The Ultimate Stargazing Guide

The Ultimate Stargazing Guide - ShopStarscope

There’s just something magical about sitting outside – alone or with friends – on a clear, cool night, looking up at the stars, and soaking in just how awe-inspiring our world (and our universe) really is.

Stargazing is something humans have been doing since the dawn of time. Looking up at the stars, trying to find our place among them, and realizing that billions and billions of human eyeballs – throughout time – have done the exact same thing.

One of the coolest things about star gazing is that you don’t need anything really special to get started. All you need is a night sky, little space, and your own two eyes.

Of course, there are things you can do to make your stargazing experience a little more special – gear you can bring, places you can go, and times of the year you can stargaze a little more effectively.

That’s why we put together this detailed guide.

Below we go over (almost) everything you need to know about stargazing, including the gear you’ll want to bring, the best places to stargaze near me, the perfect time to set out on a stargazing adventure, and so much more.

Let’s get right into it.

man stargazing

Picture of Joshua Earle in Unsplash

Stargazing 101

It’s not at all unreasonable to suggest that human beings have been tilting their eyes to the night sky ever since we walked on earth, watching the stars, tracking constellations, and soaking in all the splendor that space and stars have to offer.

The earliest recorded star gazing experience, though, dates to the ancient Babylonians. Stone tablets crafted by this culture somewhere around 1000 BC depict early astronomers observing the night sky, recording constellations and capturing knowledge of different celestial bodies.

Ancient Greeks really pushed the field of astronomy forward, though.

In the third century BC Greeks studying astronomy in Alexandria began to study the cosmos more seriously. It was around this time that some Greeks (including Aristarchus of Samos) began to really embrace the heliocentric solar system – the idea that the earth traveled around the sun, instead of the reverse.

Greece at night

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Much of these major leaps forward in human understanding of space (particularly in the ancient times) were made possible by serious and dedicated stargazing.

Stargazing continue to be an important part of science. The Roman Empire employed armies of astronomers, Asian and Islamic astronomers made major discoveries while Europe languished in the Dark Ages, and star gazing was critical to the European Renaissance – and is still quite important today.

For as long as there are stars in the sky people will look up and study them.

Stargazing Gear 

Though you could certainly do a fair bit of stargazing near me with nothing more than your own two eyeballs and a little bit of time, a handful of pieces of star gazing gear can make this experience something really special.

You don’t have to spend a ton of money on gear, though. Even just a couple of pieces (like the ones we highlight below or those on this list) will make a world of difference the next time you travel to do a bit of stargazing.

Couple stargazing

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Quality Headlamp

A quality headlamp will make life stargazing much more convenient, especially if you are doing some stargazing in new and unfamiliar territory.

The best headlamps for stargazing are going to be lightweight, comfortable, rechargeable, and (ideally) have both bright white and red light capabilities. The bright white lights can help you find things around “base camp” when you are done stargazing while the red light preserves your night vision if you need to spot something quickly in the dark.

man using headlight while stargazing

Picture of Rahul Bhosale in Unsplash 

Ground Blankets 

Unless you plan on stargazing for just a few minutes at a time you’re probably going to want to have something comfortable to sit on outside. Ground blankets are perfect for that. 

Keep a couple of quality ground blankets in your vehicle (or your star gazing gear bag) and you’ll be able to roll them out as necessary. Have at least two on hand and you can slide between those ground blankets to keep yourself toasty if you are stargazing in cooler temperatures.

Bug Spray

Bug spray is a huge piece of the success puzzle when you are going out to stargaze.

Some of the best spots to stargaze are outside of the bright lights of the city (and the suburbs, too). The same spots are usually loaded to the gills with bugs – especially mosquitoes – that love to bite at night.

Bug spray can make sure that your time spent stargazing is a lot less annoying than it would have been fighting off a mass of mosquitoes while staring at the sky.

bug spray on a mosquito

Mosquito repellent vector created by macrovector - www.freepik.com</a> 

Snacks and Water

An essential part of your star gazing gear, snacks and water are always something you want to bring along with you when you head out to stare at the sky.

You don’t have to go crazy hauling in gallons and gallons of water or bags of snacks. But it’s nice to have something to munch and drink if you’re going to be stargazing for a couple of hours.

Quality Optics Aren’t a “Must”, But Definitely Help!

Last, but certainly not least, is our recommendation for bringing some quality binoculars – or even a monocular telescope – with you when you are stargazing. 

