The Bright Side of Less Daylight: 10 Tips for Stellar Stargazing

It’s that time of year again, when we swap swimsuits for sweaters and beach days for bake-offs. The end of daylight savings may mean the sun sets earlier, but not all outdoor fun is on ice ‘til spring. Aside from the obvious cold weather faves like skiing and snowball fights, it turns out now is the perfect season to set your sights on the sky above. 

Casual stargazing is as easy as it gets—just wait until dark and tilt your head. But to make the most out of your planet-peeping experience, we’ve created a list of tips to help you get star-ted. 

  1. Dress for success - Ever tried to look through binoculars while shivering uncontrollably? It’s not easy. Don’t let the cold ruin a chill night out—bring plenty of warm layers to map the night sky in comfort and style. 
  2. Check the forecast - Cloud cover is the enemy of a good look at the galaxies. Double check for clear skies before you head out and spare yourself a potential bummer.
  3. See red - White light and blue lights—like the one on your smart phone—make it harder to see in the dark. If you need to see something mid-stargaze (like where you put your snacks), opt for a red light instead. 
  4. Bring binocs - If you’re a nebula-spying newbie, there’s no need to break the bank on a fancy telescope just yet. There’s plenty you can see with just plain ol’ binoculars, like galaxies, star clusters and craters on the moon.
  5. Be patient - Take in the sky long enough and you may see something truly out of this world, like a meteor shower. Increase your odds of a stellar sighting by perfecting the art of hanging out. 
  6. Planet or star? - There’s an easy way to tell the difference: Stars twinkle; planets don’t. See a faint star that seems to be moving slowly? That’s a satellite. See a low-flying, flashing star? Congrats—you’ve found an airplane! 
  7. App it up - Thanks to technology, anyone can become an amateur astronomer. Some good apps include Stellarium, SkyView Lite and StarWalk, but there are as many options out there as there are, well, stars in the sky. 
  8. Get dark - For a truly heavenly experience, it’s best to get as far away from the city lights as possible. Ideally, head to a state park or national park in your area. But if a trip out of town isn’t in the cards, turn off all your lights and give your eyes time to adjust to the dark—30 minutes should do the trick. No phones!
  9. Beware the full moon - No, not because of werewolves (although there’s that too). The moon is at its brightest when it’s full, meaning the light it emits drowns out everything else in the sky. Instead, opt for a few days before or after a new moon. 
  10. Just look up - At the end of the day, there’s no wrong way to stargaze. Whether you do it alone or with friends, away from it all or from the window of your own house, there’s always something to see.