There is no sight more spectacular than a star-filled sky.
Whether you want to try to discover new far-flung planets with your telescope, or simply marvel at the mysteries of the universe with your family, stargazing is a fantastic campervan holiday activity.
So, what should you know before you set off on your journey of celestial discovery? What equipment should you take, and where should you go?
While we hate to bring you back down to earth, have you got suitable insurance for your campervan to keep your vehicle covered while your mind is on higher things?
Read on for our guide to stargazing in your campervan.
When to go
When you’re on a campervan holiday, you’ll often stumble across a perfect stargazing opportunity. You’re sitting round a campfire when you happen to glance upwards – and there are the heavens!
To maximise your chances of a truly sparkling stellar experience, though, you need to plan your holiday.
The best season is late autumn, winter and early spring, as this is when the nights are longest. Twilights after sunset and before sunrise are also shortest during this season, maximising the time that stars are visible in the sky.
If you just want to admire a sky twinkling with stars, then choose any days except those around the full moon, when the sky is too bright.
For the very best astronomical experience, when you’re most likely to be able to pick out the furthest stars, choose the dates around the time of the new moon when the sky is at its very blackest.
If you’re keen to see certain stars, constellations or meteor showers, you’ll need to choose the right time of year – see below for details, or check out this handy calendar of astronomical events.
Sadly, it’s harder to predict when there will be cloud cover!
Remember to take extra precautions if driving at night. You’re likely to be tired, and visibility will be reduced. Drive carefully, and make sure you’ve got suitable campervan insurance.
What to pack
One of the beauties about stargazing is that you don’t need to pack anything special if you don’t want to. Simply lie back in the open, gaze upwards, and enjoy the universe!
However, your stargazing session will probably last longer, and you’ll get more out of your new hobby, if you make a few basic preparations.
Staying warm is the big issue here: even in the summer, the temperatures can drop in the open countryside at night. Winter is the best time to go stargazing, so wrap up warm! Hats and gloves are a must, as are lots of layers.
You might like to get yourself comfy by lying on a mat under a duvet or in a winter sleeping bag. If you’re using a telescope or binoculars, you’ll need chairs to sit on. Or why not just lie in your camper and fling open the door?
A torch is helpful, but keep it switched off as much as possible to let your eyes adjust to the darkness.
If you’re keen to learn more about the astronomical objects you’re seeing, then there are great books and star charts available. A planisphere is an adjustable circular map that shows the night skies at different times and places.
These days, of course, you can download stargazing apps to your smartphone which will help you identify the constellations and find out more about them.
Finally, once you’ve had your fill of celestial wonders, you’ll have everything else you need to hand in your campervan.
Why not nip inside, make a warming brew, and let your toes thaw out a little? Your campervan is your home base for countless rich life experiences, so make sure you protect it for years to come with camper insurance.
Where to go
Your perfect stargazing spot has three main components: no light pollution; a clear skyline; and easy public access. That’s really all you need.
The UK Dark Sky Discovery partnership is a network of astronomy organisations that has compiled useful info for would-be stargazers, including a map.
Wherever you are in the UK, you’ll find a suggested spot near you – perhaps just a nearby hill or park where you will be away from the city lights.
However, if you want to make a proper break of it, you can head to an official Dark Sky place – a larger area that has been internationally recognised for its star-spotting potential.
In the UK, Dark Sky parks and reserves include the Brecon Beacons in Wales, Tomintoul and Glenlivet in Scotland, and Exmoor in England.
Or you could head further afield, perhaps to Albanyà in Spain, the Alpes Azur Mercantour in France, or Kerry in Ireland.
There are over 130 Dark Sky places worldwide, so you’re sure to find one you’d love to visit. With specialist insurance for campervans from Motorhome Protect, you can get cover for unlimited mileage around the EU, so there’s no stopping your stargazing adventures!
What you can see
Did you know that it’s believed that astronomers have so far discovered just 4% of the universe? And that the observable universe is thought to be 93 billion light years in diameter? And that there could be more than one universe?
It’s all completely mind-boggling. Fortunately, it’s possible to start small.
Well, not really ‘small’: even the North Star is about 50 times bigger than the Sun, which is one million times bigger than the Earth.
But let’s look at some of the astronomical objects you could spot. An online planetarium such as Stellarium will help you work out where to look from your location on any given date.
We often use the word ‘stars’ to mean any shining object in the night sky that’s not the moon. But really, stars are just one of the things you’ll see.
These huge balls of gas, thousands or even millions of kilometres in diameter, emit radiant energy. There are about 9,000 visible to the naked eye, though the second closest after our own sun, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years away.
