If you want to improve your next stargazing experience dramatically, there are a few simple night vision tricks you can use to have an “out of this world” experience. The sharper your night vision, the better you can see faint objects in the sky, including our neighboring galaxy, Andromeda.
Most people don’t know that it takes about 40 minutes for the eyes to adapt to low-light conditions. In today’s world of 8-second attention spans, that can seem like an eternity. Too often, we keep doing things that halt our eye’s ability to adapt to the dark.
Using these tips will help you achieve the goal of light adaptation. With patience and a good plan, you can have the best stargazing experience of your life, especially if it’s a moonless night.
1: EXERCISE YOUR EYES DURING THE DAY
How often do you take the time to notice small details in the world around you? Like individual ants on an anthill, tiny veins in a leaf, or eyelashes on your dog? What about more distant objects like the separate branches on a tree or the details of a nearby hill?
You can start training your eye to focus on finer details during the daylight hours so they will be better with the faint details of the night sky.
2: WEAR SUNGLASSES DURING THE DAY
If you are planning an epic night of stargazing, start prepping your eyes during the day by wearing sunglasses. This forces the eye to engage its cones more than its rods for better night vision.
3: TAKE A BREAK FROM ELECTRONICS
Electronics emit a bright blue light that blows out your night vision. As the sunlight starts to dim before sunset, walk away from the computer and TV, turn the screen brightness on your phone down and set it aside, and avoid any other light that emits from electronics.
4: KEEP THE LIGHTS OFF
We automatically reach for the light switch as sunset approaches. To maintain your night vision, plan ahead so you can keep the lights off.
5: USE A RED FLASHLIGHT
If you need some light, use a red flashlight. The red color has much less impact on your night vision than a bright white flashlight. But make sure that the light is dim, too. Even a red light that’s too bright can blow out your night vision.
6: USE NIGHT MODE ON YOUR PHONE
I’ve already suggested that you don’t look at your phone once the sun goes down. But a good stargazing app can enhance your stargazing experience by helping you locate objects and identify what you see.
If you plan to use a stargazing app, prep your phone before it gets dark. Turn the screen brightness down and set it for night mode. The night mode adds a warm, reddish color to your screen instead of the bright white and blue typically cast from your screen. Then close out all of the other apps and have your stargazing app ready to go. You can then set your phone aside until you decide to use it for finding things in the night sky.
When you first go outside after dark, you can do a fun test to see how good your night vision is. Find the Big Dipper. Then look for Mizar, the second star from the end of the Big Dipper’s handle. You should be able to see another fainter star right next to it. It’s called Alcor.
The early Romans used the naked eye test with Mizar and Alcor. If a soldier could see both stars, he was eligible to serve as an archer in the emperor’s army.
Another excellent tip for seeing faint objects, such as the Andromeda Galaxy, is to use averted vision. This is where you don’t look directly at the object but slightly to the side of it. You look at it out of the corner of your eye. Moving your eyes around just a bit will also help you see those super faint objects.
Keep in mind that if you are tired or sick, your vision won’t be as sharp. You can still enjoy the night sky, but you’ll have trouble spotting those faint objects.
Check out our latest episode of the Night Sky Tourist podcast where you can test your new night vision skills during the star tour segment.