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Tips for Enjoying the Night Sky
Looking up into the night sky is our oldest recorded hobby. Thousands of years ago, people around the globe began recording their star gazing experiences. Many of these early journals are now found in museums, in caves or in protected wild places. Today, what I find most fascinating when I look up is the wide variety of objects in the night sky and realizing that they’ve been there for a very long time. Here are a few simple tips and techniques to use when star gazing. Use them and you too will enjoy the views right outside your door.
The first thing you’ll need to do is to put yourself in the best possible viewing position. This can be very difficult if you’re in a metropolitan area, such as Phoenix, where our man made lights obscure the natural ones. You should be able to find suitable sites for night viewing within 30 minutes of most cities. A good way to learn about viewing places in your area is to contact a local astronomy club and you can learn about these clubs at www.astronomyclubs.com. My favorite spot is at Granite Basin in the Prescott National Forest where on a clear night the stars seem to pour down on you. As a child my favorite spot was on top of our garage.
Once you’ve found your spot and you look at the sky, one of two things will occur to you very quickly. You’ll either wish you had taken the weather into consideration or you’ll wish you knew more about all those lights in the night sky . That brings us to tip number two – do a little homework. Be sure the weather forecast is conducive to stargazing. It’s tough to see through the clouds. Sometimes you won’t know about the clouds until you are there, but if you know a storm is covering most of the area, you may want to reschedule. More importantly, you should spend a little time learning what objects you can expect to see on that particular day from that particular spot. This information is often listed in the weather section of your local newspaper or you may find it on websites such as www.astronomy.com or www.space.com or www.nasa.gov. Stars, planets and their moons, meteor showers, comets, our Moon, the International Space Station, satellites and the Space Shuttle are a few of the common objects you can see with the naked eye – if you know where and how to look for them.
As with most hobbies, you’ll get the most enjoyment out of your star gazing experience if you have a few tools of the trade. For instance I would recommend a good pair of binoculars for looking at objects such as the Moon and planets. I carry Nikon’s 8 x 42mm Monarch. I also use these for bird watching and they’re great for both activities. I would also recommend a guide book such as the “National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to the Night Sky” which happens to be the one I that carry. A small flashlight with a red lens cover is perfect for reading your guide book while star gazing. Using a light with a red lens cover prevents you from “losing” your night vision. Once you get the star gazing “fever,” you’ll want to get a telescope, a journal, a camera, a second telescope and so on. This hobby is quite addictive.
Finally, the number one tip for stargazing success is to take someone along with you. It’s a lot of fun to lay in the back of your pick up truck or on your blanket and look up into the heavens with someone your really care about. It doesn’t get much better than that. I recall a line from the Neil Diamond song “Done Too Soon” when he talks about famous people down through the ages and he says, “and they all looked up in wonder at the same moon.” It’s somehow reassuring that our ancestors looked up and saw what we see today and what our descendants will see tomorrow.
Use this information and you’ll Get It Right The First Time. Get Outdoors!
This article was posted on August 11, 2005