Tips for a Great Stargazing Experience

Table of Contents

    Introduction

    Looking up at the night sky is an activity that has captivated humans for centuries. There is something about the vastness of the Universe that is both humbling and inspiring. And with today’s technology, we can now see things that were once hidden from our view.

    This page will help you understand the factors that will affect your stargazing experience, help you to find a great piece of sky to look at, and provide tips to make the most out of your night.

    Factors

    Below are the environmental factors will affect your stargazing experience and what your can do to forecast them.

    Light Pollution

    Light Pollution the brightening of the night sky caused by man-made sources such as streetlights in the cities.  This is the largest factor that determines your experience when viewing the night sky. 

    Your only option to decrease light pollution is to move away from largely populated areas.  You can you a light pollution map, such as Wadoo’s DarkSky map,  to estimate how much light pollution will be in what the area.    

    Moon Phase

    The light coming from the moon can brighten the sky, decreasing what you will be able to see. You can use a Moon Calendar to see when the new moon will begins, and when it will rise and set in the sky.

    Cloud Cover

    A clear forecast will greatly improve your experience viewing the night sky.  You can use any weather forecast to gauge cloud cover, but for the most accurate forecast of how the weather will affect your experience we suggest using a ClearSky Chart, check out the Apps and Tools section below for more information.

    Air Quality

    Even if the Cloud Cover is low, the air quality can affect what you can see in the night’s sky. 

    The air quality is the fine particles that effect the transparency of the night sky.  This includes water vapor and smoke from wildfires.

    Tools and Apps

    There are a ton of free tools that you can use to help forecast and find the best area to view the night sky.

    Light Pollution Maps

    Light pollution maps project an estimated amount of light pollution over a map to help you find a dark sky location. 

    We suggest using our DarkSky map, which unlike others, gives you a number of suggestions of where to go and why to do for your star gazing experience.

    Clear Sky Charts

    Clear Sky Charts are 3-day weather forecasts for astronomers.  They give you a glimpse of the cloud cover, transparency, smoke, and darkness level for the site.

    They may look a little daunting when seeing them for the first time, but just know that the darker shade of blue each block is, the better!

    Sky Maps

    Download a free Star Map app to your phone to project map of all the stars and planets. The coolest part is that they move around as you move your phone, so you know exactly what you’re looking at.

    Just head to the Apple or Android app store and search for Star Map.

    Tips

    What to Bring

    A Chair or Blanket

    Be sure to bring a portable chair that you can recline in or a blanket to lie down on.  Otherwise you neck will start to get stiff after a bit.

    A Telescope

    If you don’t have one, there are more and more business that rent them these days. Head over to google and search for telescope rentals.

    Make sure set it up at least an hour prior to viewing to allow the optics to adjust to the environmental conditions.

    Binoculars

    Binoculars can be a real eye opener when viewing the night sky.  They will help you look deeper and see stars that you can’t see with the naked eye.

    An Extra Layer

    Be sure to plan on cooler weather then you might be used to.  Bring an extra layer to make sure are comfortable in the outdoors.

    Bring some listening material

    We’re not talking about hard rock or bass booming rap, but a little light ambient music can be a nice touch to the atmosphere.  Maybe even a space opera or astronomy podcast can get you engaging in deeper conversation. 

    As always be sure to be aware of others around you and not affect their experience.

    Time of the Year

    The best time of the year to stargaze is during autumn, winter, and early spring as the darker hours come earlier and last longer.  Although the Milky way is only viewable during the summer months.

    Turn off all the Lights & your Phone

    Be sure to turn off all the lights in your vicinity (including the campfire) and your phone.

    Looking at a bright screen will cause your pupils to contract, lessening how sensitive your eyes are to the night sky.  Your eyes can take up to 20 minutes to adjust. If you are using your cell phone turn the screen brightness all the way down. 

    Use Red Lights.

    Instead of using a flashlight, be sure to bring a red-tinted light which will not mess with your vision of the deep sky.

    Get in Touch with your nearest Astronomy Club

    There are lots of great ways to learn about astronomy, but one of the best is to find and get involved with your nearest astronomy club. Other amateur astronomers are a fantastic resource in your quest to discover the universe. They can give you a special view through their telescopes, teach you how to spot constellations, and help make the most of your experience.

    Attend a star party

    Star parties are events where you can hang out with amateur astronomers and ogle the night sky together. Hobbyists will have telescopes you can use and will also be eager to answer any and all astronomy questions you might have; just Google “star party” and area you want to visit.

    Tips for Taking Kids to View the Stars

    Taking kid’s stargazing is a great way to spark their imagination. Having something to eat or drink on hand can keep them from getting antsy. You can prime their growing brains with videos about space.  They will love it if you can bring some binoculars or a telescope for them to look though.  Lastly, brining facts about the stars or stories to share will keep them engaged. A light up wristbands will also add to the atmosphere!

    What to Observe

    If you’re just looking to experience the night sky, there are plenty of different celestial objects to see.

    Stars

    There are more stars than we can imagine. Just looking at a truly dark sky is an amazing experience.

    Shooting Stars

    You need to get a little lucky but make sure you have a wish in mind. Shooting stars are little pieces of cosmic dust or rock that enter and burn up in the atmosphere.

    The best chance of seeing a shooting star, head out during a meteor shower.

    Constellations

    Constellations are groups of stars have been given names based on their shapes. User a Star map to help find and identify constellations such as the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt

    Planets

    Most of the brightest stars are actually are actually planets. Use a sight like Time and Date to tell you what planets are viewable on what date at what time.

    The Milky Way

    That beautiful group of millions of stars that most only see in pictures… That’s the Milky Way, the galactic center of our galaxy. In the northern hemisphere, it is typically only visible during the summer months peaking from June- August)

    The Moon

    The Moon goes through different phases during its lunar cycle, which lasts about 27 days. It also rises and sets at different times throughout the year. Check Time and Date be sure to check when to observe the Moon from your location!

    Meteor Showers

    A few times a year, we are treated to some especially spectacular meteor showers. These are due to due to the earth’s regularly passing orbital particles in space.  Each of the major meteor showers typically peaks for one to two nights in the early hours of the morning but can be enjoyed outside of this time.

    Eclipses

    Eclipses are some of the most magnificent celestial shows universe has to offer. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, blocking out the light of our star. Lunar eclipses occur when Earth casts a shadow on the Moon. Eclipses can be partial or total. To find out when the next eclipse will be visible from where you live, consult an eclipse calendar.

    The Northern Lights

    The northern lights are created when charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, causing those atoms to emit photons that we see as light. The most common color of these lights is green, but they can also be red, blue and purple. They are most often seen in the sky over Alaska and Scandinavia, but they have also been spotted as far south as Hawaii.