The night sky, albeit better appreciated away from the city’s ensuing light pollution, has always been subject to the curious and admiring eyes of many. It has always been something to marvel at.
With the stars twinkling about against a blanket of darkness, one might say that the night sky itself is nature’s very own work of art. As a result, the night sky peppered with sparkling stars is an avenue for humans to have a relaxing nocturnal activity that gives them a better appreciation for nature. Regardless of whether you are a city dweller or a countryside resident, there is always a point in your life wherein you looked up to the sky and admired nature’s very own creation. As a result, stargazing is regarded as a relaxing nocturnal activity enjoyed by those who have an affinity for the night sky. However, stargazing is so much more than just staring at the stars and trying to learn about them.
While the name itself suggests that the activity is merely gazing upon the night sky, you get more out of the experience by planning and researching ahead as well as having the right equipment for the activity. Incidentally, you should also know what you are looking for. By preparing ahead, you get more out of the experience that allows you to appreciate nature’s nightly handiwork.
So, take a gander at the curated list of stargazing tips from well-known astronomers to stargazing enthusiasts below for a better experience gazing at the stars.
1.) Find a good location
While stargazing is an activity that can be done anywhere so long as it is during nighttime, the stars are better viewed and appreciated in a location that is devoid of any light pollution. In this regard, finding a good location away from the city is the easiest way to spot stars. As a result, countryside areas are premiere spots for stargazing. However, you do not need to go far just to indulge in your favorite nighttime activity as you can easily spot stars in campsites such as the WK Forest Reserve and Campgrounds which is only an hour and a half away from Metro Manila. With the campsite located in a secluded but secure location up in the mountains, you are guaranteed front row seats to the best view of the night sky and stars. In fact, as the place gets blanketed in total darkness by nightfall, you can spot various constellations and even planets in this area.
2.) Invest in a good red flashlight
Having a source of light so you do not hurt yourself in the darkness (especially when you are perched atop a roof) is imperative for your stargazing exploits. However, do not just buy any ordinary flashlight and get one with a red filter. Flashlights with red lights do not have the same effect on the eyes as white or blue light. However, if buying a new red flashlight is seemingly something you cannot fit into your budget at the moment, you can create your own simply by covering your cellphone’s flash with red cellophane or paper.
3.) Know the night sky first
As an avid stargazer, you might want to immediately get into stocking up on gear and high-tech tools. However, this is an erroneous practice novice stargazers commonly make. While stocking up on gear and purchasing equipment sound like an exciting start of your stargazing journey, it is best to leave those until you have refined your skills and treaded the waters of stargazing. Buying tools before knowing how to use them can be frustrating considering that not only are they touch to use, but you are likely to see things that do not resemble quite anything just yet. With that in mind, it is best to research and know the night sky first. From there, you can identify a few anchor objects such as constellations and planets to get familiar with the night sky and navigate it better. Once you have that locked down, you can then now proceed to buying a telescope.
4.) Know when to look
The night sky is always a marvel to look at. Undoubtedly, it has plenty of interesting things to see. However, to make the most out of your experience, you need to lock on dates where there are occurrences that make stargazing particularly interesting. Meteor showers and comets are particularly exciting and fun to watch. However, they do not happen every night which is why you need to know when exactly to stargaze. If you want to see occurrences such as that while stargazing, research on upcoming astronomical events online. Similarly, it is best to look at stars when the moon is in a crescent or gibbous phase or when it is not in the sky at all. This is because the moon produces so much light that it tends to wash out everything else. Conversely, the moon might always be overlooked, but it is an excellent object to gaze upon in the night sky for city dwellers who are unable to see much of anything else.
5.) Decide on a tech tool (Binoculars VS Telescope)
Ideally, you should start with a binoculars first as they make a good middle ground between the naked eye and the massive magnification of a telescope. Moreover, binoculars are great for getting close-ups of the moon and its craters. Plus, they are relatively cheap! However, if you wish for more optical power and want to zoom in on the heavenly bodies, you might be better off with a telescope. However, before you invest in a telescope, make sure you have enough experience with the night sky insomuch that you are ready to take the telescope plunge. The best time to buy a telescope is when you have already given yourself enough time to acclimate with the night sky around you and all its nuances.
6.) Bring a reference material with you
Before stargazing, you might want to consult your star charts and star atlases as these will aid you in figuring out what exactly to look for and how to find them. These are easily available online, in libraries or bookstores.
7.) Determine the difference between planet and stars
From a distance, all the heavenly bodies might look the same but there is a subtle difference to them that is usually visible even to the naked eye if you are a keen observer. Stars and planets can be told apart by paying close attention to the light they give off. Lights that sparkle in the night sky tend to be star while those that do not and seem to have a fixed position are planets.
8.) Download useful apps
Several apps for phones and tablets are designed to help you find constellations and stars. In this regard, stargazing will be much easier while making it an educational experience as well. Here are some of the apps you should definitely have:
· Stellarium– Allows you to see the positions of the planets and sets your location as well. It also comes with a red night mode to keep your phone’s white light from interfering with your eyes’ ability to adjust to the dark.
· Starwalk– Allows you to point at the sky and see what is in the night sky in real time based on your location. If you see something that catches your eye, you can simply tap it for more information.
· Google Sky Map– Basically a space version for Google Map. However, it has a wealth of date pulled from a myriad of sources including NASA’s Chandra satellite, Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Hubble Space Telescope.
· Exoplanet– An advanced app, Exoplanet does science for you. It comes with an interactive catalog of all known exoplanets (planets orbiting stars beyond our solar system). It is free to download and is regularly updated.
9.) Check the weather forecast
Before you plan on a stargazing excursion, be sure to check the weather beforehand. Stargazing is best done on a good and clear weather as cloudy skies will limit visibility and your ability to see stars.
10.) Keep a diary dedicated for stargazing
Get more out of your stargazing experience by keeping track of what you see in a diary dedicated solely for stargazing. This is especially useful if you intend on going more than once. Be sure to record pertinent details that you find relevant such as the weather, equipment used, location, stars, planets or constellations you saw and the like.
Keep in mind that while there is a lot you can plan for when stargazing, do not forget to relax and enjoy yourself. Know that at times, you would not see as many stars as you hoped but that is okay. Try not to get frustrated and enjoy your time outdoors. To keep your enthusiasm and interest for stargazing going, be sure to join an astronomer’s club within your area. Apart from educating you further about your hobby, they likely have the right gear for stargazing and can educate you on how to use them.
With all that considered, plan your next trip outdoors and experience a night just marveling at one of nature’s best creations.