Learn Urban Observing Skills

Observe the universe from your own backyard.

Backyard astronomy isn’t what it once was. As a teenager in the mid-60s, Robert was able to observe most of the Messier Objects and scores of other deep-sky objects (DSOs) from his urban backyard using his home-built 6” Newtonian reflector. Nowadays, alas, urban light pollution limits serious DSO observing to rural dark-sky sites.


Light pollution is the bane of DSO observers, and the only way to avoid light pollution is to travel to a dark-sky site. By “dark” we don’t mean a suburban park, either. You’ll need to travel at least 20 miles from even small towns and 50 miles or more from larger cities to find a truly dark site. But the view is worth the effort. You can see more with a small scope or even a binocular from a dark site than you can see with a large scope from a light polluted site. If you’ve never observed from a truly dark site, give it a try. You’ll be shocked at the difference.

Fortunately, light pollution does little or nothing to hamper other types of observing. If your métier is Lunar and planetary observing, for example, you might as well stay in town. Luna and the planets are just as visible from the most brightly lit urban backyard as they are from the darkest rural site.

There is much to be said for urban observing. You can save yourself a drive, observe more frequently, spend more time observing, and always have a bathroom and a warm refuge available. On weeknights when you don’t have ...

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