Unless you happen to live up a mountain, it’s unlikely that your backgarden offers the ideal conditions for astronomy. Light pollution blocks out many otherwise visible stars from being seen by the naked eye. What's more, you probably won't have space to set up a personal observatory if you live in the middle of a city.
That’s not to say, though, that urban astronomy is impossible. In fact, it’s a great gateway into picking up this hobby- and we’ve got a few handy tips and tricks for you in this blog post.
Go for the brightest targets
While many smaller stars are blocked by light and air pollution, larger and brighter objects can still be easily observed anywhere with clear skies. The moon is the obvious starting point, but larger planets like Jupiter and Venus are also good choices. For the best results, time your astronomy session for when these objects will be directly above you. This will mean there’s less atmosphere to look through, so you’ll get a sharper image. To use the proper term, this is the “zenith”.
The moon, in particular, isn’t really affected by light pollution at all. Since it’s so close to the Earth, and is hit with so much light from the Sun, it can be clearly observed even in big cities. What’s more, even lower-magnification telescopes will have no problem giving you a clear image of the moon’s surface.
A larger telescope means a clearer image- wherever you are
Telescopes and binoculars come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re using a scope for birding or hiking, then you’ll naturally want it to be small enough to fit in your rucksack. But when it comes to astronomy, bigger is generally better. It stands to reason that a telescope with a larger aperture will let in more light. Some people think that this means it also lets in more light pollution, but this isn’t the case. Unless you’re pointing your telescope straight at a lamppost, most of the light it takes in will be from the objects in the sky rather than anything around you.
That being said, smaller scopes and binoculars are still a great place to start with urban astronomy, especially if you already have them lying around. You'll be amazed at just how much you can spot when you point them up at the stars. In particular, 10x50 binoculars are a common size that many people use for birdwatching, but the large aperture size means they'll do the job for astronomy, too. As for scopes, you may find that if you need to head to your local park for some urban astronomy, a more portable model will make life that much easier.
Get out of town!
The optimum places for astronomy are high altitudes, far away from civilisation. Most people would have to travel pretty far from home to get somewhere with perfect conditions. However, you don’t have to go out to the middle of nowhere to get a better look at the night skies. If you live in a particularly hilly part of the country, then there’s likely somewhere pretty close by that’s perfect for a night-time expedition. Otherwise, just driving a short distance away from built-up areas can make a massive difference when looking through your telescope.