Top tips for stargazing

A magical night-time scene photographed by Steven Hanna

Stargazing is a magical way to bring science alive and to experience the beauty of our natural world. Looking up at the great canopy of space is a powerful experience, which everyone can enjoy. What's more, stargazing is no.27 on our list of '50 things to do before you’re 11¾'.

Grab your coats, find a cosy spot to lie down in your back garden or look out of your window.The longer you look up, the more stars you’ll discover. As you gaze, take some time to enjoy the moment - how does it make you feel? What words can you use to describe your special view?

If you’ve got a star spotter guide with you, you could try to connect the dots of constellations like ‘orion’ and ‘the bull’, but it can be just as much fun to find your own shapes. Try drawing them in your very own star diary. And if you’re lucky, you may even get to see a shooting star whizz across the sky... what will you wish for?

Turn out all the lights to reduce light pollution
Night sky
Turn out all the lights to reduce light pollution

Follow our top tips below to make the most of stargazing.

Stargazing tips

  • Stargazing is best done before the moon is full, so check the phase of the moon before you start.
  • Turn off all the lights in your home to reduce light pollution. 
  • The night sky is constantly changing, depending on the time of year and the time of night. Try stargazing at different times in the year to spot seasonal constellations.
  • Download an app like Star Walk (iPhone) or Google Sky (android) to your mobile device, and they will tell you what stars you can see from your current location.

What you'll need

  • Something to lie on. A blanket or camping mat will do.
  • Food, drink and warm clothes to keep everyone happy and warm as you wait for the stars to come out. Hot chocolate is a perfect choice to keep cosy. 
  • How about uploading a playlist of space-themed songs to your phone? Or as the sun sets, you could read ancient myths about the stars and tales of space exploration.
  • A star spotter guide and a compass to help you find a particular constellation or star.
  • Your camera to capture the wonder on the faces of stargazers or the stars above.

What to look out for

The Sun

  • This is our nearest star, and if you hollowed out the Sun you could fit nearly one million Earths inside it. But never look directly at the sun through a camera, telescope or binoculars. You will damage your eyes, and may even suffer permanent blindness if you do. You can make a simple pinhole viewer to project the image of the sun.

The Moon

  • All of the world’s oceans are controlled by the moon. The moon is the reason we have high and low tides. Only 12 people have ever set foot there. But because there is no wind, if you visited the moon today you would still see their footprints.
  • It wasn’t until people saw the moon through binoculars that they realised it isn’t a perfect sphere. On a clear night, it’s easy to see its craters and bumpy edges.

Stars

  • When you see the stars you are looking into the past. Because light takes time to travel and stars are many light years away from us you could be seeing a star that doesn’t even exist anymore.
 
Listen to our podcast on night-time photography

Please note, this episode was recorded before UK restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus. Please check current guidance before planning any activities. 

Codger's Fort on the estate at Wallington, Northumberland

Podcast: Things that go click in the night

In this podcast episode, presenter Jo Dyson gets a masterclass in night time photography from astrophotographer, Steven Hanna. Listen to discover how you can use your camera to shed light on the secrets of the night.