How to Stargaze at Home

Ellie Swain

Senior Contributor

There’s something very calming and magical about gazing up at the night’s sky and observing the glimmering stars shining above. Staring at the tiny sparkling orbs can give us perspective, which is what many of us need during these trying times of self-isolation and quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re not sure where to start but love the idea of admiring the twinkling stars that scatter the night’s sky above, we’re here to help. Grab a cosy coat, find a comfy spot to lie down, or peek outside your window to discover the universe that surrounds us.

How to Set Up Stargazing

Stargazing is best practised before the moon is full, so check the phase of the moon before you start. You should also stargaze on a clear night – ideally one that’s cold so that there’s a reduction of haze from pollution.

Whether you’re sitting out in the garden or peering out of a window, make sure you have a clear and unobstructed view without any buildings or trees in the way.

Switch off all your lights to reduce light pollution. For the best results, you could also ask your neighbours to turn theirs off too. Given the circumstances, be sure to ask by phoning or texting them – you are social distancing after all. You never know, in times like these it may be an activity you can enjoy together, at a safe distance, of course.

Now all you need to do is wait. It might be difficult to focus at first, but after 30 seconds your eyes will mostly be adjusted to the dark. Between 25 minutes to half an hour, you’ll be able to observe the stars a whole lot better.

You’ll soon notice that some of the stars differ in colours. Some will have a reddish tint, while others may appear bluer.

Equipment to Use

While you can stargaze without having any equipment, many of us have some bits lying around the house that can help make the experience even more thrilling.

Any type of magnification can help, like binoculars, for example. When using binoculars, you’ll be able to gaze at the sky up close, noticing a lot more than you would with the naked eye.

For example, you’ll notice that the moon’s surface isn’t smooth as it looks from afar. Instead, it features mountain ranges and a craggy, pitted, and unusual landscape.

However, using binoculars can also magnify any shaking from your hands. Unless you have a very firm and steady hold, you might require a tripod to make them worth using.

A compass will also tell you which direction you’re looking so you can identify the stars, but if you don’t have one, don’t sweat. Your phone is likely to have one, or you can download one as an app.

Stargazing Apps

While it’s satisfying just staring up at the glittering stars above, you may want to know exactly what you’re looking at.

Thankfully there are many stargazing apps that use your phone’s location to show you what you’re staring at. Star Walk 2 and SkyView Free are some of the most popular apps for stargazing.

But for something more exhaustive to help you figure out constellations on your own instead of gazing through your phone’s screen, there’s a free open-source computer programme called Stellarium.

This software displays a realistic night’s sky in 3D, allowing you to pinpoint your location. You can also adjust the dates and times so you can observe how the sky will change in the coming weeks. Or, if you want to see what the stars look like from somewhere else in the world, you can pop in an alternative location too.

What’s There to See?

Of course, the highlight of stargazing is gazing at all the different clusters and constellations. When you stare at the stars, did you know that you’re peering into the past? As light takes time to travel and stars are found many light years away from the earth, when you look at a star you may be seeing at a star that no longer exists.

Use some of the apps mentioned to understand exactly which stars you’re looking at and the history behind them.

The moon is also fascinating to gaze at. All the planet’s oceans are controlled by the moon, and the moon is why we have high and low tides on our earth. Only twelve people have been lucky enough to set foot on the moon, and as there’s no wind on the moon today you would still see the footprints left on the terrain.

As mentioned, before the moon was viewed through binoculars it was believed to be a perfect, smooth sphere. If you can stare at the moon on a clear night through binoculars, you’ll notice its imperfect craters, ridges, and bumpy edges.

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