We’ve mentioned a couple of times already that you can stargaze the same way that the ancients did, with just your own “naked eyes”. But you can dramatically improve your star gazing experience with a minimal investment in a quality set of binoculars or a telescope.

Starscope monocular

The best monocular setup is going to have between 6X and 10X magnification. Higher levels of magnification usually will cost you an arm and a leg, but the difference between what you’ll see gazing at the stars with those higher levels of magnification often don’t justify the hefty price tag.

If you want to capture some incredible photos of your star gazing adventures you might want to bring a dedicated camera with lowlight photography capabilities, too.

Sometimes, though, you can stick the lens of your smart phone camera on the eyepiece of your telescope and come up with some pretty incredible shots that way.

Best Places to Stargaze

When first starting out, the number one question for new amateur astronomers is usually something about where to go stargazing near me.

A lot of people – especially those living in the cities and the suburbs, with tons of light pollution all around them – realize that sticking their head out of the window (or standing around in the backyard) isn’t maybe the perfect place to stargaze.

To better help you find the best answer to the question “where is the best stargazing near me?” we put together these tips:

Darker Skies = More Stars

Dark skies always equal more stars, which means you want to try and get out from as much light pollution as possible.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to abandon a city or suburb completely. Sometimes you’ll be able to get above all of that extra light pollution just by gaining altitude – visiting a nearby hill or getting to the top of the tallest buildings in your area.

Sometimes even just facing “out of town” with light pollution behind you is enough to give you darker skies to stargaze at.

Man and woman staring the sky at nightPicture of Mark de Jong in Unsplash

Flat Land Means Sweeping Night Sky Views 

Flatter landscapes give you bigger, deeper, and wider night sky views than you would have in hilly, mountainous, or canyon like terrain.

The absolute best place to do a bit of star gazing is in completely flat areas, with no trees for at least a few hundred yards, and sweeping night sky views that surround you 360°. This gives you an opportunity to spot different stars and constellations, different planets, and other celestial bodies you would have missed out on otherwise.

man watching the sky at night in a flat landPicture of Farhan Nsrdn in Unsplash

If you’d like to see the Milky Way make sure that you have unobstructed views to the south no matter what. That’ll give you the best chance to see that galaxy cluster “up close and personal” with an ocular’s, equality telescope, or even just a high-powered lowlight lens for your camera.

Can I Stargaze Near Me?

At the end of the day, though, you can stargaze pretty much anywhere and everywhere without a lot of headache and without a lot of hassle.

Sure, ideal terrain and night sky conditions with very little light pollution will give you the most unobstructed view of stars, the moon, and other night sky objects.

But that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to do a bit of nighttime star gazing in the heart of the city, on a reasonably clear night, and with lots of light pollution going on all around you.

City horizon at night

Picture of Michael in Unsplash  

No matter where you are on the planet you can look up at the night sky and start picking out constellations you recognize!

Perfect Time to Stargaze

Is there a perfect time to stargaze?

Believe it or not, there is – and there are a handful of conditions you’ll want to look for each night to know if the star gazing is going to be really special.

Clear Nights Free of Cloud Cover

Cloud cover is always going to put a damper on your time spent looking at the night sky. 

A couple of wispy clouds that blow in and out of your field-of-view might be a minor annoyance. But tons of clouds – thick, blanketing clouds – are going to (usually) completely obstruct your viewpoint and ruin your time spent star gazing.

If you have a clear night free of cloud cover you’ll want to get outside ASAP!

Before, During, and After a New Moon Phase

Even if you don’t want to spend a lot of your time gazing at the moon you’ll still want to understand (and track) moon phases so that you know when your odds of spotting stars at their brightest are really in your favor. 

A bright moon (when it’s full or nearly full) is almost going to glow in the night sky, causing the same kind of stargaze spoilage that light pollution can cause. Everything you look at that isn’t the moon during that phase is going to be washed out and quite dull.

moon lapse time

Picture of Raul Cacho Oses in Unsplash 

A “New Moon” phase – as well as a couple of days before and a couple of days – is going to give you your best opportunity to see the natural radiance and brilliance of stars without the moon outshining them.

This is the lunar phase where the moon won’t be visible in the night sky, and that means there’s nothing to crowd out the stars you want to gaze at. 

