When is best to stargaze?
Deciding when to go stargazing is more important then deciding where to go. For many of us getting the best views of the skies often means travelling to remote locations away from light pollution. However, even remote dark sky sites are not always dark! Here we share hints and tips on how to make your stargazing trip worthwhile and help you choose when is the best time to go stargazing.
Natural moonlight washes out the light from most stars leaving only the brightest visible. When the moon is full (brightest) dark sky sites are no darker than in a city centre! The best time to go stargazing are the days before, during and soon after each new moon. At this time you will be able to see thousands of stars with the naked eye compared to a few hundred at other times. With no moon in the sky the Milky Way is easily visible arching across the sky. You will also have better views through telescopes. Simply avoiding times when the moon is full or above the horizon during the night will mean you will see more.
Summer months mean long days and short nights and significantly reduces stargazing opportunities. The hours of morning and evening twilight are longer during the summer. The skies take longer to get dark after sunset and get lighter earlier before sunrise. This leaves only a short period in-between to view dark skies — around the summer solstice (the longest day) it hardly gets dark at all!
Autumn, Winter and Spring offer the best times to stargaze and many astronomers refer to an ‘observing season’. This is the time from when clocks go back in October (nights become 1 hour longer) to the time they go forward in March (nights become 1 hour shorter). You will find most stargazing events being held during this period.
Helping decide when is best
When you consider all of the above factors it can be tricky to decide when to go stargazing! We have created a dark sky calendar to help show when the skies will be dark. Also throughout this website you will see a display similar to below — it shows when darkness falls this evening. The bold yellow area indicates daylight/twilight from the Sun. Lighter faded yellow areas show the negative effects of moonlight. Where you can see stars is when the skies will be truly dark — therefore the best time to stargaze.
Actual darkness times, the times best for stargazing, are shown in a text caption above the chart — it may not get dark at all (such as full moon) in which case it will say ‘no evening darkness’. Click the date in the boxes to see details how darkness is determined (we use London as an example however times vary little across the country).
Planning a stargazing trip?
If you are thinking of travelling to a remote dark sky site or observatory use our dark sky calendar to identify those dates which are going to be free of moonlight and twilight.