Stargazing picture

While stargazing may seem like a difficult hobby, there are simple ways that can help you get gazing quickly. (Nollyanne Delacruz / Daily Titan)

Living in the city can sometimes be a discouraging experience when you look at the sky and see a massive black void with a few pinpricks of light. But city stargazing does not have to be that dismal. With some basic, cheap equipment, a star map, enough darkness, altitude, and distance you can have a fulfilling and pleasant experience of astronomical proportions. 

Equipment

You do not need a lot of equipment to observe the sky. On clearer nights with less light pollution, some celestial bodies may be visible to the naked eye. However, if you plan on stargazing a lot or want to invest in amateur astronomy, a simple pair of binoculars can do the trick. 

Jocelyn Read, an associate professor at Cal State Fullerton who specializes in physics and astronomy, said that a basic pair of binoculars with a magnification of 50x or more is stronger than Galileo’s telescope. This means that you ccan see the moon’s craters or the moons of Jupiter with them. 

The sparse speckle of heavenly bodies may look unrecognizable, but there are several apps that can assist beginning stargazers. Read suggested websites like skymaps.com and timeanddate.com, which could assist aspiring stargazers with tracking the movement of celestial bodies.  

Another app that can help novice stargazers identify planets, stars and constellations is stellarium.org

Mary Usufzy, a graduate student at CSUF who is studying physics, suggested using the compass app on your phone to reference what direction you’re facing and where you should look to see constellations and planets. 

Alexandra Gruson, a physics graduate student, suggests that, if you are relying on an app, make sure that it has an option to display in red light. White, blue and green light add to the light pollution, making it harder to see fainter stars. Switching to “night mode” can also help reduce colors that obscure sights. 

Conditions

As many know, light pollution in the city from cars, households, and street lamps makes it difficult to see the stars, but there are ways to mitigate this for a midnight viewing of the sky. Check to see if it is a clear night with no clouds or haze before going out to stargaze. Make sure that you are far away from any artificial sources of light. Tall hills, rooftops, and public parks are some great places to view the stars. 

Now that you have your tools, here are some celestial objects that can be seen this fall and winter. 

Earth’s moon

Although it is visible every night, the moon can be an interesting object to view. Earth’s only natural satellite not only goes through phases, but it also can be seen during other lunar events. Such as lunar eclipses which occur when the Earth aligns partially or fully between the sun and the moon and supermoons which happen when the full moon is closest to the Earth. 

Planets

Although you may see some bright lights in the sky, it may be difficult to tell what anything is. Gruson gave this rule of thumb: stars twinkle, planets do not. If you stare at a planet, it will look more like a solid glowing object in the sky. Read also gave suggestions to identify planets, such as seeing if they rise in the east and appear out of place in constellations. 

  • Venus: Earth’s sister planet is known as the “morning star” because it typically follows the sun’s path. The bright orb is usually seen at dawn before the sun rises and at dusk after the sun has set. Like the moon, Venus goes through phases as the sun illuminates the planet from an angle. 

  • Jupiter: The largest planet in the solar system is usually seen as a bright reddish spot in the sky. With a pair of binoculars, it is also possible to view Jupiter’s moons. 

  • Saturn: Saturn may not always be visible as Venus or Jupiter due to its distance from the Earth. It glows a faint yellow. 

After locating three objects in the solar system, like the planets, the moon and the sun, Gruson suggests finding the ecliptic path of the solar system. It refers to the patch of the sky with the sun, the moon and other planets, which creates the plane of the solar system in respect to the Earth’s 23 degree tilt. 

Stars

Stars glimmer when you stare at them due to the way light travels through space and the atmosphere, Gruson said. Some of the brightest stars to be seen in the city are:

  • Vega: Being one of the brightest stars in the night sky, Vega can be easily recognizable. It is located in the constellation Lyra, but it can also be seen as one of the corners in the Summer Triangle with other similarly bright stars, Altair and Deneb.

  • Betelgeuse: Betelgeuse glows red, because it is a red giant. It is located in the constellation of Orion, taking the place of the hunter’s armpit. 

  • Polaris: The  North Star sits above the northern celestial pole. It is the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper. To find Polaris, find the two stars at the end of the cup of the Big Dipper follow the imaginary line north. 

  • Sirius: The brightest star in the sky is visible all year round. In fact, it is so bright that some people confuse it with Venus, Gruson said. 

Constellations 

  • Orion: As mentioned above, is visible high in the sky during this time of year. While Betelgeuse stands out, it may be easier to find Orion through his belt, which is a string of three stars in a perfectly straight line.

  • Summer triangle: The Summer Triangle is technically an asterism, not a constellation. It is made up of the stars Vega, Altair and Deneb. 

  • Big Dipper and Little Dipper: These asterims make up Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. The two dippers are usually visible all year round.

Looking at the stars can be frustrating. Usufzy said that it can be difficult to stargaze persistently when it seems like all the maps and apps in the world cannot help you accurately view the sky. However, she advises people to be patient and keep practicing.

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