Look to the Night Skies!
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the stars will be here long after you, so catch them while you can.
- With less visual noise clouding the skies, courtesy of COVID-19 shutdowns, stargazing is coming back.
- The night sky is clear enough in many places that not much more than the naked eye is needed to see the stars.
If you’re reading this — no matter where you are in the world and whatever time of day it is — we bet you’re either in bed, on a couch you haven’t gotten off in a week or soaking in a bathtub. With more than a fifth of the world’s population under lockdown in the fight against the coronavirus, there’s not much going on inside your home that would surprise anybody by now.
But outside your home?
Could it be that the virus has actually presented a way new to many of us to pass time this summer while socially distanced? Yes: stargazing.
The global stay-at-home orders have had unexpected climate effects, like record low readings of air and light pollution. Which means that even city dwellers have the opportunity to see the sky like never before.
“This is an interesting phenomenon that we’re experiencing,” says Joseph Guzman, founder, chief astronomer and administrator of the Chicago Astronomer, an organization that sets up telescopes throughout Chicago. “With the closing down of factories and automobiles, the particles have been reduced to where the skies are now deeper, they’re clearer and the stars are actually twinkling. The way they’re supposed to be.”
Since most of us are at home and have the time to enjoy the night sky, here’s a list of ways to go about stargazing, no matter where you live.
Get out of the glare of lighting, especially if you live in a city or town where there are streetlights. Find a shaded area in your backyard or on your porch, deck, balcony or fire escape and make yourself comfortable. Just because light makes stargazing difficult doesn’t mean you have to wait until the middle of the night. In fact, the best time to stargaze is twilight.
As the sun is setting, you can watch the sky turn from bright blue to turquoise to deep blue. If you’re an early riser, get up at 4 a.m. and watch the night sky slowly brighten. You’ll see things the night owls don’t.
Sit facing north and look for Polaris, or the North Star. The northern sky orbits Polaris, and with reduced light pollution, you’ll be able to see clear patterns that you can familiarize yourself with.
Stargazing just might turn out to be your favorite pastime this summer, so why not make it an event. Prepare to be outside for a significant amount of time and bring blankets, water and snacks. You don’t want to miss something cool because you were going in and out of the house.
Use What You Have
If you’re a newbie stargazer, the good news is that you don’t need high-tech tools — your naked eye will work just fine. If you do decide to buy a telescope, first familiarize yourself with the night sky and identify a few anchor objects like planets or constellations.
If you have some extra dough and you’re really getting into stargazing, binoculars are a good middle ground. Use them for close-ups of the moon and its craters. They don’t need to be expensive — you can usually find an affordable pair at a local department store or online.
If you want to go old-school and make it a fun event with your kids, print out a star chart or download an app like SkySafari or Stellarium to help you identify constellations and planets. One of the most exciting parts about stargazing is learning about the sky.
This distancing thing doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. Luckily for us, there are a number of cool things happening in the cosmos this summer. Check out astronomy resource websites like earthsky.org/tonight or the moon phases chart on timeanddate.com. The Adler Planetarium posts frequent #LookUp updates on social media; it also has a printable LookUp guide for beginner astronomers that includes drawing and journaling prompts to get to know the sky over the course of a week.