By now, you’ve spent more than enough time inside, and although you may be trying to get back out into nature, the options are still limited, especially after sunset. If you have a backyard or balcony and a clear moonless night, you might be able to look up and glimpse a few stars. But with the effects of light pollution, if you want to really see the stars — and lots of them — you’ll need to bring them to you.
Looking at the night sky can, paradoxically, feel grounding; this is, of course, not to mention that interpreting constellations has been a rich source of navigation and storytelling for thousands of years.
Michael Bond, a science journalist, goes beyond this: In his most recent book, “From Here to There,” he explains that spending time in unknown natural surroundings stimulates the growth of neurons. “Wayfinding and spatial awareness not only help us find our way and connect us with our surroundings, they can also foster good mental health,” he writes.
Here’s how, with a little ingenuity, you can enjoy deep space in your home.
First, think about what you hope to see
Some people get overwhelmed by the astronomically gargantuan number of stars they’ve been told are visible from Earth. With 170 billion galaxies, spanning 45.7 billion light years, there are roughly a septillion stars in the observable universe (that’s the number 1 followed by 24 zeros). The Milky Way alone has more than 400 billion stars.
These are numbers none of us can begin to conceptualize. But don’t be daunted: There are ways to make this experience more accessible.
If you’ve ever been to a planetarium, perhaps you remember seeing a vibrant representation of a night sky from the perspective of where you were sitting in that moment. If the presenter then spun the sky to take you into the past or into the future, you know how exciting it can be to see the sky from the point of view of someone who lived on a different continent in a different time in history.
To that end, NASA has a website where you can plug in your birthday and immediately receive a picture of what the Hubble telescope captured on that day, along with an in-depth description (search “Hubble Birthday”). Another free site, in-the-sky.org, has a planetarium section that can give you an image of the constellations as they appeared from any location on any day and time in history. These resources will help you imagine what kind of sky you’d like to re-create indoors.
Pick a method
There are three basic ways to put accurate star representations on your ceiling. If you want an immediate experience, start with a portable galaxy projector. Most come with programmed constellation settings or discs that let you select the exact area of the sky you want to see, including specific highlights like the Milky Way, the Aurora Borealis, nebulae or planets.
Many projectors have cordless options, remote controls, still and rotating display options, adjustable distances for various room sizes and timers — which you can set to fall asleep surrounded by stars. The Smithsonian Planetarium Projector with Bonus Sea Pack Starry Night Light ($53), MOCERO Rotating Light Projector ($29) and Nebula Light ($60) are all well reviewed and widely available.
For something more permanent and less technical, you can choose from a variety of ceiling wallpapers or stencil sets to paint a representative galaxy mural. For removable peel-and-stick options, look to Ebern Designs, while DecorationBoutiqShop and Wallcrafter (both on Etsy) offer more permanent murals, including glow-in-the-dark versions.
Classic adhesive star kits let you be the architect of your galaxy. Well-reviewed and simple-to-use options include Encambio Alcrea’s original kit ($14 and comes with several sky maps), Airbin’s 3D Domed Glow in the Dark Stars ($14) and Liderstar’s set ($12).
To start your adhesive project, place Polaris (aka the North Star) first. You can see it year-round in the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s the only star that doesn’t rotate in the sky over the course of an evening. You can then begin to locate circumpolar constellations, which move in a circle around the North Star. From New York City, for example, the two circumpolar constellations are Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper). Use a pencil to place little dots on your ceiling to mark where you’ll place the glowing stars, and then start sticking.
There are 88 officially recognized constellations, but you will most likely want to focus on 10 or fewer. If you are starting your project now, consider re-creating what’s visible in your sky during the summer months. Viewed from North America, that could be the Summer Triangle — made up of Deneb, Altair and Vega, the brightest stars in the constellations Cygnus, Aquila and Lyra — or the Pleiades Cluster, which is a stellar nursery (where new stars form).
Add more to your galaxy as your motivation and time allow.
There is, of course, an app for this
Viewing the stars is more pleasurable when you know what you’re looking for, can identify a few of the major constellations and are familiar with some of the ancient stories that gave the constellations their names. Apps like iSky, Google Sky and Star Chart have free versions available for iOS and Android devices, so you can point your phone to the sky (or whatever you have projected, painted or adhered to your ceiling) and identify what you are seeing — as well as learn the history, science and mythology, effectively putting the whole sky within your reach.
Or, use an app like Night Sky to pull out planets, stars and constellations and look at them in augmented reality, which enables you to see the depth and distance of what’s behind and around them. If you’re planning to travel this summer, Night Sky can show you what you’re able to see in another location, so you can better recognize the stars above once you’re there.
Go a little deeper
Storytellers used the sky like a picture book to illustrate their tales of gods, mythical heroes and fabulous beasts. “Pictures in the Sky: The Origin and History of the Constellations,” a video made by the Royal Society of London, walks viewers through a variety of celestial backstories.
You could also consult a good book. “The Stars: A New Way to See Them,” by H.A. Rey, provides simple drawings of constellations that are easy to translate onto a ceiling. And “Cosmos: Possible Worlds,” by Ann Druyan — the recently published sequel to Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” — is a gorgeously illustrated guide to the tales that budding astronomers have been telling each other for centuries.