I saw my first truly dark sky while camping with my wife in Big Bend National Park 30 years ago. The sheer magnitude, mystery and beauty got me hooked. 
It took a few years to get somewhat familiar with the night sky and even longer to capture its majesty with a camera. And yet, each time I go out, I learn something new.
Here are some of my favorite tips, links and apps for viewing the night sky!

Some tips to get you started

When will it be dark?
Yes, the stars are in the sky during the daytime. It is just that the light from our Sun hides them from view. The best star viewing begins about one hour after sunset and ends about one hour before sunrise. However, don't miss those beautiful sunrises and sunsets. And stay to watch the darkening skies for the first star that emerges (hint, it is often a planet!).

What will be in the sky?
The stars rise about 4 minutes earlier each day, the Sun rises/sets about 1 to 3 minutes earlier or later depending on the season, the Moon rises/sets about an hour later, the planets move in relation to the stars… all making every night a little different!

Will the skies be clear?
There is a river of moisture above our heads in the form of humidity, clouds and rain. In fact, there is as much water in the atmosphere as there is in all of the rivers, swamps and marshes on Earth. Check the weather forecast to pick a night with good viewing conditions.

Where will it be dark?
Depending on what you would like to observe, you may need to take light pollution into consideration. The bright city lights will block out the fainter stars, the Milky Way, meteor showers and comets. And if you can't get to a dark location, try to place yourself in a shadow from the street lights or look in the direction with the least population. For best results, give your eyes 15-20 minutes to adjust to the darkness; and if you need a flashlight or app, a red light and night mode will help preserve your night vision.

What about our Moon?
The ~28 day cycle of our Moon as it revolves around our planet lends a range of ambience to the night sky. Watch as it changes from new moon to slender crescent to gibbous semicircle to full moon and back. This large disc in the sky reflects the light of our sun, making it is the brightest object in the night. If you want to observe the most stars, plan to pick a night near the new moon or at least a time when it is below the horizon.

Which direction is North?
The night sky can be bewildering to navigate at first, so it helps to know your general directions. An easy place to begin your night sky adventures is to follow the outer edge of the Big Dipper to Polaris, our North Star. Face the Big Dipper... your right arm points East, your back faces South, your right arm points West. Now you have basic compass reference points.

Some fun celestial objects to observe

Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Scorpius, and signs of the Zodiac all follow the Sun’s arc in the sky. These are easy to spot depending on the season of the Earth travelling around the Sun. Then study those above/below that arc to expand your list. There are 88 official constellations to search for and add to your list.

Our neighboring planets can be some of the brightest objects in the sky, after our Sun and Moon. Inner planets Mercury and Venus are only visible early morning or late evening. Mercury is so close to the Sun that you have to time it just right and look carefully at the Sun's glow on the horizon. Outer planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can easily be seen with the naked eye when they are on our side of the Sun. You can even see some of Jupiter’s moons with standard binoculars.

The Milky Way
You need very dark skies to see the billions of stars of the Milky Way lightly glow across the sky. The brightest part is the Galactic Core, which is only visible when the night  side of the Earth is facing into the center of our galaxy. March to September is prime season, go find a dark sky location to experience the wonder.

Meteor Showers
Meteor showers are the remnants of comets that have visited our solar system in the distant past. Each year, our Earth travels through those debris clouds and they put on a bright show when they contact our atmosphere. The city lights will obscure most of the streaks in the sky, so a dark spot in the country side is best. And plan on a time of night when our Moon is dim or below the horizon.

The Sun, Moon and Earth are the perfect size and distance from each other to create stunning effects, however they are usually visible for only a small portion of our planet. Plan ahead to be in the best spot!
Sun > Moon > Earth alignment creates a solar eclipse.
Sun > Earth > Moon alignment creates a lunar eclipse. 
Central Texas is fortunate to experience a Total Solar Eclipse on April 8, 2024, make your plans now!

Ever since the early space launches, thousands of man-made objects and space junk orbit us out in space and they can reflect the rays of the Sun in the very early morning and late evening hours. If a star looks like it is slowly and steadily moving across the sky, it could be a satellite. If the light blinks or changes directions, it is a plane. Look for the International Space Station (ISS), which is the biggest and brightest due to  the Sun's reflection on its massive solar panels. The ISS is travelling at 17,000 miles per hour and is as large as a football field.

Web Resources:
Note: the web pages are set for the Austin area, you can change the location to better match your home.

Smartphone Apps
Your favorite weather app, I have had good luck with Weather Underground
Clear Outside - cloud forecasts
Stellarium or Sky Map - identify or locate planets, stars and constellations
ISS Detector - find the Space Station passes
Heavens Above - find even more satellites passes
Phases of the Moon - a calendar of the Moon brightness

Star Watching Gear
Red-light headlamp 
Sky chart
Binoculars to spot fainter objects
Chair or blanket to lay out on
Warm layers, it can get chilly the later hours
Your favorite beverage or snack
Remember, give your eyes about 15-20 minutes to adjust to the night sky
and let me know what you see!
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