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Three Easy Body Hacks for Stargazers

July 23, 2018

Like me, you probably love space, and you want to see some stars with your own two eyes. But sky watching can be tricky - it's difficult to see dim objects, and even figure out where to look in the first place. Luckily, there are some things you can do to make your experience go a little more smoothly, like taking advantage of how your eyes work.

 

You've probably heard about and experienced light pollution. Even if there aren't any lights within your field of vision, any nearby light will scatter into the atmosphere, making the sky just a little bit brighter. That's why in big cities, you might only be able to see a few stars even on the darkest night. However, there are ways to get around this problem, like using a special eye piece for your telescope that will filter out certain wavelengths of light. But that isn't a perfect solution, especially if you want to stargaze without a telescope

 

1. Find a spot with less light pollution.

 

 Regardless of whether you're in the most remote outback, even light from your phone or a flashlight can ruin your night vision and make you have to wait another half an hour before you can see the dimmest stars again. Our retinas detect light using two different kinds of cells: rods and cones. The rods aren't too useful for distinguishing colors, but are a lot more light-sensitive, so they're mostly responsible for our ability to see at night. Rods contain a chemical called rhodopsin, which breaks down when it's exposed to light. But when your rods don't detect light for a while, the rhodopsin builds up, making your eyes more sensitive to what little light might be around.

 

That could be a problem if you just want to adjust your telescope or check a star chart, because you don't want to lose that extra rhodopsin and have to wait for your night vision to build back up again. One easy fix is to only use red light, like getting a flashlight with red LEDs or by covering a regular one with red cellophane. The red light doesn't affect your night vision as much because as it turns out, rhodopsin is least sensitive to light with longer wavelengths, like red light.

 

But let's say you still can't see a particularly dim star or galaxy very well.

 

2. Use your peripherals. 

 

 

The rods in the corner of your eyes are arranged like tiny donuts with the cones in the middle. This means that the most light-sensitive part of your retinas is slightly off center, so if you're having trouble seeing something, try looking slightly away from it.

 

If you're struggling to find something specific, it's useful to have a couple of star patterns in your head to guide you, like the Big Dipper for instance. The Big Dipper is shaped like a ladle, and if you follow the line of stars on the edge of the scooping part in the direction of the scooping, you'll find Polaris, the North Star.

 

Polaris is a fantastic tool because it's incredibly close to the northern axis of Earth's rotation. Even though the rest of the stars move around in the sky all night as the Earth rotates, Polaris mostly stays put, so it's an easy way to orient yourself with a star chart. But if you want to measure distances, you have some natural tools at your disposal.

 

3. Use your hands to measure distance.

 

When you hold your hand out in different positions at arm's length it becomes a great way to measure rough distances in degrees. This works for practically everyone because people with bigger hands also tend to have a longer arm. So to find Polaris, you stretch out your thumb and pinky as far as they'll go - that's about twenty-five degrees. Your pinky alone is just one degree, so you can measure out exactly twenty-eight degrees by adding three pinky widths and locating Polaris.

 

Basically, not all stargazing tips and tricks have to do with high-tech hacks and equipment upgrades. Even the simplest tricks can make a huge difference with your experience. Suffice to say they can come in… handy.

 

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Source: This list was originally published as a video on SciShow. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest in the subject. Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "Three Easy Body Hacks for Stargazers." SkyFeed. 23 July 2018. Web article.

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