Pick a Good Viewing Spot

Your own back yard will do just fine. Then, as you gain experience, escape from city lights into the darkness of the countryside.

Find a state park or other safe, accessible spot. And try a night without moonlight, so you can see meteors and the Milky Way.

How do I find a good site for stargazing?

Light pollution is the single most destructive foe to a dedicated stargazer, overwhelming the delicate glow of nebulae, clusters, and even the fiery glow of the dense star clouds that make up the Milky Way. For this reason alone, the best stargazing opportunities are almost always to be found in remote rural areas, far from the lights of cities and towns. There are, fortunately, notable exceptions: due to new energy-conserving directed lighting, many towns are enjoying a renaissance in the darkness of their nighttime skies, and even large cities such as Tucson, Arizona, can now boast of Milky Way views from the heart of downtown.

Altitude also helps the view and is the primary reason most observatories are located on mountaintops. Turbulence in Earth's atmosphere diminishes the quality of seeing, especially for detailed observations with telescopes, so getting above as much of the air as possible provides clearer, more stable views of astronomical objects. Hubble Space Telescope works so well precisely because it is above the atmosphere.

In general, you should locate a stargazing site on a hill remote enough to eliminate most of the polluting effects of city lights, but not too far to be difficult to access should a cloudy evening suddenly turn into a crystal clear night. Your local amateur astronomers group can be an excellent source for experienced observers who can recommend nearby sites.

Stargazer's Checklist

  • Wait for a night that is clear and dark. You can see more stars when the Moon is not shining brightly.
  • Get away from streetlights. The farther you are from lights, the more stars you can see.
  • Give your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the dark.
  • Kids, get permission from an adult. Better yet, take one along!

You can get even more out of skywatching by taking along a skywatching kit:

  • A blanket
  • A jacket
  • Binoculars
  • A simple star chart
  • A flashlight to read the star chart. Cover the lighted end of the flashlight with red paper because red light does not disrupt your night vision as much as white light does.
  • An observing log to help you keep track of the objects you see in the night sky. Keeping a record will help you see how the night sky changes over time.

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