The night sky is a fascinating and beautiful place to explore. Using just your eyes, there are countless wonders of the universe to pick out. In fact, stargazing is a wonderful family hobby. To help you get started, pick up a copy of “Wonders of the Night Sky” by Professor Raman Prinja (see below for ordering information).
As you learn about the stars, planets, moon, and comets, you will come to understand what you are looking at and its place in the Universe. The most important thing when viewing the night sky is to have fun!
Let’s start with a few handy tips on how best to go stargazing.
High And Dark
When exploring the night sky, it helps to go to a dark site, far from streetlights and building lights (otherwise known as “light pollution”). To see as much of the sky as possible, it also helps to go somewhere high, such as a hill in an open park or field. Always make sure you are safe and with a trusted adult.
Give Your Eyes a Chance
Our eyes are not used to seeing in the dark. They can take up to 30 minutes to fully adjust to darkness and pick out faint stars in the sky. If you need a light to see something while you stargaze (such as your book!), use a flashlight that has been dulled with a covering of red cellophane. Red light does not have the same glaring effect on our eyes as blue or white light.
Remember, it can get very cold at night, even in non-winter months. Take some warm layers to wear. Bring along drinks and snacks, and a blanket to sit or lie down on. Stargazing is even more fun when you go with a group of friends.
A Better Look?
If you want a closer look at the planets, or craters on the Moon, binoculars are a great first tool to use. They are cheaper to buy and easier to carry around than a telescope. There are also many useful apps for a cell phone or tablet that can help you see the positions of stars from your location. Remember to use the red-light mode or night mode on your device.
Astronomy requires patience and calm. The weather can suddenly turn cloudy and wet, and your plans are ruined! Objects such as meteors may take hours to appear, and when one finally arrives, you could miss it as it streaks across the sky. Most of the time you will be busy trying to find objects in the sky that are small and faint—think of it as an interstellar treasure hunt.
Reprinted with permission from Aladdin/Beyond Words (May 9, 2023)
Available online and in stores. Purchase your copy: www.simonandschuster.com/books/Wonders-of-the-Night-Sky/Raman-Prinja/9781582708775
Professor Raman Prinja, Departmental Head of Physics and Astronomy at University College London, is a preeminent astronomer as well as being a passionate advocate for outreach to children of all backgrounds to invite them into the fold of astronomy. His expertise is internationally admired, and he loves to spread the joy of learning through events and community engagement.