Night Sky-Watching Tips

Tips for Watching Meteors and Stars

Here’s how to make the most of an evening of stargazing or meteor showers on the road or at home:

Get Dark

  • Turn off lights, get as far as you reasonably can from street lamps, and don’t look at your phone (if you have to, use apps in dark mode).
  • Give your eyes about 20 minutes to fully adjust to the low light.
  • Because the summer sun sets so late and rises so early in the Northwest, the darkest hours will be late in the night or early in the morning.

Get Oriented

  • Printable star charts or mobile apps can help you figure out where in the sky you should look.
  • Orient yourself by finding the North Star (the two stars on the front of the “bowl” of the Big Dipper point right at it, on the end of the Little Dipper’s handle).
  • If you know how high above the horizon your target is, use your hands as a makeshift measure. With your arm outstretched, the height of your closed fist covers roughly ten degrees of sky.

Get Comfortable

  • Craning your neck can get old fast, so set yourself up with something to recline on. Nick Monkman of the Spokane Astronomical Society recommends a camp chair, inflatable mattress or even a rubber dinghy — whatever you’ve got.

Read our guide to summer 2020’s best meteor showers, dancing planets and International Space Station passes, and get more tips in our interview with Goldendale Observatory Administrator Troy Carpenter.

–Written by Mara Grunbaum

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2020 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.

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