Your stargazing guide: Top tips for observing a clear night sky
It's the third largest constellation in the sky — containing hundreds of stars that can be seen with the naked eye in the right conditions. This is Ursa Major.
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When choosing a spot to begin your stargazing, ideally you will need a dark place on high ground. The smog, buildings, and lights of cities can obscure the sky and make it difficult to see clearly. Streetlights and bright lighting can make your eyes take longer to acclimate to the dark sky. A more elevated view helps you get even further from these obstructions.
What you bring to stay prepared can depend on the weather and how long you intend to stay at your spot. As a general idea, blankets can be useful to lay down on or cover up with on cold nights. If you plan on an extensive stargazing session, you might want to bring snacks and drinks. If music helps you get into the right headspace, some headphones or your radio will come in handy.
Photo by Rick Hatch
Know the Best Times to Look
Many factors contribute to choosing the best time to stargaze. Summer and humidity can blur your view, so clear nights in the winter are ideal. The light from the moon washes out all other lights in the sky, so try stargazing when it is in a crescent or gibbous phase or a new moon. Checking your weather forecast is crucial to knowing whether the clouds will obstruct your view, whether the humidity levels will haze over sky visibility, or if potential storms will wash you out while you’re out stargazing.
Download Useful Apps
The convenience of accessible knowledge with the tap of a finger brought new advantages to stargazers. As mentioned previously, having a reliable weather app is immeasurably useful. On top of that, a wide variety of apps exist that show the locations of stars and planets, educate you about the galaxy, and give you an endless supply of astronomy information. Apps that many astronomers and stargazers recommend include Stellarium, Starwalk, Google Sky Map, and the Exoplanet app.
Photo by Vincentiu Solomon
Obtain a Star Chart
Although apps have mostly replaced paper star charts, many astronomers still recommend buying or printing a star chart to reference. Some star charts offer valuable information that you may not find on stargazing apps and are useful even if your phone happens to die. Star charts may not be a necessity, but offer an exciting old-school addition to other resources. There’s certainly no limit on how many learning materials can be useful to guide you.
Acclimate to the Dark
Being in a dark space takes time for your eyes to adjust. Your eyes adjust much quicker to light than dark, and many people may get bored and give up while waiting. As your eyes acclimate, the night sky will become increasingly visible. Keep your eyes trained on the sky above, and don’t interrupt your adjustment period with harsh lighting. Patience will reward you with a view of unrivaled beauty.
Photo by Manouchehr Hejazi
Use a Red Light
If you need a flashlight during your stargazing session, invest in a red flashlight. Lights that are white or blue will affect your eyes and potentially start you back at square one of adjusting to the dark. Red light is easier on the eyes and does not have the effect that white or blue lighting does. If you are relying on your phone, placing a red piece of cellophane over the flashlight of your phone can help you achieve the same effect.
Start with Binoculars
Beginner stargazers should ideally start with binoculars. Telescopes can make it frustrating for novice gazers to see a wide range of the sky, which makes it difficult to orient yourself to the locations of the stars or planets you are attempting to find. In the meantime, invest in a decent pair of binoculars until you expand your knowledge of the night sky.
Photo by Lucas Pezeta
The Nikon 10x42 ProStaff 3S Binoculars are the perfect binoculars for beginners to start out with. These binoculars include anti-reflection and have optics that create bright high-contrast images with true color and can magnify up to 10x, all for an affordable price.
When to Buy a Telescope
Although determining when to buy a telescope depends on your comfort level, there are a few expert recommendations. Waiting till you have been stargazing for an extended amount of time is a factor to consider before leaping to a telescope. You ideally want to know a few anchor points you can use as navigation tools. The longer you are faithful to your stargazing, and the more you understand about the nuances that change the sky, the sooner you will be acclimated enough to use a telescope.
The Orion StarBlast 102mm Altazimuth Travel Refractor Telescope is the perfect telescope to start stargazing with. This telescope comes with two eyepieces that allow for 24x and 60x magnification making features of the moon easier to see. It also includes a tripod and a MoonMap to help identify over 200 lunar surface features.
Find a Social Group
Last, but certainly not least, is finding social groups to join. These groups can include Facebook groups, on-campus clubs, or just friends that already share your interest in astronomy. Social groups offer a wealth of knowledge and tips, along with like-minded individuals.