Stargazing tips from a Dark Sky Festival organizer on the North Shore

The milky way above Voyageurs.
The Milky Way galaxy is visible from just outside Voyageurs National Park in Crane Lake. Minnesota’s North Shore is home to one of only 15 certified International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world — and this weekend, it will host a festival celebrating the magic and importance of dark skies.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2018

Did you know that Cook County, in far northeastern Minnesota, is home to one of the darkest skies in the world? Not only is the area remote, but it’s also bordered on one side by Lake Superior and on the other by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — one of only 15 certified International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world, and the largest at over a million acres in size.

This weekend, a festival celebrating dark skies will be held in Grand Marais. Caroline Torkildson, a dark sky advocate with Starry Skies North, the Duluth chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, joined host Cathy Wurzer to talk about the Dark Sky Festival and share her tips for beginner stargazers.

Five tips for beginner stargazers

  1. Use a star chart to learn the constellations. Check for an updated map every month, or download a star chart app on your phone (Torkildson recommends Stellarium, which is also available for computers). When you’re out and about, be sure to put your phone on night mode, as red is easier on your night vision.

  2. Get comfortable and dress warmly. Usually while stargazing, you aren’t moving, so you get colder faster. Try lying in a lawn chair and covering up in blankets.

  3. Learn about the stars and planets — it makes what you see more meaningful. Torkildson recommends checking out Sky and Telescope Magazine’s weekly Sky at a Glance blog, with its easy-to-read sky maps; Duluth resident Bob King’s weekly blog on Sky and Telescope; and NASA’s monthly What’s Up blog.

  4. Give your eyes time to adjust to the dark, and use a red flashlight. It takes at least 10 minutes for your eyes to adjust enough to really see the stars (and ideally, you can give yourself a full 45 minutes to adjust). Navigating with a red flashlight in the dark helps preserve your night vision.

  5. Look for satellites. The International Space Station is usually bright. Torkildson suggested visiting Heaven’s Above for satellite predictions.

For even more tips on stargazing from Torkildson, check out this USDA Forest Service page.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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