Star Gazing

     “I find a calmness in being under the stars. In this over scheduled, hyper busy life we live these days, you just need to have some time for peace and calm. For me that’s time under the stars,” said Joe Dechene, Vice President of the New Hampshire Astronomical Society (NHAS).

     Looking at the stars leads to a way to relax and gain perspective of ourselves and the universe. Along with helping you relax, stargazing offers a plethora of benefits. For example, stargazing also allows an opportunity to learn something new from a universe that is ever changing and expanding and there’s always something new to discover and research. Among the benefits, there are also multiple different ways to stargaze such as through telescopes, binoculars, apps, and charts that not only let you view the sky with magnification, but allows you the opportunity to further your knowledge on the night sky. 

      For people who have been stargazing for years, they always find a reason to go back and look again, even if they aren’t researching the stars. Cordelia Barnet (‘21) has always been intrigued by the stars and night sky. She finds it relaxing to get some time outside and watch the sky. “It’s very calming. It allows me to get some alone time because it’s very busy in my house all the time, so it’s nice to just go outside and relax and put on some calm music,” said Barnet. She is not alone in her interests in the night sky and the relaxation that comes with it. 

    Sara Cathey, a science teacher at ORHS who teaches an astronomy class, said, “I love stargazing because I find it very relaxing and I like thinking about how far away everything is. I like successfully finding and identifying objects in the night sky, and I am always looking forward to learning about, and finding, new objects [in space].”

     Since Cathey enjoys stargazing, she assigns it as homework for students in her astronomy class. She gives them specific objects to look for in the sky and they take notes and record what they see. “I started doing this when I began teaching astronomy 7 years ago. Students benefit from it by learning something new, and hopefully getting a little bit inspired too,” said Cathey. 

     As Cathey mentioned, there are endless things to learn about and find in the sky besides stars, and as Dechene put it, the sky is not static. “If I go out and see the stars tonight and I go out six months from now, the sky will be very different. There are things happening in the sky all the time and they’re really, really cool. Like comets, novas, oppositions, conjunctions, variable star activity, eclipses, and meteor showers, the sky is constantly changing […] you also gain perspective on distances and how big things are and how fast they’re going when you can actually see it in action,” said Dechene.

The Andromeda Galaxy, photo by Joe Dechene 

     For viewing the night sky and searching for some of the objects in space, there are options like telescopes and star maps. There are people like Dechene who make their own telescopes, but if you prefer, or are interested in looking through telescopes without buying or making one, there are also plenty of opportunities to do so. Part of Dechene’s work with the NHAS was donating telescopes to libraries across New Hampshire, and they can be checked out like a book. Some libraries also have star maps that can be checked out as well. 

     Another program the NHAS offers is a skywatch. Skywatches are usually through schools or events set up by the NHAS and they set up multiple telescopes aimed at different things in the night sky and allow people to look through them. The people at the NHAS are also there to educate people about what they’re seeing through telescopes and about the equipment they use. Dechene said, “we’ve had to tone things down a bit because of COVID obviously with public gatherings and things like that, but as the restrictions get lifted and people get their vaccines, we’ll do more [skywatches] and we’ll show you the coolest things. Things that you may have seen in textbooks or on the web, and we can show you those actual objects in real life.”

     If you’re looking for another method of stargazing, Dechene recommended a pair of binoculars for magnification. You can also view some of these things with your naked eye.

     When Dechene started looking closer at the sky, he used a pair of binoculars. “The first time I aimed them at the night sky I was just utterly amazed because for as many stars you can see with your eyes, the binoculars show you a lot more stars. You can just cruise around the night sky for years with just binoculars and a star chart and see a bunch of items,” he said. 

     As far as other equipment goes for stargazing, Dechene suggested a star map which Cathey also offers her students to use for their assignments. Star maps are glow in the dark, rotating maps of constellations and stars with coordinates and a compass. You can also adjust the date on the map by spinning it and the map then shows what the night sky looks like for that day. There are star map apps that can be an alternative to buying or borrowing one. 

     In order to get an optimal stargazing experience, the best places to go are away from downtown areas or places where there is a lot of light. Light pollution causes the night sky to be obstructed by foreign light sources and makes the stars hardly visible. For some local places to set up shop and stargaze, Cathey said, “pick a spot that is dark, comfortable, and has a large view of the sky. A field is perfect.” One field she mentioned was Tibbetts Field in Madbury. 

     Aside from fields, Barnet suggested stargazing from home. “Open fields could be fun, but there aren’t a lot in New Hampshire, so I just go out on my deck. One time I [went stargazing] in the pool which was really fun. If you put your ears right underwater, float, and see the stars, or sometimes you can have someone pull your feet and tug you around which is also really fun,” she said. 

     For those who are looking to either pick up a new hobby or just want to go outside and look up at the sky, stargazing is free and offers countless things to look at and learn about. For Cathey, she suggests people to learn something new and share it with friends and family. “Stargazing tends to be quality time, not wasted time,” said Cathey. With that said, being underneath the stars gives you the benefits and opportunities to get some time outdoors and relax, and maybe you’ll learn or see something new.

By Arianna Antonelli