Stargazing in India: Best time, best locations and tips for first time stargazers
Night sky is ever-changing and if you are a celestial body lover, here is the best time, best locations and tips for a first time stargazing experience in India
Stargazing is a wonderful and awe-inspiring activity that allows you to observe and appreciate the beauty of the night sky but to maximise your stargazing experience, find a location away from city lights and light pollution preferably in rural areas, national parks or designated stargazing spots since the darker the sky, the more stars and celestial objects you'll be able to see. It is a calming and meditative activity so allow yourself to relax, be patient and let your eyes adjust to the darkness as it takes time for your eyes to adapt to low light conditions hence, avoid looking at bright lights or screens before stargazing.
It is a chance to connect with the vastness of the universe and appreciate the beauty of our cosmos so take the time to simply enjoy the experience, soak in the wonder of the night sky and create lasting memories.
Best time to go stargazing in India:
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Paul Savio, CEO and Co-Founder of Starscapes, talked about the best time to go stargazing in India and said, “This varies based on where you are. You're basically looking for any time when the skies are not cloudy. Summers are usually good in the Himalayan towns, and continue through June. The pre-monsoon showers in April and the monsoons in June make for poor skies in the south. Post monsoons, and especially post Diwali, the skies clear up across the country. Winters are a great time for stargazing.”
Neeraj Ladia, CEO at Space Arcade, said, “Generally, if you see the whole of India, it would mostly be monsoons from mid May or June. So, June, July, August - these are the times one should avoid stargazing in general areas but if you are in an area where there is less rain like the Himalayas or regions in the Spiti valley or in Ladakh or in Leh, June-July is the best time to go. Overall if you speak about all of India, you should avoid June, July, August for stargazing. There might be times that the sky is clear but most of the time it is avoided and then it opens up very nicely in September - October.”
He added, “If you are in an area like South India, it usually rains in November so don't go there but North India is totally fine and winter skies are actually very good skies. For stargazing, winter skies are more sharp and crisp. It’s full of bright stars. The view of the night sky catches your attention very quickly. One thing that is not seen clearly in the winter sky is the Milky Way arm, the summer arm of the milky way. The winter arm of the milky way is not very thick, it is not very bright so we can’t see it easily with naked eyes but if you want to see the proper summer arm of the milky way, you need to start stargazing in the summer season. That would be post February or March onwards and it would continue till October-November but again, avoiding these 3 months mentioned earlier. Generally speaking, stargazing is best done in the winter skies. One challenge is the fog and the mist which could hamper your observation.”
Best locations for stargazing in India:
Paul Savio suggested, “The usual suspects are mountains, mainly because of the thin clear air and the lack of light pollution but most towns have fairly dark skies just outside city limits. These places, while they may not compare to a Ladakh or an Andaman, still give a great stargazing experience and can be visited at short notice.”
According to Neeraj Ladia, the best skies in India would be in Leh and Ladakh regions. He explained, “Very least rainfall and cloud free most of the year. It has around 250 clear skies. Out of 365 days in a year, 250 or 270 clear skies. Weather wise also it is best and no light pollution also. The whole Spiti valley, Ladakh and Leh region would be my number one locations. It is also called the rain shadow area. There is something called the Bortle scale where you measure the light pollution.”
He elaborated, “The Bortle scale between 1 and 2 is good and skies are also very clear in least populated areas. If you go to Rajasthan, the border area, Jaisalmer area is also very good. Some pockets near national parks and tiger reserves is also good. For example, in Madhya Pradesh, we have the Kanha National park. In South India, there are more mountain areas, clear skies are a little less but Coorg has a very good night sky and outskirts of Kodaikanal and near Kanyakumari. All these areas are good and there are more but it also depends on how many good skies you receive in a year.”
Tips for a first time stargazing experience:
Paul Savio advised, “As with any hobby, start easy. Find an easily accessible dark sky location. Familiarize yourself with a sky map (either a planisphere or an app like Sky Maps or Stellarium), and learn how to identify various stars, constellations and planets. A pair of binoculars will be of use too, in observing the moon, planets and maybe some deep sky objects. Public stargazing sessions are usually a great place to start, since there are guided shows and more experienced stargazers who can help you explore the hobby more meaningfully.”
Neeraj Ladia added to the tips for a first time stargazing experience and said, “Every person who has an interest in astronomy should know when to go. They cannot randomly go. Therefore, one should know the correct season to go stargazing. Another thing that is important is the time of the month you choose to go. You need to know the moon phase. So, before going, find the Lunar phase of that day. You should stick to those days which are just near the new moon. You should avoid other days because moonlight would be very bright, it could spoil your observation. Secondly, one should know the places. Obviously not everyone can travel to regions like Ladakh but wherever you are living, you should know the darkest zone near those areas. So, you should know the concept of light pollution.”
He concluded, “There are many apps and softwares to check the light pollution. So, wherever you are living just check in that area whichever area has the least light pollution. Avoid the city/town area and try going to the outskirts of wherever you are living. If possible, it is good to carry a pair of binoculars. Some instruments always come in handy and will enhance the experience.”
Remember, the night sky is ever-changing and each season brings new celestial events and phenomena to observe. So, make stargazing a regular practice and continue to explore and marvel at the wonders above us.