Astronomy is one of the easiest sciences that can be done from anywhere by anyone. People have been staring at the night sky and wondering since time began.
Looking at the night sky is a wonderful family activity that can be undertaken without almost any equipment!
Night sky gazing can be done from almost anywhere by just following a few simple tips and tricks.
Autumn through spring are the easiest and best times to stargaze in the Southern Hemisphere because the Milky Way is overhead and the nights are earlier. However, there are always plenty of things to see no matter the time or the season.
All you need are clear skies and a place to look up. For many just watching the moon go through its phases and tracking the movements of the brightest planets during the month can be exciting and this of course can be seen from wherever the light pollution is not too horrendous and when there are few clouds.
The weather plays the most important part when it comes to stargazing. Nothing ruins an astronomer’s night be they amateur or professional more than clouds.
Here are a few simple tricks to get you up and stargazing at our wonderful night skies.
Become familiar with the night sky
This is a lot easier today than it was in the past with so many amazing apps that you can load onto your phone or tablet. With these apps, you can hold your phone up and have it identify what all those fuzzy things or the bright stars are.
These apps will show you where the constellations, planets, the moon and even the International Space Station can be seen. The pictures below are from a free planetarium program called Stellarium, which works on all devices including PC’s and Macs.
There are also countless books and planetarium programs as well as good old fashion star charts that will help you work out what do you want to look at on any given night. Having a plan makes everything a lot easier before you head outside.
It makes sense to be able to identify at least a few of the major constellations. For example, can you find the Southern Cross it is in the southern part of the sky and has two bright stars better known as the Pointers which always can be found company with it.
Another popular and easy to identify constellation is the scorpion and above it – Sagittarius -which looks more like a teapot than an archer. These are visible between our southern autumn and spring.
Coming into late spring and early summer the well-known group of stars often called the saucepan but correctly known as Orion is easily visible.
By learning to identify these easily found constellations will help you to be able to find your way around the sky better.
Choose a spot as far away from light pollution as possible
Light pollution unfortunately limits how much that we can see with our naked eyes. It’s a reason why people travel to the country predominantly to be able to see the skies. However, you can still see a lot even from your suburban backyard.
Most of the brightest stars and planets can still able to be seen even in our capital cities.
To see a star-studded sky and the Milky Way itself, you may need to travel to a remote area far away from the city. More of the night sky is visible the farther away from city lights you are.
But don’t let that put you off! Your local park can be a great place for stargazing since they are usually darker than surrounding neighbourhoods and are family friendly.
Let your eyes adjust to the dark
This is really important. Your eyes will start to adjust to the dark within minutes of turning off the lights but everybody’s eyes are different.
To adjust to the darkness completely can take up to 30 to 35 minutes. And once adjusted it is really, really important not to use a flashlight or look at your phone or camera screen as this can totally ruin your night vision. Most apps have a night vision mode which makes the screen more red.
Another way if you need a light is to use a torch with red cellophane over it in multiple layers to dim the light. Red cellophane can also be used over your smart phone or camera screen so as not to ruin your vision.
The most important thing every stargazer needs is patience
Patience is needed is if you’re going out to watch the meteor shower like some of us will be doing later this month and in November and December for the upcoming meteor showers.
Unless you’re under a very dark sky you need to allow your eyes to become fully dark adapted and to patiently look up and wait as sometimes the meteors can be a few minutes apart.
The key thing is to get out there and have a go get as far away from lights as you can and just look up – and be amazed at what you can see.