We are bringing you a little piece of our Stargazing experience here at The Torridon, to you at home. Take the time to sit outside and gaze up at the night sky, and get transported to another world!
We spoke with our partner astronomer Stephen Mackintosh, who hosts the stargazing experiences at The Torridon, to discover his top five tips for stargazing from home.
You don’t need a telescope.
Many people think astronomy equals telescopes. While telescopes are fantastic instruments to own, they’re not essential, especially when you’re starting out. Some of the best stargazing experiences are those unhindered by equipment. Gazing up at the band of our Milky Way galaxy, tracing out the brightest stars within a constellation, observing the rising Moon next to a bright planet or sitting out on a deck chair during an active meteor shower.
The Plough (or Big Dipper) is your Swiss Army Knife
Locating the familiar asterism of the Plough is the best way to orientate yourself and learn the night sky. From the Plough, you can easily locate Polaris (our north star) and many other bright guiding stars within different constellations, like Arcturus, Vega and Capella. The orientation of the Plough is also a seasonal calendar and a way to mark shorter times and every six hours its handle will swing 90 anticlockwise around Polaris.
People are always amazed to learn that I do almost all my observing with a simple pair of binoculars. Any birdwatching binoculars will do, with a basic set of 8x40s increasing your star reach by a staggering factor of 100. Binoculars also let you observe the Moon in considerable detail, see the Moons of Jupiter (as any points of light), observe star clusters, comets and even other galaxies like Andromeda.
Make the most of your location
I often tell people to try and escape their gardens and travel to dark skies, particularly if they live within light-polluted cities. Unfortunately, this advice is no longer relevant with current restrictions but even under significant light pollution, there’s still a huge amount you can access. Views of the planets, the Moon, bright constellations and clusters like the Pleiades are still very visible even from the middle of large cities. Shutting off your indoor and outdoor house lights will make a huge difference as will screening yourself from any nearby streetlights.
Look at the Moon!
The Moon is often called the bane of astronomers, but I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, it washes out the faintest stars and nebulae. But what an absolutely astonishing thing it is to contemplate, especially with binoculars or a telescope. Here is a true relic of ancient history hanging in our sky. Another world with huge mountains and vast valleys and craters carved out by a violent past. Learning the phases of the Moon is also worthwhile. Watch the new Moon become a thin crescent just after sunset before it waxes into the first quarter, full Moon and then wanes away in our morning skies. Our Months were once ‘Moonths’ – marked by the passage of this lovely white orb in the sky.
To find out out more about The Torridon’s stargazing experience, visit https://www.thetorridon.com/experiences/torridon-stargazing-experience/.
Make sure to tag us in your stargazing pictures at @TheTorridon!
For more tips on what’s up and what to look out for in the night sky please visit Stephen’s blog at modulouniverse.com or connect with him on Facebook: facebook.com/highlandastrotours and Instagram: @astrohighlands