Firstly, it takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to acclimatise to the dark. So why not take this time to tune in to the sounds of the night - an owl hooting, foxes barking, the rustle of wind in the trees. Be careful to avoid car headlights, white torch light or look at your mobile phone, though, otherwise you will have to start the 20-minute countdown all over again.
Stellarium - Interactive star programme – a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.
Although learning about the dark sky may seem like an overwhelming task at first, taken step by step you can discover a limitless number of its best kept secrets. Pick something that you know, such as the Plough, and then use that to find other constellations and stars. If mobile phone apps are not your thing, a Planisphere, available in bookshops and via online retailers, is a simple tool to help you do this and work out what is in the sky that night.
The Moon is incredible to look at, especially through binoculars. If you’re wanting to see as much of the night sky as possible, avoid times when the moon as at its fullest; the brightness will reduce the amount you can see, and looking at a bright full moon without a filter is very harmful to your eyes.
When to stargaze
Check the phase of the moon to plan your trip. The best time is the days before, during and soon after each new moon. Of course, a cloudless sky is best, otherwise you are going to see very little! This Time and Date website is a good place to look. As well as Moon phases, it has a page on a range of apps for astronomy.
Where to go Stargazing
Go Stargazing is a useful website that gives more information on how, where, what to see, and equipment when stargazing. It also includes a useful calendar telling you the best nights to go stargazing.
Occasional Stargazing events take place at the National Trust White Horse Hill, Uffington. SN7 7UK.
Click here to download the BBC Two Stargazing Live Event Pack as a pdf.
There are several astronomical societies in and around the AONB. They are a great source of advice on stargazing and equipment. They are very friendly, keen to welcome new people and some hold events especially at those getting started.
Wiltshire Astronomical Society- Meets first Tuesday of the month
Newbury Astronomical Society – Main meetings - first Friday each month from September to June. Beginners meetings - third Wednesday each month from September to May.
Swindon Stargazers – Meets third Friday of the month.
Bath Astronomers – meet on the last Wednesday of the month, and organise stargazing events 2 or 3 times a month to which non-members are welcome.
Reading Astronomical Society – meet mostly the third Saturday and fourth Friday each month.
Basingstoke Astronomical Group - usually meet second and fourth Thursday of the month.
Why not become a ‘Friend of the Marlborough telescope’ . Housed at the Blackett Observatory Marlborough College it is the largest telescope in Wiltshire and one of the largest refracting telescopes in the country in full use. As a 'friend' you receive a Diary of planned events, can arrange private visits, be invited to attend private observation events, and have the option to attend lectures in the College on astronomy.
Chasing Stars - Cranborne Chase AONB - Designated in October 2019 as the 14th International Dark Sky Reserve in the world. The website tells you more.
South Downs National Park dark skies – also an International Dark Sky Reserve. Gives you the best places in the South Downs to find dark skies.