Stargazing for beginners

Visitors enjoying one of Bristol Astronomical Society's stargazing evenings at Tyntesfield, Somerset
You don't need to be an expert to spot stars, satellites and planets - just follow our tips National Trust Images / Steve Sayers

Exploring our twinkling night sky is an adventure the whole family can enjoy. ‘Go stargazing’ is no. 27 in our list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾, and the kids will love getting involved.

Before you begin

  • Stargazing is best done before the moon is full, so check the phase of the moon before you book your trip.
  • We hold stargazing events for all of the family throughout the year. Give your local National Trust place a call to see if there is an event coming up.
  • Get a free seasonal stargazing guide for spring, summer, autumn and winter. Or you could download the Star Walk iPhone app or the Google Sky app for Android phones and tablets, or Stellarium, which are really informative.

What to take with you

  • Something to lie on. A blanket or camping mat will do the trick.
  • Food, drink and warm clothes to keep kids happy and warm as you wait for the stars to come out. On a cold night hot chocolate can help keep little (and not so little) stargazers warm.
  • A sprinkling of imagination to keep kids entertained. How about uploading a playlist of space-themed songs to your iPod? Or as the sun sets, you could read them ancient myths about the stars and tales of space exploration.
  • A compass to help you find a particular constellation or star.
  • Your camera to capture the wonder on stargazer’s faces or the stars above. There is quite an art to photographing the night sky so take a look at our photography video for a few tips.

What to look for

The sunset
What better way to start your stargazing extravaganza than by watching our own star set? Share your favourite shots with us on Facebook or Twitter.

A constellation is a grouping of stars that we see as a specific shape. Some are easier to spot than others.

'When you're looking for the Plough, imagine you're looking for the shape of a saucepan,' advises park manager Nick Allison.

Shooting stars
‘If you get the timing right a meteor shower can be an incredible spectacle. These do require a little patience though so might not be ideal for the very youngest children,' says Rod.

The moon
It wasn't until people saw the moon through binoculars that they realised it wasn't a perfect sphere. On a clear night, it's easy to see its craters and bumpy edges.

‘Believe it or not, planets are often the easiest things to spot with the naked eye,' says Rod. ‘Venus can be incredibly bright.'

If a light is moving slowly across the sky and it isn’t flashing then it is likely to be a satellite. On the NASA website you can register for an email update when the space station passes over your house.

The Milky Way
‘If you can get somewhere with very little light pollution you can easily make out our galaxy, the Milky Way,' says park manager Saul Burton.