When is best to stargaze?
There are several factors that will affect your stargazing experience. 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. This is most noticeable around the time of full moon — when the moon is at its brightest only a few stars can be seen. The time during full moon is therefore the worst time to stargaze — at this time even dark sky sites which are free from man-made light pollution are no darker than a city centre!
The best time to go stargazing is the days before, during and soon after each new moon.
During this time the moon is not visible in the sky and therefore does not wash out the light from fainter stars. You will be able to see thousands of stars with just your naked eye compared to a few hundred at other times. Travelling to a dark sky site free of light pollution is worthwhile as the Milky Way will be easily visible arching across the sky (depending on the time of year and time of night). You will also have far better views of fainter objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters when using a telescope during a new moon period.
If you want to see star-filled skies simply avoiding times around full moon will mean you see more. All this being said the moon does look awesome through a telescope — however you don’t need to travel to somewhere dark to appreciate that!
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 — indeed many non-commercial observatories stay closed during the summer months as it simply doesn’t get dark at the time the public are able to visit.
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.