Stargazing is so diverse depending on the chosen location. Out in the open plains one will be privy to seeing the night sky lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. On the other hand, urban dwellers will have the tendency to think the night skies are relatively empty. This is due to the intrusion of what is called ‘light pollution’. An over abundance of light can have urban stargazers totally frustrated. This makes choosing an observation site somewhat difficult. Yet with a little pre-planning urban dwellers can enjoy all the wonders of stargazing. Read on for some tips for choosing an observation site for urban stargazing.
Sky-glow and line-of-site are two types of light pollution which infringe on urban stargazers enjoyment frequently. As one drives into a city they will notice what is deemed the ‘sky glow’. This is basically the reflection of millions of lights in use. These lights comes from car parks, football grounds, warehouses, neighbour’s houses, malls, lighted billboards and so forth. Line-of-site glow is usually far more obtrusive than sky glow. Therefore stargazers need to avoid these areas as much as possible or do something about blocking light.
If you are wishing to stargaze from your very own patio, you can block out a great deal of light by stringing a couple of lightweight blankets around the patio. Turn of all outdoor and indoor lights and you will notice the difference. If you have solar garden lights, cover these with black plastic bags for the time being or cover with old rags etc. This will block out a large percentage of light pollution.
Observe the skies on a moonless night:
Moonless nights are the better option for urban star gazers. But do set your alarm clock for the early hours of the morning. Experienced urban star gazers find that observing the skies is much more successful between midnight and 4am. This is due to most urban dwellers using less light (if any) at these hours. Factories will have fewer lights on and so will offices and other business sites. Your main light pollution will come from obtrusive telegraph poles and car light reflection. Consequently, there will be far less sky glow and line-of site pollution to contend with.
Choose the darkest area possible:
Choose a readily accessible area which is as dark as possible and of course safe. Remember that safety must be your top priority, more so if you intend to observe the skies on your own.
Roof top observation:
If you live in a high-rise apartment you may be granted permission to use the roof at night. If the roof is easy to access, by elevator or a small flight of steps, the rooftop will grant you an amazing observation point. You will be above a host of obstructions such as trees level lighting, neighbor's lights and so forth. But there are some disadvantages to be taken into the equation. Rooftops can absorb a great amount of heat even when the coldest winter day is present. The roof can radiate this back out at the night sky on occasion. This can distort your view. And you must be prepared for neighbor's whining that you are keeping them under surveillance. Your best option is to tell your neighbours that you are a stargazer.
Open planned parks and beaches:
Large well planned parks are ideal for star gazing but do remember that line-of-site intrusion is more intrusive than sky glow. Therefore once you are at the park choose a viewing spot that blocks out as many light sources as possible. A good cluster of trees, buildings, gazebos and walls serve this particular role well. Of course check this is only at night time when most lights are turned off. These areas are ideal for stargazing as the absorb little heat during the day. Check out the location in the daylight hours first and try to avoid secluded corners of these sites if possible.
Most cities have a lookout of some type which is elevated. These are ideal locations for stargazing. But once again ensure your personal safety. These are often high above the town and far away from obtrusive light pollution. Do be careful around cliffs and unstable terrain. But oh how brilliant the sky will look.
Most golf courses have a plethora of trees. If you introduce yourself to the proprietors, they may agree to allow you to stargaze on certain nights. The trees will block out a load of light pollution and enhance your stargazing opportunities. You may have to pay a small fee for the use of the grounds but it will definitely be worth the cost. You could even make friends with the security guard and be allowed on the premises at no cost at all. There are quite a few open planned golf courses which have no gates and no restrictions as far as trespassing is concerned.
Industrial areas turn most of their lights off at night. These usually have large car parks for employees. The tall buildings act as a light pollution filter and give you the opportunity to view the skies without any interference whatsoever. Set your telescope in the corner of one of the car parks. But do take notice of any no parking signs.
Stargazing from windows of high-rise buildings and apartments can be very successful. You will be well above most line-of-site light pollution. This is ideal fro urban stargazing and if one lives in a high-rise apartment they have the opportunity to keep a large telescope set up at all times. The only down side to this is that you may be limited in which part of the sky you can focus on. But your star gazing opportunities will definitely be increased.
Football and baseball stadiums have elevated seating which allows you the opportunity to stand quite high above the ground. Giving you easier access to stargazing. Only enter if permitted and do carry a torch and familiarize yourself with the area prior to heading their at night time. There is safety in numbers so take a friend along with you if possible. Wear flat shoes so that you do not trip on steps.
Mountain views/desert areas:
Many urban towns have high grounds and even tall hills at times. Hike the area and choose a relatively flat level area to set up. Most urban cities have some type of hiking club so check this out and garner some information about the safest areas. Introduce yourself to forest rangers and you may be fortunate enough to be invited into a tall viewers booth which overlooks tall trees and so forth. Now that would be an ideal location for stargazing indeed. Light pollution will be almost non existent. Those who live not far from deserts areas will have the upper hand as far as stargazing is concerned. But do tell someone where you are headed and keep safety as your number one priority.
Many urban areas have a plethora of special interest groups. Tennis clubs and so forth. There are often star gazers clubs as well. Look online for your closest star gazing club and become a member. They usually hold stargazing parties around the New Moon weekend and this is such fun. Join the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York City if you live in the area. They have an arrangement with the United States Park Service, and a host of other organizations to use several city parks for their monthly twilight viewing sessions. You could even start your very own stargazing club and this will give you the opportunity to gain access to stadiums, playing fields and so forth.
You could even check with high schools and colleges to find out if they have star gazing clubs and specific high ground fields for observation. As you can see, successful urban stargazing is possible. You simply need to check out your surrounds and take advantage of all the possibilities. If you intend to stargaze from outdoors, your bets option would be to invest in a smaller, more portable telescope. With the knowledge you have garnered from this article, there is nothing stopping you from enjoying the magnificence of the heavens above from an urban location.