RCA members have
compiled this list of simple tips from good and disastrous personal
experiences, to help make your hours of stargazing more enjoyable.
- NEVER look directly at the sun with the
naked eye, binoculars, or telescope except through specially designed
filters. Permanent blindness can result! There are special filters available from astronomy sources and are required
for solar viewing.
- Prepare for an evening viewing session
by becoming familiar with star charts of the current night sky. Develop
a small list of specific objects to identify.
- Abstain from any smoking or alcoholic
beverages. These substances poison optic nerve transmissions and
decrease night vision considerably.
- Be well rested. Fatigue decreases
accuracy and enjoyment and may ruin an otherwise good evening.
- Bring more than what seems to be enough
warm clothing. Since you are sitting quietly for extended periods, your
body doesn't manufacture much heat. Even summer evenings can get pretty
cold. A hat or some type of head covering is essential. Gloves, warm
socks, warm shoes, insulated underwear, and warm outerwear are standard.
Ski clothing is a good option. Layer clothes to allow for adjustment of
temperatures. Bring extras in a bag just in case it gets colder and you
need to slip on something more.
- Eat something with sugar 30 minutes
before observing. This will increase your energy, attention, and warmth
level. Hot chocolate or soda pop are also good choices. Artificial
sweeteners are not helpful.
- Bring along a thermos of cocoa, coffee,
or broth. Also, a simple snack late in a viewing evening can pep up your
otherwise flagging energy.
- Plan to remain in the dark for at least
30 minutes prior to observing really dim objects. It takes a healthy
retina 45 minutes to adapt to the dark.
- Be sure your glasses and/or contact
lenses are clean.
- Use a dim, red-lens flashlight to check
charts or books. The night portion of the retina is least affected by
red light. To make a simple viewing light, you can cover any flashlight
with red construction paper or thick cellophane. In addition, it is a
courtesy to any other observers that are in the vicinity who will
appreciate their night vision not being ruined by your light as well.
- Disconnect or cover all interior car
lights with a red cloth or shield them in some other way with red
materials. This protects other viewers from flashes of bright white
light when car doors are opened at the viewing site during the evening.
Remember, your exterior back-up lights are white also, so you should
park facing outward so you won't have to put your car in reverse to
leave at the end of an evening.
- An ideal observing spot is high with 360
degrees of view. A small clearing surrounded by trees is even better
because it provides a wind break that will help prevent cold fingers,
flying book pages, and shaking equipment. Try to pick a spot removed
from streetlights and traffic. It is a good idea to check out your
observing site in the daylight before your viewing session.
- Some people have expensive equipment at
star parties. Most astronomers are eager and enthusiastic to share the
view from their instruments with everyone. Don't be afraid to ask the
owner for a view through their telescope. However, before you try to
move or adjust someone else's equipment, ask if it is OK and how to
properly do it. They may want to do it for you.
- Check the moon phase. Even a bright
quarter moon can make faint objects difficult to see. But then, looking
at the moon can be a pretty interesting experience itself!