Does locking mean a clearer night sky? Here’s how to go stargazing in the backyard

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Does coronavirus lockdown mean the best views ever for astronomers? There was a report last weekend at The temperature on how UK astronomers can now see Venus due to lower pollution. It is really misleading. Venus is the third brightest object in the night sky, after the sun and the moon, and has been easy to see in any clear sky in the world for months. The current lack of pollution makes no difference to seeing Venus and any of the planets; Astronomers have been watching Venus – currently 41 degrees above the western horizon after sunset – with ease since before Christmas.

However, when it comes to Star– Looking at it, it’s possible that the coronavirus lockdown and the resulting decrease in pollution, especially light pollution, will make it easier to see the stars in the backyard. For example, images from the Sentinel-5P satellite of the European Space Agency show that since mid-February nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have significantly reduced compared to the same six-week period in 2019.

So is reduced economic activity making the skies more transparent to astronomers? “Certainly, the absence of planes is great for astrophotographers, although satellite pollution is on the rise at the same time,” says Tom kerss, a communicator in astronomy and science who runs the weekly Star signs: go stargazing! Podcast. It refers of course to SpaceX Starlink satellites. “It would be curious to see the results of a light monitor removing certain vehicles from the road, because car headlights contribute to light pollution, after all. And air pollution also influences observations of very faint objects. “

However, let’s not overdo it. The cities are always illuminated. “The effects are probably extremely negligible in a city like London, which is still quite active,” says Kerss, although he cites a big difference since the end of sporting events. “Football stadiums with floodlights are usually cursed by astronomers who live nearby,” he says. “Patrick Moore used to talk about the ‘Aurora Bognis’, and I can tell from experience watching from his backyard in Selsey that they were worse when Bognor Regis Town FC turned on their lights. Stadium!”

It’s questionable and difficult to prove deviance, but one thing is for sure: backyard stargazing is now a growing hobby.

So how do you do it? Here are Kerss’ top five tips:

Top 5 Tips for Urban Astronomers

1 – Define your expectations for the city sky

We are losing many faint stars to light pollution, but in some ways it can make getting to know the constellations a bit easier. If you have a star map, the brightness of a given star is indicated by its size: large drops are brighter stars. In a lightly polluted sky, only the brightest stars are visible, so memorize the location of the biggest dots in each constellation.

2 – Find a good place to observe the stars nearby.

Of course, no city site is ideal, but to get the most out of your sky, you first need to get the most out of your eyes. In order to properly adapt to the dark (or as close to town as possible), you need to find a place without direct light sources, such as street lights or car headlights, shining in your eyes. After 20 to 40 minutes, you will be as adapted to the darkness as the sky will allow, and you may be surprised at how many fainter stars become visible. Be careful not to spoil your low-light vision by glancing at a screen or other light source.

3 – keep an eye on the news

Know the light events that you can see regardless of the quality of your sky. The Moon and planets with the naked eye are always bright enough to be found, and they frequently combine in beautiful conjunctions. There are also bright meteor showers that occur every year. The Perseids in August and the Geminids in December are particularly celebrated because they produce a good number of shooting stars, the brightest of which are easily visible through light pollution. Watching meteors can be really exciting! The International Space Station, which regularly eclipses planets, is also visible above our heads when the time is right. Go out and say hello to the astronauts!

4 – use binoculars

If you own a pair of binoculars, they are a great tool to take the next step in stargazing. You can also find very inexpensive binoculars in stores or online. Binoculars show us many more stars than what we see with our eyes by collecting more light, and as they zoom in, the contrast we see in the image is enhanced. As a result, many “deep sky objects” like star clusters, nebulae and even galaxies can be found from your urban viewing site. My distance record for exploring deep space with binoculars in London is around 100 million light years, can you beat it?

5 – don’t let light pollution get you down

More than half of us around the world live in cities, with very limited access to the sky, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be astronomers. The practice of stargazing at home, no matter where you live, will pay off when you stand under a dazzling star dome in a perfect location for stargazing. Enjoy the urban sky for now and plan your next trip!

Trips to “dark sky destinations” may be on hold for now, but we can all observe the stars from our backyards, balconies, and even through windows. “I’m doing my best to point out that right now stargazing, moon watching, and even finding a comet can be a source of comfort and connection with the natural world at some point. where we feel locked in and isolated, ”Kerss said. . “It’s a sight we all share after all, and the Universe is old enough to remind us that that too will pass.”

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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