London astronomers on the best ways to see stars in the city
Do you ever find yourself staring at the dark night sky in London and wondering whether – if you really tried – you’d be able to see some stars? The answer, friend, is yes. Yes you could.
Despite the light pollution and actual pollution here in our city, it is still possible to see stars – it’s just tricky. Or say the astrologers from top-notch, and pretty much legendary, stargazing spot the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
‘January skies offer some real treats such as the constellation Orion – famous for the three stars in a line which make up the Hunter’s belt,’ says Hannah Baynard from the team.‘Plus dazzlingly bright red star Betelgeuse and blue-white star Rigel. As soon as the sun has set, you’ll be able to spot a bright red star high in the sky which isn’t a star at all, it is actually the planet Mars. You will notice it’s different to the stars in the sky as it will not twinkle – a clear sign that you are looking at a planet.’
But how to see those pesky twinklers when you haven’t got a massive telescope? Just follow these tips from the Observatory team.
1. Head further out of the city
‘Crayford and Dartford marshes in far east London have relatively little light pollution so make for a more ideal stargazing location than the city centre. Make sure you wrap up warm and wear some good walking boots and clothes that you don’t mind getting a little dirty and bring a good torch light that has a red light filter. Away from houses and tall buildings you should have a much better view of the horizon and the lit-up QE II bridge at night provides a lovely sight in the distance if you don’t manage to catch a glimpse of much else!’ Dhara Patel, astronomer
2. Lie on the floor
‘Lucky enough to have some outdoor space? Put down a blanket and lying on the ground in it. It will reduce the light from other sources such, as streetlights, from getting to your eyes. The result? It will greatly improve your night vision. It takes around 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness so wrap up warm and you’ll notice that the longer you look, the more you will see.’ Hannah Baynard, astronomer
3. Reach out to an astronomy society
‘When life begins to return to normal, and group meetings once again become the norm, try reaching out to your local astronomy society, many of which run observing sessions in specific darker sky locations – like the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers that frequent Regents Park, or Flamsteed Astronomy Society which uses Blackheath. Not only will you learn about the best dark sky site close to you, you’ll have a whole team of people who would love to help an astronomer in the making!’ Greg Brown, astronomer
Read guides to the best birds to spot in London and our city’s coolest street trees, curated by wildlife experts.