A lockdown guide to stargazing in New Zealand

Our night sky has the power to connect us all, even while separated by physical distance.

Stargazing is unique in that it allows us to view something trillions of kilometres away, without needing to travel anywhere. We might not be able to see all our loved ones right now in person, but there is some comfort in knowing that if we look up into the night sky, we are viewing the same stars. As Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram sang, it helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky.

Thanks to the lockdown, there is not as much light pollution, with fewer vehicles on the roads and quieter cities. That means the night sky is appearing much brighter and clearer, making it an ideal time to get to know some of the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.

Naomi Arnold, author of Southern Lights, shares tips for getting started in stargazing during the lockdown.

What do you need for stargazing?

First of all, you need to pick a clear night with as little moon as possible.

“Just Google ‘moon phases’ to find a calendar, and choose a night that has a new moon, no moon, or one that rises late in the evening,” explains Arnold. The reflection from the moon lightens the night sky, which makes it harder to see as many stars.

Plan to be outside for at least an hour, so dress warmly. “Stargazing involves quite a bit of standing, sitting, or lying around,” she says. “Take a blanket or sleeping bag, or have a night picnic with hot drinks and a snack. Get a pair of binoculars if you have some, and because torchlight or phone backlights ruin your night vision, find yourself a red light of some sort – such as a bike light or headlamp – so you can see where you’re going.”

Your eyes will need a bit of time to adjust to the dark, so spread out the blanket in the garden, lie down and look up. “As your eyes begin to adjust to the dark you’ll be able to see more and more in the sky every minute.”

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