The universe is billions of years old and since ancient times, the stars, galaxies and constellations have fascinated man. Even through a small telescope, it is possible to appreciate the beauty of the night time skies as stars, planets and celestial bodies come into view with startling clarity.
Unfortunately the urban astronomer’s view of the cosmos is limited due to a number of factors but there are ways to enhance your chances of viewing spectacular celestial objects through light-polluted skies.
The impact of light pollution on stargazing ~
There is increasing concern about light pollution and how the glare from lights in our cities considerably reduces celestial visibility. The more illuminated the place on earth, the more invisible the stars become. This is not always noticeable when urban dwellers might enjoy the twinkling stars they can see without realising how limited their views are. That is, until they spend a few nights out in the country to discover a spectacular cosmic display they have been missing out on in the city.
This is why the urban astronomer should choose their observing site with care to help boost the pleasure you get out of your stargazing experience. Two levels of light can have an impact on your views of the night time skis. Firstly there is the localised pollution coming from the lights around you. Also there is the orange glow coming from hundreds of thousands of lights that not only light up the earth but spread skyward, resulting in obscuring the view of many of the stars in the sky.
Therefore, the urban stargazer should choose their observing site with care. The site needs to be as dark as possible and also safe. In towns and cities, buildings can obstruct the view of the constellations. Find an area far away from these obstructions such as a park or grassy areas. Or think about going upwards. There may be a hilly area or a safe roof from which you can view the stars.
How urban stargazers can maximise their viewing experiences ~
Now you’ve done what you can to maximise your view of the night time skies, in order to block out localised light, you could cover your head with a black cloth or hood.
Your cosmic viewing experience can also be influenced by the weather. Cloudy skies will further obscure your view of celestial objects while windy conditions will make it difficult to keep astronomical equipment steady. A moonless night is good for stargazing as there will be less glare to spoil your views and the best time to observe the constellations is after midnight and in the early hours of the morning.
It typically takes fifteen to thirty minutes for your eyes to get accustomed to the dark. When you reach your observing site, be sure therefore to give your eyes a chance to fully adjust to the dark.
There is still much delight in the skies above that the urban stargazer can enjoy after putting a little thought into location, techniques and best times for viewing.