Many of us live in large cities or suburbs. The light pollution and general busyness of the city can make us feel like we can’t enjoy the amazing sights of astronomy from our own backyard. This is simply not the case. You can stargaze in the city, it just takes a little bit more work than stargazing under completely dark skies.
Do not let the amazing hobby of astronomy remain out of reach because you live in a city. Here are ten tips on stargazing in the city that you can use right away to get started.
1. Locate local dark sky areas
Not every part of the city is the same. Look at a map and find a place in the city that is more conducive to stargazing. Obviously, you aren’t going to want to try and catch a glimpse of Mars from Main Street but that doesn’t mean that your city does not have a forest, park, or greenspace that will have less light than the surrounding area.
2. Use light filters
There are a variety of filters available for sale that can help you use a telescope in the city. There are colored filters to try and block out prolific colors that might be polluting your sky, there are light pollution filters and moon filters which all can help to cut through the light that your city gives off allowing you to see much better than you thought possible.
These filters are generally inexpensive and can often be purchased as a part of a kit. Simply adding a light filter to your telescope can really make a big difference if you are struggling with light pollution.
3. Temper your expectations
You might need to accept the fact that you won’t be able to see the Milky Way from your apartment balcony but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other great things to see out there. Remove the images from the Hubble Space Telescope from your mind and focus on the things that you are able to see.
If you set realistic expectations and goals for what you can actually see from your particular city you will be less likely to be disappointed.
4. Pick the best time
Not all times are equal in terms of stargazing potential. If you can pick the perfect time to go outside and look up, you will be surprised at how much more is visible than at other times. Aiming for a period with good weather, a small or new moon, and dry conditions can really amplify your night sky to a level you haven’t seen before.
If you keep an eye on the important atmospheric conditions you can pick a time that will be the most conducive to a darker sky with brighter stars. The difference can be truly stunning if you do the research.
5. Focus on bright objects
The sky is filled with bright and interesting objects. You do not need completely dark skies to enjoy some of the best sights of the night. Things such as planets are often visible, even in the city. Learn to identify and pick out the brightest nighttime objects so you can make a point on focusing on them.
There are super bright stars up there such as the North Star and Vega, Rigel or Sirius. These are all different and are interesting to find and look at, even if not much else is visible up there on a given night.
6. Get elevated
If you have a place in town that is higher than the surrounding area, it can make a huge difference in terms of sky quality. There is a reason the world’s major telescopes are built on the tops of mountains. Elevation can help you get above some of the light pollution and particulate matter that can make stargazing a hassle.
A little elevation can go along way. It doesn’t have to be a mountain top. If you have a park nearby with some tall hills or a ridge that is elevated above the bulk of the city, even those will make a big difference.
7. Utilize charts or apps
There are many apps for your phone that are improving all the time. These astronomy apps can help you map the sky, and the newer ones can even generate a list of objects that are going to be visible from your exact location based on live data coming from the internet. This can help you narrow down the objects worth pursuing in your area.
8. Start with binoculars
If you are going to be battling light pollution and want to focus on bright easily visible objects, you might not need a telescope at all. You can get by with a good pair of binoculars to do a lot of general and casual stargazing. Don’t dive into the deep end with complicated and expensive telescopes until you are sure stargazing in your city is something you want to do consistently.
9. Cold weather helps
The darkest skies and brightest stars usually come out in the winter when it is cold out. Summer heat is usually accompanied by humidity and even when you can’t see it, moisture in the air can make the sky a lot less exciting. High level clouds and fog can block out things you didn’t even know existed up there because even a little bit of moisture cover can disrupt the light of the stars.
Truly cold nights are usually very dry and offer clear crisp views of the stars you only get during the coldest months of the year. Plan on doing some of your best stargazing during the winter.
10. Have fun
If you are pulling your hair out trying to see things that just aren’t visible or are driving around at all hours of the night trying to find the best place to look for the planets, you are doing it wrong. Astronomy is supposed to be fun, relaxing, and educational. If you are not having fun trying to stargaze in the city, then there is no point. Make sure you are enjoying yourself no matter what the sky looks like.