If you are the type of person who enjoys searching for stars and constellations, you would almost certainly love to engage in stargazing from the top of a mountain. If you have a sophisticated instrument for observing the stars that is also easily transportable it’s even better. But even if you don’t, there are a few reasons for which mountain stargazing is cool. For instance, stargazing from a good location can offer amazing views and the possibility of learning more about the universe (if you observe the sky while also reading about the things you are observing).
Those of you who have stargazing as a hobby might already know the main reason for which stargazing is a more enhancing experience when it takes place outside of the city/town/village. Here’s the reason: the light emitted by humans significantly interferes with what comes from the stars and this is why stars look less bright if you observe them from a very anthropic location. This is also the reason for which the world’s famous observatories are not located in downtowns (and selling tickets to see these observatories would probably be a great way for NASA and other organizations around the world to increase their budget).
The effect light can have on stars is also obvious during a new moon-those nights when the light of the moon is hidden. Without the moonlight to interfere with the lights from other celestial bodies, you can see significantly more stars, something which is perhaps even more interesting if you have some astronomy knowledge and you are able to identify some of the many dots. In other words, if you want the best stargazing experience, try to find a day without clouds and a new moon.
On the other hand, if you prefer to see a huge moon and care less about the stars, you should know that the moon looks several times brighter than the stars when watched from the top of a mountain. The best period to watch the moon is obviously during a full moon. Full moonrises are quite spectacular and unless stargazing is the priority, I highly recommend seeing one from a summit of your choice.
Whether you are more interested in the moon or the stars, one thing you would probably like to do is taking photos of the sky. While a professional camera will certainly take much better pictures of the stars and the moon compared to the majority of cameras amateurs use (no offense), you can still take great photos as long as you don’t have a low-end camera or you believe a smartphone of 2018 (or before) can handle it. No matter what type of camera you have, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, you will not want to use the flash, something which is probably obvious, as the light from the flash will mask the light of the stars. Something that is less known is the importance of long exposures. Such exposure leads to having pictures showing stars as lines as opposed to dots. These lines are caused by the Earth’s movement in relation to the stars; basically, these photos will show the stars as moving and leaving a trace behind them. If you want to have both a more realistic picture of the sky and one that looks like you have applied some special effects, you may consider taking a few pictures with long exposures, as some of them can look more appealing than the ones that match what you observe with the naked eye. Another important tip is to use long shutter speeds, wide apertures, and a high ISO, as you want to capture as much light as possible in order to produce a good picture. Having a manual control for the shutter speed and ISO is highly recommended. Finally, you will want to have a tripod, as the stability of your camera will significantly influence the quality of the photo.
No need to say, there are a few surviving tips that are worth taking in account before engaging in mountain stargazing. One of them is to consider that if you go with a car in the middle of nowhere, turn of the light and any sound that might disturb your celestial experience, chances are some other beings might approach you. I am not talking about aliens (which would be very cool and probably very unlikely) but bears or other beings that can be aggressive if they feel threatened. For this reason, if you go to a location that is not necessarily safe, make sure the car is close enough.
Is going to the tip of a mountain to watch the stars worth it? The answer will depend on your tastes. If you are really passionate about the universe and like to observe it, the answer is most likely yes. If you don’t care about astronomy but still love to look at the sky at night, the answer is the same. If you don’t care that much about stargazing but you love mountaineering the answer is probably the same. If you happen to be at the peak of a mountain and you observe what appears as an alien spacecraft, please take several good pictures of them and if possible make a film. There are many fake pictures and films (maybe all of them, maybe not) and we would love to see something that would give a clear answer to one of the most important urban and rural legends of the 20th and 21st century.