A beginner’s guide to stargazing

If you’re looking for a way to connect with nature and enjoy spending more time outdoors, what better way to do so than by taking up stargazing?

Observing the beauty of the night sky is a truly special experience, and we’re fortunate enough to have a variety of great spots to do so in this country, from designated Dark Sky Parks to our own back gardens.

The great thing about stargazing is that so many of us can get involved in the activity. Whether you’re looking to enjoy your stargazing night with your significant other, getting together with a group of friends, or you want to make the experience a family affair, the whole group is sure to enjoy looking up at the night sky, and maybe even learn a few things too.

The activity is very beginner-friendly as well, so you can have a great time no matter your astronomy knowledge or prior stargazing experience.

To help you enjoy stargazing to the fullest, Boutique Camping has provided us with a beginner’s guide for the activity. From where to go to what to take with you, this guide will help you embark on your celestial journey with confidence.

When to go stargazing

Timing is crucial for a successful stargazing experience, as lighting is everything. The best times to observe the night sky are on clear nights when the moon is in its crescent phase or absent altogether, as this is when the sky will be darkest. Stargazing at this time will also give you the best opportunity for spotting the Milky Way.

Check weather forecasts and moon phases to plan your stargazing outings effectively. You should aim for periods when the skies are free from heavy cloud cover too, as this will obstruct your view.

Autumn, winter, and early springtime are particularly popular stargazing periods for astronomy enthusiasts. This is because summer nights can be a lot lighter here in the UK, plus it gets dark much earlier in the cooler seasons which means we don’t need to have late nights to enjoy the twinkling night sky.

If you want a particularly special night under the stars, you may want to plan your stargazing experience around major celestial events. We have a number coming up this year to keep an eye out for, including the following:

  • March 25: The penumbral lunar eclipse
  • April 22 – 23: Lyrids Meteor Shower
  • May 6 – May 7: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower
  • June 22: Strawberry moon
  • August 12 – 13: Perseid Meteor Shower
  • September 18: Supermoon
  • October 17: Full moon and supermoon
  • October 21 – 22: Orionids Meteor Shower
  • November 4 – 5: Taurids Meteor Shower

Where to go stargazing

Your best bet when it comes to an appropriate stargazing location is heading away from urban areas to escape light pollution. There are lots of good rural stargazing spots to try out. This could include remote campsites, or even your own garden if you live in the countryside. There are also a number of designated Dark Sky Parks which are renowned for their excellent stargazing conditions. There are six to choose from around the UK:

  • Exmoor
  • Brecon Beacons
  • Moore’s Reserve
  • Snowdonia
  • North York Moors
  • Yorkshire Dales
  • Northumberland International Dark Sky Park: This park has been awarded with gold tier status, meaning it has the most pristine dark skies in the UK

Many of these Dark Sky Parks have camping there or nearby, meaning you can simply pitch up and soak up the beauty of the night sky.

What to take stargazing

Preparing a stargazing kit can help you enjoy your experience to the fullest. There is a selection of basic equipment to include, such as a telescope or binoculars, lens cleaning tools, star charts, a red LED flashlight (to preserve night vision), and a laser pointer to help you point out objects or constellations to others in your group.

There are also a number of smartphone apps which can assist in identifying constellations and planets, such as the Ollie app, which can automatically identify any star, constellation, planet or satellite.

Comfort is key for any stargazing experience, so ensure you have all the essentials to make your evening outdoors as pleasant as possible. A comfortable chair for each person is recommended, as is a selection of cosy blankets and food and drink. You may also want to pack bug spray if you plan on stargazing in spring or summer.

How to keep warm when stargazing

Stargazing in the UK often involves braving chilly temperatures, especially during clear nights. Stay warm by dressing in thermal layers and wearing warm socks, gloves, and a hat and scarf. A flask of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate can help you warm up too, as can a hot water bottle and cosy blankets.

If you plan on having a full evening outdoors, why not pitch up a tent for the night? Not only will this be a great base for storing your stargazing essentials, but you can pop inside for shelter when it gets too cold outside. If you opt for a spacious fire-retardant bell tent, you can even put a wood-burning stove inside as an extra heat source.

How to curate the stargazing experience for your loved ones

Stargazing is a fun activity for adults and kids alike, meaning that you can enjoy the experience with your special someone, friends, or the whole family. Below we’ve rounded up some tips on customising your stargazing evening for different groups to help everyone get the most out of their experience.

How to plan a romantic stargazing experience

The stunning setting and natural beauty of the night sky make stargazing the perfect romantic experience to enjoy with your special someone. A good way to make the evening extra special is to do your research by sharing the romantic stories behind some of the constellations you see, such as the story of Perseus and Andromeda in which Perseus saves Andromeda by slaying the sea monster that held her captive.

You can also set the mood by bringing a selection of typical romantic date night foods, such as chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne. For an extra special touch, create a playlist consisting of songs with celestial titles, such as Rocket Man or Dancing in the Moonlight.

How to plan a family-friendly stargazing experience

If you’re looking to get the whole family involved, it’s important to make your stargazing experience as kid-friendly as possible. Ensure you have child-sized telescopes and binoculars, as adult ones can be too large for children, plus a little fiddly.

You can also incorporate fun, educational games related to astronomy to help them put what they’re seeing into perspective, as well as help them learn more about the stars and space. For example, you could get crafty and ask them to draw the planets in order or draw the constellations you’re seeing.

How to plan an adult-oriented stargazing experience

Planning an adult-oriented stargazing evening for your friends can be a great way to catch up whilst enjoying spending time in a beautiful setting. You can make the event a fun one for adults by following a theme.

For example, as many of us as kids believed the moon was made of cheese, you could have a wine and cheese evening whilst observing the sky. Another fun idea is to turn the activity into a competition to see who can find the most constellations.

Stargazing is the perfect outdoor activity

From stars to planets to constellations, there are so many beautiful sights to observe stargazing. It’s also the perfect outdoor activity for many different groups, including both kids and grown-ups. No matter your age, stargazing gives you the opportunity to learn something new about space, and have fun doing it too.

At Boutique Planet we’re big fans of all things astronomy. In fact, many of our exclusively designed tents are named after celestial objects, including our Star Bell, Luna, and Nova Air bell tents. A tent can also make a great base for your stargazing experience, whether you’re camping in a Dark Sky Park or simply observing the night sky from your own garden.

Author: Hannah Rose-Wynter, Marketing Manager at Boutique Camping

Photo by Hector Argüello Canals