STORY BY: YETI Staff Writer
PHOTOS BY: Lucianna Mcintosh
By design, dark sky zones—and their vast views of the cosmos—are remote. This makes viewing all they have to offer a bit of a challenge. We sat down with amateur astronomer Bill Ramey to help you watch the stars from wherever you are.
1) LEARN WHERE TO LOOK
The cosmos is massive and can feel daunting. It can help to narrow your search to a certain section of the sky—or by finding the North Star as it allows you to easily get your bearings. You also might want to consider getting an astronomical app that will tell you exactly what you’re looking at. Smartphone apps like Sky Guide
, Sky Walk
, and SkySafari Pro
are great tools that use your phone’s built-in location capabilities and gyroscope.
ABOVE: Stargazing in the northern hemisphere? These are some of the constellations that are more easily spotted (in no particular order).
2) HEAD FOR THE HILLS
Before you go anywhere, make sure you have the right conditions. Clouds will block the view and even small levels of humidity will cause light refraction in the atmosphere. This makes the high desert—which lacks both conditions—the perfect destination for stargazing. Even if you don’t live in the middle of nowhere, a quick drive from the city lights helps a lot. A good rule of thumb is to travel at least 30 miles away from your city or your house—the farther, the better.
3) TURN OUT THE LIGHTS
Light is the enemy of darkness. And while living near a city you can’t completely get rid of all the light, there are a few ways to surround yourself in darkness. Start by turning off all of your lights and screens inside and outside of your house. Consider asking your neighbors to do the same. If you have to leave some lights on, heavy shades over windows will take care of indoor light and pointing outdoor fixtures towards the ground will limit their light to a smaller area.
ABOVE: Photographer Elisabeth Brentano sets up her camera in Big Bend National Park in west Texas - a Dark Sky Reserve – and lets her eyes acclimate to the dark.
4) LET YOUR EYES ADJUST
Once you’ve turned out all the lights, it takes 15 minutes for your pupils to dilate. Then, avoid exposure—especially white light. A phone screen, a porch light, or even distant car headlights will completely reset the dilation process. If light is an absolute necessity, a red light will do without completely resetting your eyes.
LEFT: Instead of light pollution-causing bright white LEDs, the Marathon Motel leads by example with red lights.
RIGHT: No detail is overlooked at the Marathon Motel – Bill Ramey’s storage closet uses red lights for nighttime visibility.
5) TRY A NEW LENS
You don’t need an expensive telescope to look at the stars. But you should invest in a little equipment. It’s best to start with a decent binocular. Being able to see detail-rich objects like comets, distant galaxies, nebulas, and other planets’ moons—all things that are barely visible to the naked eye—is well worth the price of a good binocular. Oberwerk’s 10x50 Deluxe is a nice place to start for those completely new to dark skies, while their tripod-reliant 20x65 ED Deluxe is better suited for advanced observers and provides a sharper, more detailed view.
To learn more about how to see the night sky, head to DarkSky.org, Go-Astronomy.com, and DarkTexasSkies.com