Tips for watching the night sky
#1. Let your eyes adjust! If you look up at the night sky and aren’t immediately dazzled with stars, dont’ panic! If you’re in a clear area, and there isn’t cloud cover, you may just need a little time…it takes the eyes about 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness in the night sky – so when you’re looking up, those stars may just start to appear before your eyes after a little bit of gazing.
#2. Check times, phases, and events. If you’re wanting to see the moon, it is worth it to keep an eye on the moon phases and know which night the full moon is on – a night sky is at it’s peak when the full moon is out! (full moon calendar for 2015 here) It’s also worth remembering that the moon is at its fullest at different times throughout the night (ranging from early morning to late evening, to middle of the night) – knowing not only the which night, but also what time the moon is at its fullest can help maximize your experience! Also keep your eye on dates when important astronomical events happen – eclipses, comets, and meteor showers are memorable awe-inspiring events that can make an ordinary night magical!
#3. Location! A night sky can be enjoyed by anybody – you don’t have to live in the country to enjoy it! You will however have the best experience in areas that are away from all the light that a city can generate since these lights tend to dim even the brightest stars. If you live in the country or in a more remote area, you have the ideal setting for sky watching. For those in more urban areas, find a location that’s a little bit away from the urban sprawl. Places like state or federal parks which are typically set in protected natural areas away from the city lights are great places to get clear views of the night sky. Places that are slightly elevated like hills also provide nice view points.
Despite all of this however, remember – if you can’t find a good location but still want to check out the night sky, don’t let your location prevent you from doing so! You can have a fabulous time gazing from your own backyard – you might not see as many stars as you would from a different location, but you’ll probably see at least a few – and you’ll most likely definitely see the moon – and sometimes that’s all you need. 🙂
#3. Look for a clear night. This seems pretty self-evident, but it is often one of the first things that spoils most people’s star and moon gazing! Clouds in the sky can quickly obscure the any stars you’re trying to spot, and can hide the full glory of a brilliant full moon.
#4. Equipment. You don’t really need equipment to view the night sky – with the right location, your eyes are all you need. With just your eyes, in the right spot you can spot the moon, various planets, a sea of stars, and dazzling constellations. If you do however have a telescope or binoculars, it doesn’t hurt to bring them along as they can increase your enjoyment by bringing the sky a little bit closer. If you want to go even a step further, bring a star chart and a compass so you can identify exactly what you are looking at. Not sure which one is Jupiter, where Orion’s Belt is, or if you’re looking at a satellite or a star? A chart and a compass can help you identify what’s what.
#5. Comfort. Another tip that seems fairly obvious, but should not be overlooked in the excitement of planning a night sky watching is making sure you are comfortable. Nights can be cool – be sure to bring a sweater, blanket, or light jacket even if the day seems fairly warm. You don’t want to be caught out at night under a gorgeous sky then be forced to turn around due to being too chilly!
Remember also, that you will be looking up at the sky which can strain the neck – often the best way to do this is by laying down – bring something to lay on and a pillow to cushion your head – you’ll be better able to stare at the sky for hours!