Urban Stargazing

Stargazing was once the most simple and accessible of entertainments. Shepherds would peruse the canopy of tiny lights overhead and spin tales of god and goddesses. In rural areas, star gazing is usually as simple as walking out into the night and looking up. The aid of a telescope will enable you to find fascinating detail in the night panorama.

But urban areas suffer from light pollution. While this will diminish your ability to enjoy the night sky, there is no need to give up stargazing. With the right equipment and a little effort, you can enjoy this interesting hobby.

Choose a telescope you will use often

Although a larger and more expensive telescope will gather more starlight, keep in mind the amount of time and effort required for setup. This is especially important for apartment dwellers with limited space. If a telescope is not easy to get to and use, it will not be used often.

Prefer a computerized telescope mount

A computerized telescope mount is a great help in locating the stars you want to view. Keep in mind, though, that the more inexpensive models tend to compromise optics and electronics.

Add a tube extension

One of the best ways to improve viewing, and the most inexpensive, is to add a tube extension to the front of the telescope. Paint it black inside. It will block some local light, improve contrast, and slow the onset of dew.

Get an eyepiece with eyecups and the right diameter of exit pupil

Eyecups block stray light and improve the view.

The exit pupil of an eyepiece is the diameter of the beam of light leaving the eyepiece. This greatly affects the quality of the view. For viewing large clusters or the lunar disc, choose an eyepiece with 3-5 mm exit pupil; for small deep sky objects, 2-4mm; and for double stars, lunar details and planets choose .5-2 mm.

Clean eyepiece often with lens cleaner and tissue

No eyepiece will work well if it is dirty. Keep it clean by using lens tissue and lens cleaner often.

Use a pair of binoculars to locate stars you want to view

Binoculars will help you locate features that you want to view through the telescope.

Choose a viewing spot that will block local light intrusion

Trees and sometimes buildings or walls will help to block local stray light and enhance viewing. A rooftop will raise you above many local obstructions, but keep in mind the safety factor, and also the fact that roofs absorb heat during the day and give heat off at night. The resulting air currents can distort your view. A grassy area will solve this problem.

Cover your head with a piece of black cloth

Remember the old-time photographers who would block light when viewing the subject through the camera lens by covering their heads with dark cloth? Imitate this technique and you will improve your experience.

While the light of an urban sky will diminish the visibility of stars, this is no reason to give up the pleasure of star gazing. Empty what you have.

References and further information: