I’ve scoured the Internet for websites that offer weekly stargazing tips, and my favorite by far is StarDate Online, provided by the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Stargazers may choose to subscribe to a monthly newsletter and receive e-mails about stargazing opportunities. Of course, I will create a link in my blog posts to their seven-day star forecast, the first of which covers the nights from Oct. 11 to Oct. 17. (Or try http://spaceweather.com.)
But before any beginning stargazer clicks on that link, I need to go over a few things. Namely, what a stargazer needs to observe the night sky. I already knew I needed more than just a pair of eyes, but I wanted some advice as to what that entails.
On Oct. 8, I talked to Dr. Ana Larson, a senior lecturer of astronomy, about stargazing necessities and asked her for a few recommendations. She told me the most important thing beginning stargazers need is “a desire to look at and learn about the stars.”
To get the most out of their stargazing experience, stargazers need “wonderment, desire to learn more about what they’re looking at– an interest to find out what’s all out there instead of just white twinkly things,” Larson said. “They’ve got to ask themselves questions: Why are some stars brighter? Why are some stars different colors? Why do stars die out? Why are they born?”
Okay, stargazers need to be curious about the night sky. I know I am. What else do stargazers need?
Larson recommends stargazers get a star map or a star finder. I downloaded a great star map from www.skymaps.com for Oct. 2007. “Take it with [you] at night, and then dial up what to look for in the sky,” Larson said.
Which means stargazers will also need to bring a flashlight. However, the flashlight should be dim or red. Bright, white light will ruin the eyes’ sensitivity to light and make it harder to see stars. StarDate Online suggests taping red cellophane over a flashlight. Okay, I can do that.
Stargazers will also need to go to a place that is dark and has a clear view of the night sky, away from city lights. She said the closest, easiest and darkest place she can think of is Rattlesnake Lake, just south of North Bend. (I couldn’t believe she’d mentioned Rattlesnake Lake, because I love to hike up Rattlesnake Ridge!) She said the view from the parking lot works fine. (For more help finding a good stargazing site, see StarDate Online’s corresponding FAQ answer.)
Larson also recommends bringing a pair of binoculars, for when stargazers wish to see farther than the naked eye. “A high-power [pair of binoculars] is not needed,” Larson said. Good. I’ve got a pair of those.
A quick run-down: I’m a curious, amateur stargazer equipped with a star map, dim flashlight, a dark destination and binoculars. (For a more in-depth list of necessary equipment for stargazing, see StarDate Online’s suggestions.) But even with all of these things, I asked, how should I go about stargazing?
Larson replied, “Actually, what I do is what so many astronomers do: I just look up and see what’s around. It’s comforting to me to know that the stars are still out there. I can always just look up at the stars.”