The Best Ways to View the Night Sky
When is the best time?
Colder days with crisp, dry air are ideal for stargazing, as the atmosphere is clearer under these conditions. The moon is brighter than one might think, so you can find more stars in the sky when the moon isn’t out.
Where is the best place?
The best place will give you an unobstructed view of the sky in every direction. The fewer streetlights and other bright lights around you, the more stars you will be able to see.
You can also view the stars from the window or porch of your home. If there are streetlights nearby, you can view the stars more easily by blocking out the light with your hand. Even in the city, the number of stars you can see will increase if you wait until the middle of the night.
How to View the Night Sky
- Wait for your eyes to adjust to the dark
- It will take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to darkness. If you are going to a place where others are already viewing the stars, make sure that your eyes have thoroughly adjusted before moving about. It is necessary that you be careful not to interrupt the viewing of others by thoughtlessly shining a flashlight around.
- View in a comfortable position for looking up at the sky
- It is more comfortable to view the stars while lying flat in a sleeping bag on the ground or sitting in a chair. When lying on the ground in winter, you can protect yourself from the cold by spreading cardboard or a thermal insulating sheet for camping on the ground, thus preventing the coldness of the ground from reaching you. If you have a reclining chair, you can view the stars in a more comfortable position.
Once Preparations Are Complete for Viewing
- Determine direction and start by gazing at the night sky with your naked eye
- If you arrived before sunset, be sure to note the direction in which the sun sets beneath the horizon. This direction is west. From this point, you can determine the direction of the stars that you want to view, even without a compass. Once you have determined your direction, gaze over the full expanse of the night sky with your naked eye.
- Using brighter stars for reference, determine the positions of galaxies and star clusters
- Using brighter stars as reference points, compare the night sky to a star chart or planisphere to get a general idea of the positions of galaxies and star clusters. It may also be a good idea to look over the night sky in a planetarium as preparation before turning your gaze to the actual night sky.
- Prepare your binoculars when you have found the stars that you want to view
- When you find a star that you want to see more clearly, try viewing it through your binoculars. With your binoculars, you should also be able to find many more stars than you can see with your naked eye. In addition, when viewed through binoculars, even the moon takes on a different demeanor.
Tips for Choosing the Right Binoculars
With binoculars, you can clearly view distant galaxies and star clusters that appear as no more than barely visible specks of light to the naked eye. It’s easier to spot comets and such with binoculars that have a wide field of view so that you can see a wider area of space at one time.
- Large effective diameter of the objective lens
- We recommend an effective diameter of about 40mm to 50mm. With larger diameter, we recommend the use of a tripod to stabilize binoculars as larger diameter of the objective lens may cause unstable image and uncomfortable viewing due to shaking by hand movement.
- Larger exit pupil
- Binoculars with a 5mm or larger exit pupil are ideal. We cannot recommend binoculars with an exit pupil below 3mm for stargazing.
- At a magnification around 7x to 10x, position yourself so that you can hold the binoculars firmly in place while viewing. Binoculars with overly high magnification may cause unstable image and uncomfortable viewing due to shaking by hand movement. When using high-magnification binoculars, you can fix the binoculars in place using a tripod to steady your field of vision for extended viewing without any worries.
※A tripod adapter is necessary to attach binoculars to a tripod.
- High optical performance
- Because you are viewing stars, which are point light sources, it is essential to have binoculars with high resolution capabilities. Choose binoculars with high lens performance that produce a sharp image even in the periphery of their field of vision.
- There is no need to worry about your binoculars in night dew or when there is sudden rainfall.
- Binoculars that fit your stargazing style
- Choose binoculars that fit your stargazing style, considering whether you plan to hold the binoculars in your hands or attach them to a tripod and so on. In addition, it is important that you try holding the binoculars in your hands, look through the lenses and choose what works best for you.
Tips for spotting stars with your binoculars
The area of space that you can see through binoculars is smaller than expected when compared with what can be seen with the naked eye. For this reason, it is better to find the stars (or constellations) that you want to view with your naked eye first. Keeping your gaze fixed on the same spot, swiftly bring the binoculars up to the level of your eyes and peer through them. Another way is to find a bright star and, using that star as a reference point, gradually move your binoculars’ field of vision in the direction of the galaxy or star cluster that you wish to view.
Preventing unstable image and uncomfortable viewing due to shaking by hand movement
< Use tripod to stabilize binoculars >
For high magnification binoculars and those with an effective objective lens diameter over 50mm, we recommend the use of a tripod to stabilize the binoculars for viewing, as they may cause unstable image and uncomfortable viewing due to shaking by hand movement. This is also a convenient method for steadying your field of vision for extended viewing.
※A tripod adapter is necessary to attach binoculars to a tripod.
< Keep your body still >
When viewing with your body upright, you may lean against a wall or pillar to reduce possibility of unstable image and uncomfortable viewing due to shaking by hand movement. Another easy way to reduce possibility of them is resting your elbows or placing your binoculars on a handrail.
Introduction to Stargazing
Essential Gear for Stargazing
- Star Chart or planisphere
- A planisphere is a disc with a picture of the night sky for an entire year printed on it. By aligning the date and time, you can check which stars you will be able to see in the night sky on that day and at that time. There are many different types of planispheres available, so find the one that works best for you.
- You will need a flashlight when moving and when looking at your planisphere. So as not to overstimulate your eyes after taking the time to get used to the darkness, you can reduce the light level by draping red cellophane or a red handkerchief over the light to lessen the glare.
- This is useful for determining direction. A compass is especially handy for determining the names of stars and constellations by comparing the night sky printed on the planisphere with the positions of the stars relative to direction in the actual night sky.
- Book on constellations
- You can learn all sorts of information about the stars that you are viewing right then and there.
- Cold weather gear
- Be sure to dress warm for winter. You should take adequate measures to protect yourself from the cold, using items such as a blanket or pocket warmer.
Even in summer, it’s best to wear long-sleeved shirts. Also be sure to bring insect repellant.
※It’s also a good idea to prepare and bring something warm to drink, a snack and rain gear.
- Stargazing on the road, edge of water, cliff or unstable ground should definitely be avoided.
- If you are going to a place where others are already viewing the stars, it is necessary that you be careful not to interrupt their viewing by thoughtlessly shining your flashlight around. Make sure that your eyes have thoroughly adjusted before moving about. You should also reduce the light level by draping red cellophane or a red handkerchief over the light to lessen the glare.
- If you are watching the stars too intently while alone, you may not notice somebody approaching you. Not all places are safe, so be sure to pay attention to safety and bring a friend when possible.
- Be careful not to enter private property or point your binoculars at people or private dwellings. Especially at night, many people will feel uncomfortable just having binoculars pointed in their general direction. Be sure to point your binoculars up at the sky only.