Viewing Techniques for Urban Stargazing

The same heavens cover urban areas that cover near-by sparsely populated areas, however; viewing those heavens from an urban area is more difficult because of light pollution. This is not to say you cannot stargaze in an urban area, only that the viewing techniques for urban stargazing are more numerous.

*Dealing With Light Pollution

Early man could view the stars without much worry about light pollution. He had only to walk a few steps from his fire to be enveloped by the desired darkness that makes the heaven shine. Not so, for modern men who often live in urban areas, well lit from one end to the other.

The stars are not gone, their visibility is just diminished by line-of-sight and sky glow light, both of which you can do something about. Escaping the sky glow requires finding a spot well elevated such as a hilltop or high-rise roof or waiting until the wee hours of the morning when there are fewer lights on in the city.

Line-of-sight light is much easier to control with a little thought and careful planning. Phil Harrington, in an excellent article for, suggests covering your head with a black cloth, as you peer through your telescope. Finding a position where trees or unlit buildings block the light and building a simple lightweight and portable blind are other options he suggests.


According to Phil Harrington, another technique is to use full eyecups as they block line-of-sight lights that can shine into the corner of your eyes as you are viewing through the telescope. Using a full eyecup will help sharpen what you see as all local light is blacked out.

*Choosing A Viewing Site

You might think that a rooftop of a high rise would be the best possible site for urban stargazing and it would be, except for one thing; rooftops absorb heat from the sun during the day and release it at night. Why is this a problem? The rising heat waves will cause a distortion of what you are viewing.

Most parks have lights at night for safety purposes so, in the end your own backyard, if you have one, might be the best spot. If you live in an apartment, consider joining a stargazing club, who will know the best spots or ask a friend with a backyard if you can use it. Beaches and deserts, adjacent to the city, are two excellent options for some areas such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City.


One technique that usually works is to time your stargazing with the time that what you wish to view is as high in the sky as possible. Try viewing a constellation at different times and keep notes of the date, time and visibility to be used year after year. You will also find that the hours between 1-4 AM have less light pollution to interfere with your stargazing.

Dealing with light pollution, finding the perfect viewing site and carefully choosing the time for your stargazing are just a few of the viewing techniques for urban stargazing that work. Don’t allow a few urban lights to stop your viewing pleasure of the heavens beautiful lights.