Sirius, or the Dog Star, is the brightest, followed by Canopus. Polaris, or the North Star, is the only one that appears to remain stationary, and is therefore used for navigation. Meanwhile, Betelgeuse is distinctive due to its reddish colour.
Constellations and asterisms
Ancient civilisations were even more transfixed by the stars than we are today. They found patterns in the night sky that resembled people, animals or objects, and developed mythologies around them.
We still refer to many of these constellations, but astronomers also call patterns of stars “asterisms”.
From the Northern Hemisphere, there are five constellations clustered around Polaris that can be seen all year round: Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Probably the most famous is Ursa Major, also known as the Plough or the Big Dipper: it consists of seven stars in a ladle shape.
There are many more constellations that are visible only seasonally. Orion is easy to find in winter and spring: look out for its bright, three-star belt. In the summer, you’re likely to spot Cygnus, or the Northern Cross.
Planets are often the easiest celestial bodies to spot as they’re far closer to us than any star.
At a mere 25 million miles away, Venus is just next door in galactic terms. It’s the brightest of all the astronomical objects.
It’s easiest to spot just after sunset or before sunrise, depending where it is in its orbit of the sun, and is known as the ‘Evening’ or ‘Morning Star’.
Mercury is the smallest planet visible to the naked eye but can only be seen in the evening in April and May, or the morning in October and November. For that reason, it’s sometimes called the ‘Elusive Planet’.
Mars is easier to spot. Tt’s larger, nearer, and known as the ‘Red Planet’ for good reason. Jupiter and Saturn are much further but are huge enough to be visible from earth.
To spot distant Neptune or Uranus, you’ll need a telescope.
Meteor showers or shooting stars
One of the most exciting celestial events to observe is a meteor shower or shooting stars. Simply lie back, let your eyes grow accustomed to the dark – and you could spot dozens of bright flashes across the sky.
At certain times of the year, you stand a great chance of spotting meteor showers. The Perseids in August, the Orionids in October, and the Geminids in December are just a few of the annual showers that you could plan a campervan trip around.
No, they are not really stars falling out of the sky: they are debris from comets burning up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
While you don’t need to worry about them, there are plenty of other accidents that could befall your campervan, so make sure you get good campervan cover!
Comets, which Nasa describes as “cosmic snowballs”, orbit the sun. When they get close to the sun, they heat up and start spewing dust and gases, forming a giant glowing head and tail.
Most comets can only be seen with a telescope, though Comet Neowise was visible to the naked eye in the summer of 2020.
It’s hard to predict when the next spectacular comet will appear in our night-time – or even daytime – skies, but astronomy aficionados will travel many miles for a chance of the best view. A perfect trip to undertake in your campervan!
For a more reliable sky-watching experience, look out for artificial satellites, such as the International Space Station.
There are tens of thousands of such satellites nowadays, and they’re easy to detect as they move steadily across the sky.
The Milky Way
Want to feel tiny? Like, really tiny? Then get well away from any light pollution, and experience the wonder of the Milky Way, which looks like a hazy band of stars arching across the night sky.
The Milky Way is a galaxy that contains between 100-400 billion stars and at least that many planets. One of those stars is our sun, and one of the planets is Earth. It’s estimated that there are one to two trillion galaxies in the observable universe.
Mind blown? Yes, ours too. Fortunately, if contemplating the infinite is getting too much for you, you can retreat to your own secure home-on-wheels for a reassuring cuppa.
Keep your feet firmly on the ground and make sure you’ve got great insurance for a campervan.
Off-grid in your campervan
For a true stargazing experience, it’s best to drive into a remote part of a dark skies reserve, find somewhere to park, set up your chairs or mats and telescopes, and switch off all lights.
The best time to see most celestial bodies is between midnight and the early hours of the morning, so you might want to make a night of it. Your campervan provides the perfect base, allowing you to get out into the wilds even in the depths of winter to enjoy those star-filled skies.
But remember, the more remote your star-gazing location, the more important it is that your vehicle is protected with campervan insurance.
Get a quote from Motorhome Protect today: should anything go wrong on your astronomical adventures; you’ll thank your lucky stars that you’re covered.
Get a quote from Motorhome Protect today
With a campervan, you can explore the world and admire the universe while enjoying some of the creature comforts of home. But make sure you’re covered for all eventualities with the right campervan insurance.
Motorhome Protect can arrange cover from a panel of leading insurers to suit all budgets and requirements.
Vehicles with a value of up to £150,000 can be covered, as can camping personal effects of up to £3,500. We can arrange quotes for customers with claims and convictions, too.
Get a quote from Motorhome Protect today and start preparing for some out-of-this-world campervan adventures!
Policy benefits and features offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.