Share Your Greatest Stargazing Tips

We recently asked the Community to tell us about the most incredible ceilings that they’ve ever encountered, but maybe we were setting our sights a little low. Recently, Atlas writer @jessicahester1 published an amazing guide to stargazing, and fellow Atlas staffer @schultjh suggested that we look into getting some more stargazing tips from our readers. Great idea. The (comparatively) clear skies of the summer months make for a great time to try and check out the stars, and explore the wonders of the heavens, and we want to know your tips and tricks for seeing the best sites!

(Image: JuniperPhoton/Public Domain)

Tell us about your favorite places to go to see the cosmic sights, any tips and tricks you might have for making the most of a telescope or finding a favorite constellation, and in general, how you find wonder among the stars. Your response may be included in an upcoming roundup article on Atlas Obscura. Let’s turn our eyes to the stars tell each other what we see!

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Do NOT buy a fancy telescope when you’re first starting out. Start out with a good set of binoculars (which will also be useful for birdwatching!) and the monthly sky maps from “Sky and Telescope” magazine or something similar. I have dealt with so many people who were given a nice telescope as a present but have no idea how to even find the North Star. With a nice dark sky and binocs, you’ll be able to see the great nebula in Orion, count the stars in the Pleiades cluster, and see the moons of Jupiter, for a few examples. Once you learn the technique of “star hopping” to find fuzzy nebulae and such, then get the nice telescope. You’ll save yourself much frustration! Also check for local amateur astronomy groups or universities that have public viewing nights, so you can get some pointers on how to find objects in the night sky.

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Start with the simple - find the more easily seen planets and constellations like Venus, the Big and Small Dippers, etc. Read up on why they were named what they were.

Get a free app or two that will help you locate stars, constellations, and planets that are visible to the naked eye. Below is a screenshot I took of the sky with one of the apps I used when I was stargazing on a beach in Puerto Rico last May.

Google is your friend - there are lists online of where people like to go to stargaze, what weather conditions are the best, local events, etc.

Join a group or get a mentor who knows what to do.

Go to the mountains, go camping or just get out of the city so there’s no light pollution. I’ve been to places where every square inch of the sky was filled with stars because the places were so remote.

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I have nothing to share. My wife has always wanted to spend time at Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania, so for her birthday in 2012, we packed a tent and drove the 4.5 hours to get there, never thinking of the weather. To be fair, when we booked the place, there were no weather reports.

There isn’t much up there, which is what helps it be a dark skies park, so when we saw the clouds rolling in, we got our books and phones out and listened to the rain lightly pelt the tent. Looking skyward showed us nothing better than we could see in the Philly Suburbs. My phone died, so I plugged it in the car while we continued to listen to rain pelt the tent. When it stopped for a bit, I quickly packed up the tent and loaded into the car…which had a dead battery. cell phones had no service, so we walked.

Luckily, the ranger station had a payphone attached, and we had change. Triple A dispatched the Gaines Garage and they were there in 40 minutes. In the ensuing 40 minutes, the rains returned and we ducked under a gazebo with another couple, on bikes. Through conversation, we learned that they biked from roughly the same area that we drove 4.5 hours from, and had the downhill portion of that journey to look forward to. The young man was the cousin of a guy I used to cross on my corner as an elementary school student. He was the cousin of another guy I used to play ultimate with, and now, as I type this, I sit across from his aunt in my workplace.

Gaines Garage gave me a jump and we were back on the road home in no time, but we aim to go back, someday when the skies aren’t so congested.

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Cloudynights.com is your friend.
Binoculars are the recommended starting point but if you have used binoculars before you already know that just isn’t going to scratch this new itch.
If you MUST buy a telescope steer clear of the spindly legged thin tube variety…they are not worth the trouble and might put a big damper on your enthusiasm.
Look into a Dobsonian type. They are stable and the motion of the instrument is much more intuitive - think point and shoot They offer the biggest “bang for your buck” because you get more aperture (light gathering capability) per dollar spent than any other type.
Start with the moon. Easy to find and track. Take pictures through the eyepiece. Then planets.
The next step is the deep stuff…much harder to find. The book that really worked for me was “The Year Round Messier Marathon Field Guide” by H.C. Pennington. Messier objects are true deep space objects but are among the brightest in the sky. This book gives you easy to follow instructions on how to “star hop” using bright guide stars. Trust me…the first time you zero in on the Ring Nebula just by following the book’s guidance you will be hooked.

And if you can get to Cherry Springs State Park in PA you will usually find a bunch of guys with telescopes and many of them would be thrilled to let you take a look through them.

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For beginning stargazers, there’s a wonderful book I can’t recommend too highly—The Stars: A New Way to See Them, by H. A. Rey (author of the Curious George books - read sometime about his and his wife’s amazing WWII escape from Paris on cobbled-together bikes, carrying little with them but the original CG manuscripts!).

Rey’s brilliantly simple idea was to draw the constellations to resemble what they’re named for, making them much more fun and easy to find in the sky. Thanks to him, for decades I’ve always looked for a lion, a scorpion, a bear, etc. and that’s what I see.

The Southern Hemisphere’s constellations are included, as are planetary location charts that are updated every few years. Rey also explains some of the basics of celestial movement (sun, planets, stars) very clearly. A great book for kids and adults. Happy stargazing!

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I would recommend starting out by just looking at the sky by eye and getting to know what’s where. If you buy equipment immediately it will be a very steep learning curve. Otherwise join a amateur astronomer club and learn from them.

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I’ve heard the Atacama Desert is the coolest place on earth to star gaze, anyone been there?

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In my personal experience the best place to stargaze are natural areas with a minimum or total lack of light pollution. But places with those light conditions are kind of really hard to find nowadays.

The best star gazing experience I’ve had is when I watched the 2016 Perseid meteor shower in the forests of the mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama in Spain , it was absolutely amazing. Also loved stargazing in Mexico in the deserts of Chihuahua and Sinaloa state and in the Sierras of State of Mexico , Tlaxcala and Puebla and in the countryside of Normandy in France , lots of places in the UK , Scotland and Ireland too.

More recently I’ve also really enjoyed just laying back in the grasses of the Cerrado savanha in Brazil and watching the milky way and I remember thinking about the indigenous Guarani mythology that it was a cosmic mud bath created by a mud wallowing tapir.

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Haven’t been there (yet) but have heard the same about what an excellent location it is for star gazing. It’s definitely a place I would like to go in the future.

Also isn’t there one of the best observatories in the world that is based there ? or am I thinking of somewhere else?

I’m not sure about the observatory, but with its reputation I’m sure there is one. I checked into a travel agency who put together a package to visit other cities in Chile as well as Brazil… so far it may be on the bucket list…

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This sounds like an incredible meditation. We should all give thanks to the mud-wallowing tapir.

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Anza Borrego is a park south of San Diego, CA, USA about 100 mi and on its outskirts (about 30-40 miles from the Salton Sea; another destination) is the town of Borrego Springs which is a “Dark Sky” registered community for star watching. Plenty of open roads and no tall buildings and slightly below sea level; grab some warm food from the town and head out for comfortable sky watching there.

I totally agree , all hail the mighty tapir cosmic tapir.

On a serious note , its quite curious when you look at the colour of a tapir mud wallow and then compare it to the hue of the milky way. The colour is quite similar , like a cup of coffee or tea to which has been added quite a lot of milk.

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