the grey this winter, keep looking up! 

To spot the International Space Station from your city or town, sign up for NASA’s Spot The Station email alerts—you can specify whether you’re more interested in early morning or evening alerts, and you’ll get a reminder email at least once a month that will not only tell you what to look for, but exactly what time you’ll be able to see it overhead. Once you’ve spotted the space station once, you’ll recognize it every time—look for a fast-moving object that’s as bright as an airplane, but that doesn’t have blinking lights. 

The full moon is on the night of the 12th - it's easy for little ones to spot and magical to watch together.

Ever notice a very bright star in the sky and wonder what it was? Chances are, you spotted a planet—five of our solar system’s planets are visible with the naked eye from Earth, and this January you’ll be able to enjoy spotting almost all of them with your kids. A good astronomy site will tell you exactly where and when to look, but here’s the easiest guide: Look for a very bright white Venus this month high in the west right after sunset. You should also be able to spot Mars after sunset - look for a red star in the west, close to Venus. In the mornings, Mercury will be bright and low in the eastern sky just before sunrise, Saturn will be a fainter morning star, and Jupiter will be one of the brightest stars in the sky before sunrise in the south-east. You may find it easiest to print a map or use a star-finding app to help you spot them.

Indoor astronomy:

Rained out? Don’t worry. If you’re on BC’s coast, grey and rainy might be all you see of the sky for a while—but it doesn’t have to stop your fun. Picnic in your living room and explore the skies with these amazing sky-cams instead. They’re lovely as a soothing background while you prep dinner—and you can even talk to the astronauts on the International Space Station via Twitter while you’re at it!

    The International Space Station has a camera permanently pointed at Earth—see if you can spot Canada as it rolls under you!

    The Canadian Space Agency has a breath-taking Aurora web cam, so that even the most urban families can enjoy the northern lights. 

    And Prince George is the base for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada—so check out their skycams both here and at the Shane Observatory

    Looking for other cosy family winter evenings to enjoy together? Check out our guides to planning your own movie night and games night; or cuddle up with our favourite after-dinner reads! We're always sharing recipe and activity ideas on Facebook and Instagram, so don't forget to join us there too.

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