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101 things – The Night Sky

The ISS and satellites and stars from my back Garden in Gateshead

The ISS and satellites and stars from my back garden in Gateshead

One of the best things about being involved in Battlesteads Observatory is stargazing under the wonderful dark skies that we have; light pollution is the bane of any astronomer’s life and it’s also not great for an ever increasingly large number of species of animals and insects.  That being said – when the moon is up and a few days either side of being full, no-where on Earth has truly dark skies because the Moon is nature’s own light pollution.  The moon is a wonderful thing to look at and has captured the imagination of scientists as well as artists and spiritual people alike.  During our Moonwatch events, although we do a fair bit of stargazing, the real “star” of the show is the Moon and if you ever visit us for one of these events, you’ll also get a chance to snap pictures of the moon through our telescope with your mobile phone.

But what if you don’t have dark skies?

There is still plenty to see.  We’re here to remind you that no matter where you live, or how light polluted it is, you should spend some time looking up.  No telescope or binoculars – just you and some naked-eye night-sky observing.  So, this week that’s what we’d like you to do and we’re going to give you some simple tips on how to get the best of it.

  • Wrap up warm – even in the summer, UK nights can get a bit chilly.
  • Check the weather – the Met Office will give you a good idea if it’s going to be clear or even partially clear.
  • Even if you live in a light polluted area, (Roy lives in Gateshead – see picture above), you will be able to see plenty BUT you need to let your eyes adjust.  Give it 15-30 minutes outside in the dark so this means no staring at car lights, streetlights, house lights and keep your phone switched off.
  • If you can – lie down on a blanket, or sit in one of those reclining chairs and make sure that if there are any obtrusive street lights, position yourself somewhere in the shade of your house, or a tree or fence – it’ll make all the difference.
  • Whilst looking up, try to spot a few different things – here are some top tips: Stars of different colour – some are quite orange.  Satellites whizzing overhead – fast moving, unblinking white dots and if you can – a lovely crescent or half moon is just fantastic.

And that’s it for now.  Hopefully you’ll see what all the fuss is about and become hooked – if so then watch this space.  There’ll be plenty more top tips on things to see, apps to use and useful stargazing equipment.