Monday, April 13, 2009

Beginner Stargazing Tips

Hey there!
Since I will be posting quite a bit about astronomy and stargazing I just wanted to give some advice for all those that are new and interested in this fascinating hobby. Stargazing is such an easy and inexpensive way to spend a night or add a little more excitement to an evening walk.

1.) The first thing you need in order to start stargazing is a place to do it at. The first place you should consider is your backyard, since it is the closest. Though mine is not very good for viewing, the backyard is often the best place to start.
Since I live in a crowded city area (Chicago), there is a lot of light pollution and smog. The best and really the only way to get around this obstacle is to try and get as far away from it as possible. I frequently try to venture about 20 miles away because that's all my gas budget allows, but the further you can get away the better. It's amazing the difference can make in your ability to see the stars and planets just by simply finding the darkest place possible. If you are not capable, or do not have the time to get away from the lights, try going to the darkest place near you. I frequently go to Springrock Park, in Western Springs because it has enough trees and obstacles (trees and such) to block the light for a small improvement in viewing. It's also open til 11pm.

2.) If you do go somewhere else to view the sky make sure you are allowed to be there and know its time schedule. My friends and I have been driven away from stargazing by the cops on numerous occasions and have become a lot more aware of what the limitations are in each place we view at. It can be difficult to find these places, especially here in the suburbs, so if you feel the need to, call your local town hall or other local government office and find out the time schedules for area parks and what not.

3.) Make sure you dress appropriately! Even in the summer time the temperature is much cooler at night. You should always prepare yourself for the possibility that you will get cold. Star-gazing often requires or causes you to sit still for long periods of time, this will cause you to get chilly.

4.) The best viewing tool any astronomer has is their eyes. While binoculars and telescopes are a ton of fun, they are not necessary for viewing most objects. Your eyes allow you to view a much larger field of view and don't require any of the tampering and hassle that telescopes and binoculars do.

5.) Your peripheral vision is a lot better at catching light than the center of your gaze. If you are having difficulty looking at one particular star, cluster, or planet allow your gaze to wander just a little bit off target. You'll be amazed to find that you can see a lot better this way. You can begin to see the different colors of stars and planets as well!

6.) If you want the best viewing experience you need to let your eyes adjust to the darkness. About 20 minutes will do! If you feel you need a flashlight for light, try covering the end of it with red paper or cellophane since red light effects the eyes less than white light.

7.) The best nights to view the sky are nights right after it has rained. Rain washes a lot of pollutants out of the air and and as such makes for much clearer skies.

8.) Though the Moon is a great thing to look at in itself, it is also the worst thing to have when you want to view anything else. Since the moon is so bright, one should try stargazing on nights when the moon isn't around or when it is at a phase where it isn't so bright.

9.) An easy way to at least get a general idea of where things are located in the sky is to know where the North Star (Polaris) is. The easiest way to find this is to be able to find the Big Dipper. If you know where the Big Dipper is you can follow the two stars on the outer edge of the "dipper" part of the Big Dipper. Using an imaginary line drawn through the two stars, you are pointed directly to the North Star, which happens to be the at the tip of the Little Dipper and the brightest star in it. If you need a better idea of this just follow this link.

I hope you enjoy yourselves and what you can see with just these basic tips in mind. If you have any questions about anything I have said or any questions about how you can get into astronomy or stargazing feel free to ask me; I would love to help.


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