Hints and tips for visual observing

Dim red lights are useful to preserve your night vision
If you are new to observing with the unaided eye, binoculars or a telescope here are a few tips that might help you get started.

  • If you have bought a telescope for the first time, get used to setting it up in the daytime first. Practice aligning the telescope and its finder using a distant spire or tree. And try the different eyepieces that came with your scope to understand where they focus.
  • Try to observe at night from a spot which does not have direct illumination from street lights or neighbours. A shaded area can be ideal.
  • Allow time for your eyes to become adjusted to seeing in the dark – this is called Dark Adaptation. It can take 15 or 20 minutes or more for your eyes to become fully dark adapted. But if you look at a bright white light, then your dark adaptation will be lost in an instant. Then you will have to wait another 15 minutes again.
  • You don’t need to be dark adapted to look at bright things like the Moon or planets. But it is useful if you want to see the Milky Way, meteors, and of course ‘deep sky’ objects like galaxies, clusters of stars and nebulae.
  • To preserve your night vision use a dim red torch to view charts and adjust your equipment. Try not to use your phone, tablet or computer unless you have a red filter fitted to the screen. A red bicycle light is generally not ideal – these are too bright – and even though they are red they will still affect your dark adaptation.
  • Try not to shine lights into other observers faces if you are observing with a group.
  • If you have driven to a dark observing site, try to get all the equipment out at the start of the evening. Avoid closing / opening your car when others are observing otherwise the courtesy lights and ‘flashers’ will damage other peoples night vision. It may be worth disabling courtesy lights if you can, or cover them with black electrical tape.
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