Eyes wide open: Everything you need to know to take up stargazing

Person, silhouette and night sky with stars

Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are!

We all know the famous nursery rhyme, but when was the last time you really stopped and wondered about the dark sky above?

While we're at home more often these days, one thing we can do is to look up. Stargazing is your window to a whole new world - entire galaxies even - and it doesn't cost a cent.

Thanks to the expert knowledge of Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium curator and astronomer, Mark Rigby, we’ve put together all you need to know to begin your celestial adventures. So, strap yourself in, because it’s time to blast off! 

One small step

Don't already have the 'in' on outer space? No worries! The universe may be a big place, but getting started really is just 'one small step'. There's no need for fancy or expensive equipment, just go outside and look up. Congratulations, you are now stargazing!

The Planetarium's Facebook page is jam-packed with inspiration and information to help guide your journey through space.

Grab yourself a comfy chair and a blanket, because once you've started, it's easy to get lost in the endless dark canvas overhead.

Fly me to the Moon

Stargazing isn't just for night owls. Sometimes the Moon can be spotted during the day.

Did you know the Moon was made after something the size of Mars hit Earth? Its tallest mountain, Mons Huygens (5500 metres), is just over half the height of Mount Everest (8848 metres) — but the Moon's highest point is over 10,000 metres!

Hello darkness, my old friend

While some planets can be seen at dusk (or even before sunset if they're bright enough), if you're chasing the full cosmic experience, you'll want to head out about 90 minutes after sunset. This is the time when space really shines!

To spy fainter objects, aim for a moonless night, because moonlight can make interstellar gems harder to spot.

It's a wide, wide universe

If you have kids with an early bedtime, head out after dinner and spend some time staring skyward. Not only will they see something amazing, but stargazing is a great way to wind down and encourage thinking.

There's nothing like spotting Jupiter and realising that not only is it more than 600 million kilometres away, but it's actually 11 times wider than Earth, has 79 known moons and a gigantic storm on its surface the size of our own planet. All of a sudden, those tiny specks in the night get a whole lot more interesting!

To infinity and beyond

Half the fun of astronomy is using your imagination. When we gaze into outer space, we're not actually seeing it as it is, but as it was. It's like our own time machine into the past.

Light from the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, takes 8.5 years to reach us, so we're not seeing Sirius as it is now, but as it was 8.5 years ago. Amazing, right? It takes as much as 50 minutes for light to travel to Earth from Jupiter, eight minutes from the Sun and 1.3 seconds from the Moon.

Night sky discoveries

If you're looking up at the right time, you may spot an artificial satellite zooming overhead. That satellite might even be the International Space Station, which can have as many as six astronauts on board looking down at you — give them a wave!

If you're lucky, there's something else you might see shooting above you – a meteor. That little speck of rock, travelling at speeds of between 40,000-260,000 kilometres an hour, has just slammed into our atmosphere and burnt up. You can discover more amazing facts about the universe by clicking on the links on our discover more about astronomy page.

Reach for the stars

One of the great things about stargazing is that you can spend as much, or as little, as you want on equipment. There is a range of apps available that can tell you what you're looking at. Simple star charts are also available in books. Like a road map, they'll help you navigate the night sky above.

Want a pro tip? Read your chart using a small torch covered in red cellophane. Shining white light on your chart will ruin your dark adaption (i.e. how the eye recovers its sensitivity in the dark). A red light will make it easier to see fainter objects when you look up.

Feeling starry-eyed and want to see more? A pair of binoculars will get you closer to the cosmos, while a telescope will allow you to see even further – galaxies, nebulae, planetary nebulae, star clusters...the list goes on!

Turn your stargazing into photo-taking by attaching a camera to your telescope and start capturing some out-of-this-world astrophotography images.

Space, the final frontier

In the 42 years Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium has been open, there have been many exciting discoveries and advancements in space exploration.

NASA astronaut Ron Garan wrote:

"Earth is a small town with many neighbourhoods in a very big universe."

While only a lucky few of us will ever experience it first-hand, marvelling at the wonders of space holds no boundaries. Space is for everyone, not just the mathematicians, scientists and astronomers. All it takes is a little imagination and stepping outside our homes to gaze up at worlds above.

When it's time for us to safely open up the Planetarium again, we'll let you know, so you can come and discover more of the Universe using our Cosmic Skydome.

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Date posted:
Last updated:8 June 2020
Topics: things to do