Western Slope Skies 8/30/13

Aug 30, 2013

Just about any clear night provides an invitation to go outside and see what’s up. Some nights, however, might offer a special attraction: a meteor shower; a conjunction between the Moon and a bright star or planet; or even a lunar eclipse. If you are a beginner stargazer you can maximize your sky watching efforts by taking a few simple steps.

Start with a star chart, and/or a Planisphere or a star-charting app that runs on a smart phone, tablet, or PC.  These are valuable tools in learning the night sky, displaying any number of sky objects for any hour of the night.

Prepare a checklist of the things you might want to see.  Check local weather forecasts and set a date (or dates) to make your observations. Some objects are only visible at certain times of the year.

Find a suitable observing site, as dark a spot as possible, away from bright lights. Even turning off the back porch light can help. If possible, try to get to your site before it gets dark.

Dress appropriately! Late summer and early autumn nights can get surprisingly chilly, so have at least a sweater or a light jacket close at hand.

An adjustable observing chair (such as a long lounge chair) can add hours of pain-free enjoyment. At the very least, bring along a small folding chair.

If the weather is warm, bugs and mosquitoes will likely be out, so you’ll need some insect repellant. Lastly, you might like to bring along some music to listen to while you’re out under the stars.

Even without optical aids, you can enjoy a wide variety of objects such as the Moon and the five naked-eye planets.

Bring refreshments. Include warm or cold drinks as appropriate, and avoid alcohol, which can reduce your ability to perceive faint objects.