It seems like there would be an awful lot to learn, just to get started with stargazing, so we thought that in our quest to learn about the universe and all it contains, that we would share with you the best way to get started.
Before you start
Have a look at the technology that is available to you such as apps and computer programs. They can really help to give you an idea of what to expect, where to look and what you’ll be able to see.
- There are plenty of free apps such as Sky Map for Android users or Sky View Free for iOS users and of course there are paid apps such as Star Walk on iOS.
- Stellarium is a free program that you can download to your desktop.
You will need to decide early on what kind of equipment you will be able to afford and use in your quest to search for the stars. This will help to manage your expectation of what you will experience and ensure you get the most enjoyment out of it.
You do not need to have a telescope, although a relatively inexpensive one would get you closer to the stars and planets. You could chose to use a pair of binoculars, the naked eye or employ apps such as mentioned above. Another option is to pick up a piece of equipment such as the Universe2Go, a fantastic piece of kit that allows you to gaze at the stars from anywhere and learn whilst you do it. You can read more about it here.
Get ready to stargaze
Once you have prepared, you can then spend an evening star watching, but for this too you need to ensure you are prepared…
- Gather your equipment, gadgets and tech.
- If you have researched what you would like to find in the night sky, don’t forget to bring it along.
- A notebook and pen. It might seem like a minor thing to bring along, but you might come across a star you don’t find familir, or spot something in the sky you want to later check on. Keep a note of everything in your handy notebook and you wont forget these intriguing events.
- Take a picnic blanket with you so that you can lay back and relax.
- Warm clothing. Even in the Summer the nights can grow cold quickly.
- Food and drink. Delicious snacks and thirst quenching drinks will be a huge bonus to any stargazing night out, so pack enough to keep you going.
- A compass can be helpful to gague which direction you would need to face to find a particular star.
- Your phone, not just for capturing exciting moments and telling all of your friends on Social Media what you are up to, but also so that you have a way to contact someone for help should anything happen on your night of adventure. Better safe than sorry.
- A camera. You will no doubt want to have a record of you fun filled twinkling night, so taking a camera along is a great idea to capture all of those moments.
On the night
Stargazing is best done before a full moon, so your first job is to pick a date that will give you the best chance of seeing the night sky in all of its glory. An easy way to check this is to visit Time and Date, we searched for Manchester, England to give you an idea of what the moon phases will be like for this month.
Check the weather forecast, this will give you your best chance of getting a clear night to go star watching. The Met Office have fantastic and highly accurate forecasts.
Now you are all set and ready to go spotting…
What to look for
Your evening will start with a beautiful sunset. The Sun is our star and so it is a fantastic way to kick off a night of stargazing by watching it set. As the sun sets, so the moon rises and it is the brightest thing in the night sky, on clear nights you can see just how beautiful the moon is.
The sky at night is much more than the setting sun and rising of the moon, it is possible to see a vast array of stars and constellations, (groups of stars) as well as shooting stars if you’re lucky. A shooting star is actually a meteor and we can sometimes spot meteor showers in the sky.
What you might not realise is that you can also see planets with the naked eye. At the moment there is an incredible astrological event whereby five planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all in alignment with one another AND visible in the sky just before dawn in a straight line. You don’t need a special celestial event though, Venus is knows and the Morning Star and is extremely bright, easily seen with your own eyes.
Another exciting thing to watch for is the International Space Station which orbits the earth every 90 minutes! The ISS can be seen routinely with the naked eye, just check with NASA on the best times and dates.