Stargazing is for anybody that loves to dig deep and lose their thoughts in the deep skies, and not just for those that research in big organizations.
Sadly, you can’t always stargaze, since a good viewing experience depends on some environmental factors being just right. But what exactly are they?
These are the very best conditions for stargazing
You need good weather, above all a clear sky with no clouds. The atmosphere needs to be free of turbulence and pollution. It’s almost important to avoid light pollution from cities and glare from the moon. To put the odds in your favor, try to plan stargazing for a new moon and to observe from the highest altitude you can access.
Perfect weather for stargazing
Amateurs often enjoy doing their investigations or are just inspired and filled by the beautiful celestial objects. It is a hobby for those that like peace and quiet and love the comfort it brings to the mind and soul. With that being said, let’s explore how you can savor your stargazing experience at its maximum.
In astronomy, weather plays a significant role when it comes to stargazing. A clear sky with no clouds is crucial for those that desire to observe celestial objects through their telescopes.
(But if it’s cloudy, all hope is not lost. Read our guide here to learn how to make the most of an overcast night.)
For this matter, the Clear Dark Sky site allows people to get information regarding the ideal weather conditions by using at least 1,900 observatories.
Wind speed is also crucial if you want a clear sight of the sky. The lower the wind speed, the better the view. So when you plan to go on a little stargazing trip, make sure you do a quick weather research.
Ideal atmospheric conditions for stargazing
Air pollution can be a nasty factor for astronomers because of the summer haze, making it almost impossible to view anything through binoculars or telescopes.
Dust storms, volcanoes, and forest fires can also cause a lot of disruption. However, there are other conditions that this criterion brings forward. One of them refers to the dust or humidity in the atmosphere, also known as transparency. This phenomenon makes stargazing best, usually during winter.
Another such criterion is called seeing. The sensation that stars are moving or shimmering is caused by the atmosphere’s instability, making these celestial objects also seem blurry. Seeing conditions are best in the middle of the night, as sunlight causes deficiencies in stargazing.
The light pollution problem
Light pollution means that in a city where street lights and other such sources are present, you may see somewhere around 200 stars in the sky. In a completely dark zone, you can view up to 3,000 celestial objects. For most of us, that’s worth traveling out of town for!
As a quick check for light pollution, look for a faint orange hue to the clouds. That’s caused by streetlights, and means you’re just too close to civilization for optimal observing. When the clouds aren’t there, this ambient light projects itself on the sky and diminishes the starlight, making everything less visible.
The importance of moon phases
The importance of the moon phase is closely linked to whatever you wish to see during stargazing. In brief, you can’t easily stargaze with a full moon; read our article here for a more detailed explanation of why.
If you would like to see the moon itself in all its splendor, then look forward to a full moon.
If the moon isn’t your target and you’d like to see far away stars, then wait till the moon is entirely absent and explore the deep skies.
The moon may be seen closer to other planets. For example, during late May, you can gaze at it getting closer to Venus while it joins Mercury and Mars in June. To make these identifications easier, you can use a virtual planetarium site or software to know which is where.
Choosing the best stargazing locations
Before we tell you how to find the best place for stargazing, you must first make sure that each criterion is in place. This means that there must be no light. It must be late in the night, with a clear cloudless sky and little to no wind.
If everything is checked on the list, we present another trick that will enhance the experience: you must be placed as high as possible in terms of altitude.
Usually, this can mean that you might even have to climb on your roof if you do not have access to other high locations. But you can travel if it’s an option for you.
Here are some various spots that are ideal for stargazing, such as Hawaii, New Mexico, Tuscany, Yangtze River, or Kiruna. There is also a “but” here: if the altitude is too high, your eyes might be affected by the lack of oxygen and make your eyesight less reliable.
Finding a good body position
Stargazing takes time, so if you find yourself looking up to the sky for many hours, you might get your neck stuck in a painful position.
Besides, the best experience is achieved when you feel comfortable or when you aren’t distracted by things such as cold weather, so make sure that you are well dressed and lying on your back for a splendid stargazing night.
But how can we have a good body position if our inner self is not feeling great? Bring some friends for company, close your phones for better focus and bring as many teas and blankets as you need.
Bring your loved one with you, and who knows, maybe you will witness a shooting star and make a wish! Stargazing can be quite romantic.
Things you’ll need for a great stargazing experience
We have already talked about blankets and hot beverages to keep warm during the night, but don’t forget about the food! You don’t want to think about your growling stomach when you’re searching for beautiful stars.
It would be best if you silenced your phone so that no one will disrupt your concentration. Who knows, maybe you’ll miss something just as you take your eyes off of the sky. You could also keep some relaxing music playing to enhance the calmness that the sky and dark night brings.
If you are looking to find various constellations and are not there just for relaxation, we suggest you bring a compass and a guide to help you identify them more easily.
Don’t forget to bring a camera and immortalize this beautiful moment, for the stars are always moving, and you will be able to make comparisons and great personal discoveries. And let’s not forget about the friends you are sharing the moment with and their stargazing faces.
Bring a red flashlight to keep safe and not fall off of any roof or high hill. Red light keeps the eyes accustomed to the dark and will not have a blinding effect, such as white or blue light.
What else to consider
Do not buy a telescope. At least not in the beginning. It’s surprisingly difficult to make sense of what you see–or even to see much of anything in the first place!
Start by just watching the sky and identifying simple constellations and planets with the help of a software or guide. When you are familiar with these concepts, you can move forward to binoculars and/or a telescope.
For that matter, don’t jump the gun by investing in high-tech tools right off the bat. Inexpensive ones are terrific at first, and will help you understand what you’re doing without relying on automation and “done-for-you” navigation.
That said, some smartphone apps can be very helpful for beginners. You don’t want to rely on them forever, but they’re a good way to orient yourself and find stunning sights quickly. Read this guide for more information on their accuracy, limitations, and a few cross-platform suggestions.
Your stargazing journey has just begun, so above all, get out there and keep exploring!