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4 Tips For An Epic Stargazing Adventure

A person wearing a headlamp stands under and illuminates a stone archway in Arches National Park. The night sky and Milky Way are off to the left, and some illuminated clouds are off to the right.
Person Standing Under A Rock Formation On A Starry Night (Free to use (CC0))

Stargazing is a fun, educational, and even meditative activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Summer’s warm weather makes it an appealing time to get out and see the wonders of the galaxy, so here are a few things you need to get the most out of your stargazing adventure!

Dark Skies

Makes sense, no? You just can’t do any proper stargazing in most cities thanks to light pollution (Flagstaff, AZ, being a notable exception). That means getting away from population centers and out into the countryside. Thankfully, tools like Light Pollution Map can help you find the closest (and darkest) patch of darkness in your area.

A map of light pollution across Western Europe and Northern Africa.
Light pollution map of Western Europe and Northern Africa

National, state, and county parks can offer a respite from the city glow, as can secluded beaches, large lakes, and mountaintops. Just be sure your preferred spot is accessible at night; most parks will let you post up for stargazing if you contact them in advance and you’ve filed any necessary paperwork.

Of course, it only gets dark after the sun sets and it doesn’t start to get REALLY dark until after Nautical Twilight. So, Time And Date is here to help you figure out what time is really optimal to head out to your patch of dark sky. As a bonus, you can even see what phase the moon is in (hint: Stars are much harder to see when the moon is full).

A person with a backpack looks at the sun on the horizon as while standing at a wooden guardrail that overlooks a body of water in front and a large mountain range off to the left.
Patience is really the best tool for stargazing. (Photo credit: Porapak Apichodilok)

Of course, you’ll also need

Good Weather

Rain falls from a storm cloud in the distance while looking across a large field.
Rain moving through in the evening might actually mean a clear night! (Free to use (CC0))

There’s nothing worse than scoping out the perfect spot only to have clouds and rain ruin your excursion. Look for clear to partly cloudy skies (no more than 20–25% sky cover if you can find that data) and low humidity to ensure good viewing conditions. Comfortable temperatures are also important, as is a still wind if you’re using a telescope or taking night sky photos (tripods work best when they’re not getting blown around).

The National Weather Service’s site is a good place for folks in the US to check the forecast and find a good, clear evening, with forecasts that go out 6–7 days. They also have plenty of satellite imagery there to make sure there aren’t any clouds around when your selected night rolls around. Outside the US? Not to worry. There are plenty of weather sites that will show you international forecasts and maps to help you plan your escape.

And remember, it’s not just our weather that can affect your viewing quality.

Space Weather

Remember, stars aren’t the only things the night sky has to offer. Meteor showers, such as the Perseids, can put on a dazzling show as well. Check out the American Meteor Society to see if there are any happening on your preferred stargazing night.

A person standing next to a guardrail looks at the night sky as the sun is setting and a meteor shower passes overhead.
Meteor showers: Nature’s night light shows. (Photo Credit: Raman Deep)

Our closest star — the Sun — can affect what you see in the night sky in a good way, too! Sites like SpaceWeather.com can let you know if you might be in for that rare and heavenly treat — the aurora, also known as the Northern and Southern Lights! For those of us in the northern hemisphere, seeing the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) usually requires viewers to be pretty far north, though big solar storms have been known to send these colorful waves as far south as Florida. Just remember, you won’t be able to get the full effect under the city lights.

The same is true for those of us south of the equator. The aurora australis (Southern Lights) are more easily spotted the further south you trek, though getting away from light pollution in New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, and Chile is decidedly easier. Check out this article from The Smithsonian for a handful of their primo suggested viewing locations.

A starry, night sky with a meteor and the Aurora borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, over a lake and mountains in Greenland.
Prepare to be amazed! (Photo Credit: Visit Greenland)

And, in case you see something that’s clearly NOT a meteor streaking across the sky, you can always check the Starlink website to figure out if it might be a series of internet delivery satellites.

Now that you’ve scoped everything out, you’re going to want to

Pack the Right Gear

A blue, one-person tent with a light on inside of it in the middle of a field at night. Mountains and the night sky in the background.
(Photo Credit: Sagui Andrea)

Stargazing is best done lying down, so you may want a picnic blanket or stargazing chair, that is, unless you don’t mind grass stains and dew, of course.

It should be really dark, so, to find a spot to spread out, grab a flashlight and make sure it has a red filter. The filter is key to helping you preserve your night vision, which takes about 20 minutes to adjust.

If you’re planning on doing a little astrophotography, a nice, sturdy tripod is a necessity for those long exposures to turn out. (And if you prefer to avoid shopping at Amazon, we highly recommend B&H as an alternative for all your photography needs.)

Bug spray will help keep the biters away will make your night more enjoyable, as well as possibly prevent some potentially nasty diseases. Avoid bug-repellent candles, however, as even the light from a small flame can impact your night sky viewing.

There are also a few items that, while not absolutely necessary, can help enhance your stargazing adventure. A telescope, for example, will let you zoom in on planets and the moon, but you can certainly appreciate sites like the Milky Way without the aid of a telescope, and, if you’re hunting meteors, telescopes mostly just get in the way.

A standing person looks at the night sky through a telescope.
A telescope can make seeing planets an out-of-this-world experience. (Photo Credit: Thirdman)

If you’re curious about exactly what you’re looking at, downloading a sky chart app like Stellarium or Night Sky App (this one’s Apple only) to your device can tell you about the stars and constellations you’re peering at. That said, buying a star chart is a good idea if you’re getting WAY out of town — i.e. out of mobile phone coverage.

And finally, for added ambiance, consider a radio or a bluetooth speaker. The sound can be good for putting you in a stargazing mood, but it can also help keep wild animals away from your viewing area.

Hopefully, you’ll get some good use out of these tips and tricks. We’re always looking out for ways to make adventures more adventurous, so if you’ve got any of your own you’d like to share, or just want to let us know your thoughts on this article, ping us at info@tripbee.com with the subject “Stargazing Tips”!

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