Astronomy and Stargazing—One of My Favorite Cabin Activities


Going to the cabin and getting away from everything is so refreshing.  Even if you’re really active at the cabin, it’s refreshing to spend time focusing on things other than the daily grind of life.

When it’s too dark outside for hiking and playing, it’s nice to have some fun things to do.  Sure you can go inside and play games, maybe watch a movie.  But why not continue enjoying nature?  There is a whole universe of exciting stuff to explore, and there’s no better place to do it than at the cabin.

Astronomy and Stargazing are Perfect for the Cabin

One of my favorite things about getting out of town and up to the cabin is the stars.

When the lights of the city are far away, the sky seems to fill with stars.  There are thousands and thousands that are visible to the naked eye, but not with the city lights the surround most of us daily.

So next time you’re up at the cabin, make sure you take some time to enjoy and appreciate the spectacular view that’s available to you.  Just make sure you turn off any lights around your cabin so you can enjoy as many stars as possible.

And if you’re interested in more than just a little casual stargazing, I highly recommend reading further.

How to Get Started Enjoying the Stars at Your Cabin

Preparation

I find that it’s most fun to look at the stars when I have some idea of what I’m looking at.

There are some great apps for your both iOS and Android devices that work really well.  I would make sure you use one that has a night setting so that the backlight is dark and the text is light.  You’ll learn why in the next section.

If you don’t want to rely on a device, pick up a star chart over on Amazon.  Ones like this one actually rotate to show you which stars and constellations are visible at which times of the year.  But you need to make sure you get one that works for your latitude.  The chart I linked to is made for 40-50° N.  To find your latitude, just go to Google and type in your location (city, state) followed by the word “latitude”.  Google will tell you the coordinates for your location.  The first number, is the latitude.

Star charts are great for showing you constellations which are really fun to look for and find.  The apps will usually give you not only the constellations that should be visible, but also the other celestial objects, like planets, comets, and even the Andromeda galaxy!

The Setting

It’s best to have your surroundings as dark as possible.  Turn off all of your outside lights at the cabin.  Don’t turn on any flashlights or even look at the screen of a cell phone while you’re enjoying the stars.  Any lights, even those from a phone, will cause your pupils to contract which will reduce the amount of light you can see.  Basically, you won’t be able to see as many stars for several minutes.  Go outside and let your eyes adjust.  Then look up, and take it in.

Telescope

If you’re going to thoroughly enjoy the stars and other celestial objects at your cabin, I highly recommend you get a good telescope.  This is the telescope I bought on Amazon and we’ve loved it.  I would highly recommend it for any beginner to amateur stargazer.  This telescope uses mirrors to increase the magnification without having to be really long.  So even though it’s fairly short and compact, I get better magnification than most longer amateur telescopes.

It also comes with what is called an equatorial mount.  Most telescopes come with a basic tripod mount.  That holds the telescope in place and allows you to move it around easily.  But the more you use your telescope, the more you’re likely to see the benefits of an equatorial mount.

What the equatorial mount does is help you align the mount with the rotation of the earth.  So once you find an object in the sky and lock in on it, you just turn a little dial a little bit every few minutes and the telescope will actually follow that object through the sky.

Because the earth is rotating, objects that you find in your telescope won’t hold still.  And the farther they are, the more quickly they’ll get out of view of your telescope.  Trust me, you won’t want to spend the whole evening re-finding the same object over and over.  That’s why I like the equatorial mount.  When the object starts to get out of view, or even if it disappears completely, I just have to turn a dial and it’s back!

Using the equatorial mount properly takes some getting used to.  But my telescope came with some excellent instructions for setting up and using the mount.  After playing around with it for an hour or two you’ll have it all figured out.

Binoculars

Telescopes are awesome for looking at objects in the sky, but it can be hard to find those objects while looking through the telescope.  The magnification is enough on the telescope that your field of vision is actually pretty small.  When looking through the lens, you’re only seeing a tiny spot in the sky.  So any small movement of your telescope can make you lose whatever you’re looking at.  That’s why a good pair of binoculars is a great idea.

Binoculars will give you good magnification so you can see things that aren’t visible to your naked eye.  But they won’t magnify as much as your telescope giving you a wider field of vision.  This combination makes binoculars great for finding specific objects in the sky.  They’re also great if you just want to look around for object after object.  Telescopes are a lot better for looking at one object for a while, and then moving on and finding another.

My friend has these binoculars, available on Amazon, and they’re perfect for stargazing.  I liked them so much, I put some on my wishlist and got them for Christmas. We love them. They’re actually made by the same company that makes the telescope I have.  So they’re made specifically for stargazing and astronomy.  However, there’s nothing special about astronomy binoculars other than the size of the objective lens.

Binoculars typically have two numbers that tell you what they’re good for.  They usually take the the form of 15 x 50.  The first number is the magnification.  In this case, what you see will be 15 times bigger than it would be with your naked eye.  The second number is the size of the objective lens.  The bigger this number, the more light the binoculars let in.  So for astronomy or stargazing, you’ll want binoculars with a big second number to let in as much light as possible.  Otherwise you won’t be able to see anything at night.

My binoculars are 15 x 50.  50 is a nice, large number for the lens size which is why they’re great for astronomy.  I also like the 15 times magnification because they allow me to see a lot more detail and allow me to see some really cool things that would be hard to find with lower magnification.

Find Out What’s Exciting to Look at Right Now

There are lots of sites on the internet that will tell you all about the most exciting things to see in the night sky depending on your location and the time of year.

But I really like to use the night sky apps.  They provide me with all the information I need based on my location and the time of year.  I use the Celestron SkyPortal app because it works great.  It has a night vision setting that doesn’t wash out my eyes at all.  I can click on stars and other objects and click “info” to learn all about them.

That said, there are a lot of great apps for stargazing that will add a lot to your experience.

What’s Your Favorite Thing to Look for in the Night Sky?

I love trying to find specific objects in the sky.  One of my favorites it the Andromeda galaxy.  It’s tough to see unless it’s a nice clare night, and it’s particularly hard to find because you can’t really see it with the naked eye.

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