Orion is proud to partner with BBC Sky at Night Magazine, the UK's biggest selling astronomy periodical, to bring you this article as part of an ongoing series to provide valuable content to our customers. Check back each month for exciting articles from renowned amateur astronomers, practical observing tutorials, and much more!
Top Tips For Stargazing
Follow this practical advice and enjoy a good first night under the stars.
1. The eyes have it
Forget the myth that to be a 'proper' astronomer you need to have a telescope — this is complete rubbish! There are myriad things you can see with the naked eye alone — from the constellations to meteor showers, the band of the Milky Way and even the occasional galaxy. If you want to take things further, consider investing in a pair of binoculars before a telescope — you'll be able to see more of the night sky without dealing with the practicalities of setting up.
2. Keep out the cold
We know it's not rocket science (if you'll excuse the pun), but astronomy involves a lot of time outdoors being still, so it's important to stay warm. Several layers of thin clothing are recommended, as are waterproof shoes, a hat and gloves. If you have pages to turn or equipment (especially touchscreens) to operate, fingerless gloves are ideal.
3. Give your neck a rest
If you stand still staring up at the sky you'll soon find that you get neck ache. So avoid the pain entirely by finding something that you can lie back on. A reclining garden chair or an old-fashioned deck chair are ideal, but your spine will thank you even if all you have on hand is a camping groundsheet, a yoga mat or a waterproof picnic blanket to spread over the grass.
4. Accustom your eyes
If you go outside from a brightly lit room you'll probably only see a handful of stars so it's vital to wait and let your eyes adjust to the darkness — ideally for 30 minutes — and you'll notice an incredible difference. Doing so should allow you to see much fainter stars.
5. Use a star chart
These are a great way to learn your way around the night sky. Astronomy magazines publish star charts every month or you can buy a book. You can begin by identifying patterns of bright stars. From there you can gradually learn your way around the constellations, and before too long they'll become familiar and you'll be able to navigate your way around the night sky without reference to a book or chart.
6. Bring a red flashlight and a compass
A red-light flashlight is a must when you've given your eyes time to adjust to the dark but still want to see your star charts. This is because dark-adapted eyes are much less sensitive to red light than they are to white. You can buy a red-light night vision flashlight, or make one by taking a regular flashlight and sticking a piece of red acetate over the front. A compass will help you find north, which is essential not only when using star charts but also in setting up your telescope mount.
7. Stay away from streetlights
If you can, head out to the countryside to take advantage of properly dark skies. But if you are observing in an urban area, shield yourself from any artificial light sources, as they will prevent your eyes from acclimatizing to the dark.
8. Slow and steady
No one has ever looked at the night sky and instantly understood how to find their way around; there really is a lot to see up there! Not even the legendary Sir Patrick Moore was immune to this — he honed his knowledge by memorizing one new constellation each night.
Copyright © Immediate Media. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical without permission from the publisher.