Three Tips for a Better Stargazing Experience

By Will Kalif

If you are interested in stargazing, you are in the right place.

Arizona has some of the best night skies in all of America. This is why there are many world class telescopes here including Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Mount Graham International Observatory.

But if you want to do some stargazing on your own, there is something you should know that will make the difference between having a good experience and having a great experience.

Not all darkness is equal.

The most important thing to consider when embarking on a stargazing session is darkness. The darker the sky the better the viewing. Many objects in the night sky are extremely dim and difficult to see if there is any light pollution in the sky.

In order to see the dimmest and most impressive objects in the night sky, your goal is to get the darkest sky you can possibly get.

Here are three ways to do it:

1. Plan your stargazing session away from urban areas.

Light pollution from the city you live in or a nearby city will have a dramatic effect on the darkness of the night sky. Do you live away from the city? Do you have family that lives outside of town? Maybe you are planning a camping trip? All of these things are great ways to getting the darkest sky possible.

2. Plan your stargazing session to be at least 90 minutes after sunset.

This is because even after official sunset the atmosphere is still lit up by scattered light in the atmosphere. And it takes up to ninety minutes for the sun to get far enough below the horizon for this effect to stop. This ninety minute interval is something called astronomical twilight. And this time does vary a bit depending on where in North America you are located. It is generally between sixty and ninety minutes after sunset. So wait as long as possible before going out.

3. Consider your vision and how it adjusts to night time viewing.

Everybody knows that your pupils open and close depending on how bright the environment is. But not everybody realizes that in order to get your eyes to open up to their maximum sensitivity, they need about a half-hour of darkness. So, once you go outside for stargazing you should stay outside, and in absolute darkness for at least a half-hour. You will see a significant difference. There will be more stars and they will be brighter. And it is after this interval of time that the milky way gets richer, deeper and much more dramatic.

You don’t need a telescope do have a wonderful stargazing experience. You can get a lot with just your eyes. But you do have to really make an effort to insure that the night sky is as dark as possible. Following these aforementioned tips will turn an average stargazing session into a more rewarding one.

If you are interested in learning more about stargazing and telescopes, the best thing you can do is come to a Star Party here with the South Mountain Astronomy Club. You can look through our variety of telescopes and talk to our members with decades of experience under the night sky.