How to start stargazing

Oct 10 2023

Two people look at the night's sky sitting in front of their illuminated tent

The stars have aligned and you’re ready to start learning more about the night sky. If you’re camping or glamping, you’re already in the ideal spot to begin. So, break away from the campfire and get cosy under the stars. There’s so much to see.

Here are some tips to help you get started.

Dress warmly

Even if it’s been a mild day, make sure you have a jacket or jumper to keep you warm while you’re stargazing. In the coldest months, make sure you’re well wrapped up with hat, gloves and your warmest coat. When the sun goes down, it can get chilly quickly. Grab a blanket or roll mat to sit or lie on to protect yourself from the cold ground . If you’re camping or glamping, this is a great excuse to snuggle up in your favourite jumper with a flask of hot chocolate.

Check the weather forecast

When picking the best day to stargaze, choose the clearest night you can, otherwise the clouds will block the stars.

Full moon on a dark, cloudless night

Pay attention to the moon

You probably won’t be scheduling your holiday around moon phases unless you’re a werewolf, but it’s something to bear in mind. When the moon’s close to full – a week before and after the full moon phase – the moon creates a lot of skyglow. This makes fainter stars, meteor showers, and the Milky Way harder to see. The best time to stargaze is one week either side of the new moon phase.

Learn the constellations and asterisms

Constellations are groupings of stars that were officially named and recorded by the Astronomical Congress of 1928. There are 88 constellations, often named after animals, mythological subjects, or objects.

Big dipper

Big Dipper

Unlike constellations, asterisms are recognisable but not official patterns of stars. Asterisms can be a part of constellations, like the Big Dipper which is part of Ursa Major, or Orion’s Belt which is part of the constellation Orion. Asterisms can also cross across multiple constellations, like the Summer Triangle, which is formed by three stars called Deneb, Altair, and Vega.

Orion's belt

Orion's belt

Different constellations are visible at different times of the year, depending on the Earth’s orbit of the Sun. As the Earth is always moving, the stars appear to move slightly west of where they were the night before.

Your location also changes which stars and constellations you can see, and how high they’ll appear in the sky. The Northern and Southern Hemispheres point in slightly different directions, so at Hampshire Outdoor Centres we’ll see different stars and constellations than stargazers in Australia.

Man uses a tripod to take photos of the stars

Choose your spot carefully

The best places to stargaze are:

Let your eyes adapt to the darkness

It takes your eyes 20-30 minutes to adjust to the dark, in a process called dark adaptation. Your eyes will relax, and your pupils will open wider to allow in extra light. Once your eyes have adjusted, you’ll be able to see the night sky a lot more clearly, even without any specialist equipment.

Make sure to maintain your dark adaptation by using the dimmest lights possible. Turn your phone and torch brightness down and switch on the orange/night filters on your device’s screen. Red lights are best for stargazing because they have the smallest impact on your night vision.

To get an even better view you can also use binoculars or a telescope.

Use stargazing apps or a chart

You don’t need to be a pro right away. While you’re learning, download a trusted stargazing app to help you navigate your way around the skies. The BBC Sky at Night magazine has curated a list of some great astronomy apps to help get you started. You can also use a compass or compass app on your phone to help you orientate yourself.

Get your friends and family involved

Round up your fellow campers and glampers for a night under the stars. Everything’s more fun with a team, so work together to find planets, constellations, and asterisms in the sky.

Now you’ve learned the basics, it’s time to practice your astronomy skills. Our centres are a great place to set up camp and see the stars, including Runway’s End Outdoor Centre in Hampshire and Argoed Lwyd Outdoor Education Centre which is nestled in the heart of Bannau Brycheiniog National Park. So, book a trip now and get ready to reach for the stars.