When to go stargazing

When to go stargazing

When is best to stargaze?

Several factors 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.

Moonlight

Natural moonlight washes out the light from most stars leaving only the brightest visible. This is most noticeable around the time of the 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, when there is no Moon in the sky.

During these times there is no bright Moon to wash out the light from fainter stars. You will be able to see thousands of stars with just your naked eye, this compared to just a few hundred at other times.

Comparison of starry skies and moonlit skies
Starry skies (left) are best seen when there’s no bright Moon (right). Photos by Wil Photography

It’s also the best time to see the Milky Way arching across the sky (depending on the time of year and time of night). You will 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 the 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 twilight

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!

Twilight skies are not dark
Skies do not get dark until late through Summer

Observing season

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 can visit.

Helping decide when is best

When you consider all of the above factors it can be tricky to decide when to go stargazing! To help we have created a dark sky calendar that shows, month by month when the skies will be dark. Our calendar shows what time the skies will be dark and for how long for. If you’re ever planning a stargazing trip make sure you check our calendar first, especially if you are travelling some distance!

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. Once you’ve identified the best dates have a look at where you might go stargazing for advice on locations and what you should take with you.

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