Get starstruck in wilderness! Plan a stargazing trip with these tips

Piper Mountain Wilderness, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

flickr, mypubliclands (Bob Wick, BLM California)

It’s well known that no camping trip is complete without a lengthy gaze into the twinkling night sky. But stargazing can be much more than a happy punctuation to a camping trip.

Planning a dedicated stargazing trip in wilderness can be fulfilling in its own right – not to mention a unique way to get into wilderness.

In fact, dark skies that are unclouded by urban light pollution, can allow you to see across two and a half million light-years of space to the Andromeda Galaxy, the most distant thing you can see with your naked eye.

 

Get a glimpse of starlit skies as seen at Joshua Tree National Park in the video footage below:

 

Stargazing truly gives you a sense of cosmic scale, so broaden your horizons by using these tips for planning your stargazing trip to wilderness:

1. Get out of town! To avoid light pollution, drive an hour from a city the size of Dallas or three hours from a city the size of Los Angeles. Once at your destination, choose a wide open space for the best views. Dust in the atmosphere reflects bright city lights, so to get a real look at the night sky you have to go to remote places - into wilderness. 

Only one in three Americans lives far enough away from the lights of big cities to see our own spectacular Milky Way galaxy with the naked eye.

2. Check for clouds: Be sure there will be no cloud cover by checking the weather ahead of time. Often you can also simultaneously get information on sun and moon rising and setting times, for example at one of these sites: 

3. Look for night sky programs: Many National Parks rangers offer night sky programs. Research resources local to the area you are traveling to.

4. Choose a season: Different stars and constellations are viewable at different times of year, month and day, as this site shows. Summer may be the most comfortable, winter is best for clearer skies. Stars may be brighter during a new moon, but if there is a full one you can spy its craters and mountains.

5. Pick out the planets: In general, planets are larger and they don't twinkle like the stars. Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can also be spied easily if you know when and where to look. Venus is often mistakenly referred to as the morning or evening star because it is the brightest spot in the sky and the most visible during sunrise and sunset.

6. Learn to find the Milky Way: Look for a faint band of light or a broad string of stars traversing the entire sky. This is the edge of the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, which of course you are seeing from the inside.

7. Train your eyes: Make sure to turn off flashlights and lanterns and then give yourself time to get adjusted to the dark. It can take up to 30 minutes for your eyes to become adjusted. Peripheral vision is more sensitive to light so you may be able to see stars better by not looking directly at them.

8. Research what will be visible: These sites are good for starters:

You can also use a northern hemisphere star chart to aid you in finding specific constellations. Find a free one at one of these sites:

You could also download an app for your Apple or Android smartphone.  

9. Consider packing these extra tools: In addition to a star chart, you can use a compass and binoculars for better viewing. If you'll have a smartphone device handy, you may also want to look into stargazing apps:

See also:

Blog by Lydia Hooper. Hooper is a freelance writer with an interest in science and environment. She holds a B.A. in environmental media and lives in Denver, Colorado. 

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