October Through March are Perfect for Stargazing

Tracking the stars in the summertime can be a bit of a challenge, if only because the days are so long and the nights are so short. You lose a lot of stargazing opportunities. 

During “observation season”, though – between the months of October and March – you’ll have a lot more time at night to sit out, track the stars, and really study the night sky.

Sure, some of these months are going to be pretty chilly. But if you dress warm, bring a couple of ground blankets, and maybe a thermos full of something toasty it won’t bother you much!

Stargazing Tips and Tricks 

There are a couple of tips and tricks you’ll want to keep in your back pocket to make sure that your time spent stargazing is as fun as possible.

Learn a Little Astronomy

For starters, learning even just a little bit about astronomy can totally transform the time you spend star gazing completely.                                 

Start by learning about the major constellations you can spot in the night sky in your local area for that particular season. From there move on to learning about the moon, the various planets you can see throughout the year, the International Space Station, how to track and spot comments and meteor showers – the opportunities to learn more are endless

Grab a Couple of Useful Apps 

There are a ton of stargazing and astronomy focused apps available on iPhone and Android devices today.

Some of these apps really aren’t that useful at all, others are kind of clumsy and difficult to use, but there are a bunch of apps that can help you orient yourself to the night sky, make identifying constellations easier, and even give you tools to track your time spent star gazing.

Do a little research and digging into these different apps and you’ll have no trouble finding a core few (maybe two or three) that you use more than all the rest. 

The right apps can transform the way that you stargaze from here on out!

Start Simple 

At the end of the day, though, there’s no reason you can’t sit outside with nothing more than a couple of snacks, a drink, a blanket, and your own two eyeballs and just sort of stare at the night sky.

This is how our ancient ancestors learned about space, the cosmos, and the wider universe we are just a tiny part of.

There’s also something really special and almost magical about watching the night sky develop without a lot of gadgets and gizmos getting in between you and the stars. It’s an almost primal connection, and energy that you can feel and not something you want to miss out on.

If you don’t have the cash to splash on a bunch of expensive pieces of gear, start out simple with just your own two eyes and build out your stargazing set up from there.

man watching the sky at night

Picture of  Nazar Shkribliak in Unsplash

Give Your Eyes Time to Adjust to the Dark

It’s going to take maybe 20 to 30 minutes for your eyes to completely adjust to the dark. 

Some people will adapt a little sooner, others are going to take a little longer to feel comfortable in lowlight conditions. Give yourself time to adapt and adjust to the dark before you start moving around your stargaze base camp.

It’s also important to recognize that your eyes are going to need a little more time to his adapt to the dark every time you use artificial light. Limit screen time and white light from your headlamp as much as possible to avoid having to sort of “shutdown” your star gazing for 20 to 30 minutes every time.

man using smartphone at night

Picture of Rui Silvestre in Unsplash 

What Makes Stargazing So Magnet to People Throughout History?

There are only about a million and one different reasons people set out and stargaze each night, but there are some commonalities that span not only stargazers around the world but stargazers throughout history, too.

For one thing, star gazing can be very calming.

Our modern day lives are filled with “go, go, go” energy, all kinds of stress and pressure, and a lot of life feels really artificial. Stargazing gives you a chance to slow down, connect with the natural world, and realize just how small – but just how special – we are to be a part of the broader universe. 

Star gazing also has an almost impossible to ignore capability to trigger “big thoughts” in our minds.

It’s really easy to become very contemplative when staring at the night sky. Deep thought, time spent remembering important moments of your life, and creative problem-solving all becomes a whole lot easier when you’re just looking at the sky with few distractions around you.

Finally, it’s easy to just sort of realign with the natural rhythm of nature when you are spending time watching the stars, plotting their course as they move across the night sky from one night to the next.

If you feel out of sync, if you feel disconnected, and if you just want to sort of recharge and recalibrate through nature stargazing is a very easy way to sort of plug back in.

Final Verdict 

So there it is, our ultimate guide covering (almost) everything you need to know about stargazing today.

The actual act of stargazing hasn’t changed all that much from the earliest days of our ancestors watching the sky to try and better understand themselves and the universe around them.

Sure, we have more tools and more technology to better understand the cosmos that we watch play out above us every night. Some of those gadgets and apps can really enhance the experience, too.

When you get right down to it, though, you don’t really need anything special to do a little bit of stargazing near me or near you.

All you need is a clear night sky, a little bit of time, and your own two eyes.

The stars belong to you.

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