Seeing stars? The definitive guide to stargazing in Central Florida

Central Florida has observatories, open-sky areas

By Anna Johnson - Digital Journalist

Have all of the cosmic events lately put you in an interstellar mood? Even if Central Florida isn't home to many celebrity sightings, there are still plenty of ways to see stars.

While most areas in Central Florida are fairly metropolitan and therefore polluted with light, these local observatories can give your eyes a boost when it comes to looking upward.

Observatories in Central Florida

Crosby Observatory at the Orlando Science Center
Where: 777 East Princeton Street, Orlando
Hours: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 11
Tickets: $20.95 for adults, $14.95 for children, $18.95 for students/seniors. Buy tickets here.

The Crosby Observatory is home to Central Florida's largest refractor telescope available to the public. Observers can see celestial bodies like the planets, Jupiter's moons and Saturn's rings, as well as deep sky objects like galaxies and nebulas. The observatory is primarily only open on the weekends, when OSC hosts its Science After Sundown events that last until 11 p.m. Adults can also see the stars during the 21-and-up Science Night Live event put on every two months.

Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium at Seminole State College
Where: 100 Weldon Boulevard, Sanford, FL
Hours: Doors open at 8:15 p.m. for 8:30 p.m. planetarium shows on Friday and Saturday nights. 
Tickets: $6 for adults, $4 for students/seniors, free for preschoolers and SSC students/faculty/staff

While the planetarium at the Sanford campus of Seminole State College offers many interactive events open to the public, the true stargazing comes from the program's Telescope Thursdays. During the school year, planetarium staff host a viewing event once a month at a different location in Central Florida while wielding telescopes and knowledge. All Telescope Thursday events are free and open to the public. The planetarium often also hosts special free viewings for significant celestial events, like the Mars Approach.

Courtesy: Robinson Observatory Facebook

Robinson Observatory at the University of Central Florida
Where: 4111 Libra Drive, Orlando
Hours: Event hours are determined by the day's sunset. The observatory's Facebook page will update if there are delays.
Tickets: Events are always free and open to the public.

The Robinson Observatory is primarily used for research by University of Central Florida students, but about once a month the observatory hosts Knights Under the Stars. KUTS events are always free and open to the public, often allowing attendees to using portable telescopes to look into the sky. Every telescope is accompanied by a volunteer who can talk you through exactly what you are seeing. Some events take place at locations on UCF's campus other than the observatory, so be sure to double-check the location.

Embry-Riddle Daytona Beach Observatory
Where: 600 South Clyde Morris Blvd, Daytona Beach
Hours: During open houses, lectures start at 7 p.m. and observations last from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Tickets: Open house events are free and open to the public.

The Embry-Riddle Daytona Beach Observatory boasts a 1-meter telescope, the largest owned by a university in Florida. The telescope is five stories off of the ground and peers at the sky through the observatory's dome. Six times a year, the observatory hosts an Astronomy Open House, which includes lectures and three hours of observations, as well as many other activities. Coming up in Jan. 2019, the observatory will be hosting a special event for the total lunar eclipse.

Outside stargazing spots near Central Florida

Maybe watching the stars from inside a building isn't within your universe. If so, there are many options for outside observations within driving distance of Central Florida

Lovejoy Comet as seen from the Kissimmee Prairie

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
Where: 33104 Northwest 192nd Avenue, Okeechobee, about a two-hour drive from Orlando
Price: $16 per night for most camp sites

Named in 2016 as Florida's first Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is the ideal campground for stargazing. Most of the campsites have electricity and bathrooms available. It is recommended to reserve either a campsite or astronomy pad before your visit for guaranteed access to the park after hours. Astronomy pads have strict guidelines, like no campfires and only red-spectrum lights allowed.

Chiefland Astronomy Village
Where: 5310 Northwest 52nd Court, Chiefland, about two-hour drive from Orlando
Price: Admission to the Chiefland Star Party group is $45 for the first year and $30 per year to renew.

The Chiefland Star Party group opens the field at the Astronomy Village to members every new moon weekend, about once a month. The Star Party group has many dedicated members. Online reviewers have likened it to joining a stargazing community.

Sebastian Inlet State Park

Sebastian Inlet State Park
Where: 9700 South Highway A.1.A., Melbourne Beach, about a 1.5-hour drive from Orlando
Price: $28 per night to camp, but beaches are accessible for free all of the time

The beaches in this park's semi-isolated location have fairly clear and dark skies. The Florida State Parks website recommends stargazing on clear, crisp, cool nights during winter months.

Ocala National Forest Campground
Where: Fort McCoy in Marion County, about a 1.5 hour drive from Orlando.
Price: $10 per night to camp in a tent.

The Hopkins Prairie campground opens Oct. 1 for all intrepid stargazers. Booking one of the 21 camping sites at the ground will guarantee you the best view of the stars, with very little light pollution.

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