lunar phases

Pupil Power!
To get started exploring some parts of the night world, you need night eyes. Pirates used to wear a patch over one eye to keep a 'night eye' active all the time. You can certainly do that yourself, but in case you want to use both eyes to observe the night, here are a few tips:

You need at least 15 minutes (and as much as 45) to fully develop your eye's potential for night viewing. This means total darkness and you sitting still or staying in a very familar area to avoid injury.

If you need a light during your night ramblings, cover the end of a flashlight with red cellophane. Red does not affect your night vision and many nocturnal animals cannot even see a red light, so you will not bother them either.

If you need something to occupy yourself while you are waiting for your night eyes, play this game with a partner:
Gather up several markers and put them in a container you can close, add some blank index cards or scrap paper and head out where it is dark-the porch would be perfect, or a picnic table at your campsite.

Take turns using the markers to draw and fill in a circle on the paper. Write your guess on the back and hold the card up for your partner to guess. Write their answer on the front. When you go back in, see how many you got right.
A variation to this would be to draw shapes in any color. What happened then? Which was easier to detect-color or shape? On your own, see how rods and cones work.

Just Looking

One of the easiest ways to start exploring the night-time world is by simply shining a flashlight into the dark. Try weedy areas, the edges of woods and pastures and even while walking down the road you live on or your campsite, if not lit with streetlights. Try just after dark and several times during the night and compare results.

Below is a chart to help with identifying just who is looking back in the dark.

On your own, find out how tapetum works.

Animal Eye-shine Color
Cat Green
Coyote Yellow-green
Deer Yellow
Opossum Orange
Raccoon Yellow
Skunk Amber
Fox White
Vampire Red

Wonder displays her beautiful tapetum when I accidentally zapped her with the flash.


Another simple nighttime activity is to hang a white sheet outside, making sure it is as tight as you can get it, use rocks to hold the bottom snug to the ground and shine a white flashlight on the sheet, making the light shine a spot about the size of a dinner plate. Keep the light on and check the sheet all during the night.

For a more complex study, shine different colored lights in different areas onto sheets and see who comes to what.

If you happen to have a blacklight, try it out as well.


To attract moths without lights mix a slurry or a mashed banana (one that is really ripe and squishy works best) with some brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. The mix should be the consistency of paint. Cover it and let it sit all afternoon indoors someplace warm. Just before dark, using an old paintbrush, spread the mixture on several trees around the yard.
Check the trees for moths that come to eat the slurry using a flashlight with a red filter (use tissue paper or plastic wrap or you can color the little plastic lens with a marker). The red light will not disturb the moths-they can't see it! So you can spy in secret.

Another way to attract moths is by planting night-blooming flowers. Here is a quick list of a few night-blooming flowers that grow well in our area. (North Alabama)
Evening Primrose
Four o'clocks
Night Phlox
These flowers all smell heavenly and four o'clocks are especially easy to grow and they will come back year after year, giving you plenty of seeds to share.

Sky Gazing

Meteor Showers:
Perseids, Geminids and Quanrantids have the most meteors per hour

January 1-6 (peak 4th) Quadrantids E
April 20-22 (peak 22nd) Lyrids NE
May 4-7 (peak 4th) Eta-Aquarids E
August 10-18 (peak 12th) Perseids NE
October 20-23 (peak 21st) Orionids E
November 1-7 (peak 4th) Taurids NE
November 14-19 (peak 16th) Leonids  
December 7-15 (peak 14th) Geminids E

To get ready for meteor watching you need a few items:
A dark place as far away from town as you can get.
A thick blanket or inflatable mattress to keep you (and your neck) comfy.
Take a nap earlier that day and check the weather for cloud coverage-most showers don't get going strong until after midnight.

The Perseids shower in August is the best all-around to watch. It is warm enough to be comfy out late and it is a very active shower. I had never seen it until the summer I turned 17, I was working with the park service at Slag-a-Melt Lake in Montana. There were 15 of us out there that summer and where we camped was right next to the lake, jutting out into the lake was a huge boulder. We all climbed up and spread out on the top and watched the meteors almost all night, it was magical seeing the 'shooting stars' in the sky and seeing them reflected in the lake water and being so far from all that was familiar. A week later, we were all back home-back to school and college. I have not seen any of the people I lived with during that time again, but when I think back, I can recall them all so well by the light of the falling meteors.


Star Gazing and Constellations
There are so many good books and websites out there to cover basic astronomy that I am not going to add a section here, I myself can only find the dippers and Orion, Casseopea and the North Star, so anything I put here would just be someone else's stuff.
For a good starting point, visit the observatory on Monte Sano


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