Can you use a telescope in the city: tips and tricks

Can you use a telescope in the city? Stargazing is a fascinating and rewarding hobby that has been enjoyed by people for centuries. However, city dwellers often face challenges when it comes to enjoying the night sky due to light pollution and other factors.

While darker skies with less light pollution are always preferable for stargazing, it’s still possible to enjoy the wonders of the night sky in areas with significant light pollution.

In this article, we will explore tips and tricks for using a telescope in the city so that you can make the most of your stargazing experience from a city location.

can you use a telescope in the city

Understanding light pollution

Light pollution is the greatest challenge faced by city stargazers.

It is caused by the excessive use of artificial lighting (street lights), in urban areas, which makes it difficult to see stars and other celestial objects in the night sky.

Understanding the different types of light pollution can help you choose the right equipment and techniques to overcome them.

Despite the challenges posed by light pollution, city stargazers can still observe a wide range of celestial objects using a telescope. The solar system is one area where city stargazers can have success.

The planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn, emit light that is bright enough to be seen through a telescope in areas with significant light pollution.

Types of light pollution from an artificial light

The four types of light pollution are skyglow, glare, light trespass, and clutter.

Skyglow is the brightening of the night sky caused by the reflection and scattering of artificial outdoor lights in the atmosphere.

Skyglow can make it difficult to see celestial objects in the sky, such as distant galaxies and nebulae.

To minimize the effects of skyglow, it’s important to use a telescope with a larger aperture and lower magnification, as this helps gather more light and improve visibility.

Additionally, using a red light instead of a white light can help preserve your night vision, making it easier to see faint objects.

Glares are the dazzling and bright lights that can interfere with your vision when looking through a telescope.

Glare can make it difficult to focus on specific celestial objects in the sky, as it can wash out the surrounding area.

To minimize the effects of glare, it’s important to use a telescope with a longer focal length, as this helps narrow your field of view and reduce the impact of surrounding building lights and other artificial lights.

This is because a longer focal length results in a higher magnification, which allows you to zoom in on specific areas of the sky and see objects with greater detail.

Light trespass is the unwanted light that enters your property from nearby sources, such as city lights, headlights, or other bright lights.

One way to combat light pollution and unwanted light trespass is to use shielded or fully shielded light fixtures.

These fixtures are designed to direct light downwards, rather than outwards or upwards, which helps minimize the impact of artificial light on the surrounding environment.

By choosing shielded or fully shielded light fixtures for your property, you can help reduce the amount of light pollution in your area and create a darker sky for stargazers.

Clutter is the general visual distraction caused by the abundance of artificial light sources in urban areas. The abundance of artificial light sources in cities can make it difficult to distinguish variable stars from the surrounding environment.

This is because light pollution scatters off particles in the air, which creates a veil of light that can obscure fainter celestial objects.

One way to combat clutter is to use narrowband filters. These filters work by blocking out specific wavelengths of light that are commonly emitted by streetlights and other sources of artificial light.

It’s also important to note that clutter can be mitigated by seeking darker areas. Even in urban areas, there may be pockets of sky that are less affected by pollution.

By using filters, stargazers can enhance the visibility of celestial objects and reduce the impact of clutter on their observations.

Choosing the right telescope

When choosing a telescope for city stargazing, there are a few factors to consider. Firstly, you will want to choose a portable telescope with high magnification power to help you see through the light-polluted sky.

A larger aperture is also helpful, as it allows more light to enter the telescope, making fainter objects visible in the dark sky.

Refractor telescopes are often preferred for city stargazing as they are more compact and easier to transport.

Additionally, when selecting a telescope for city stargazing, it is important to consider the type of mount it comes with. There are two main types of mounts: alt-azimuth and equatorial.

Alt-azimuth mounts are generally easier to use and are suitable for observing the Moon and planets, while equatorial mounts are better suited for observing objects such as galaxies and nebulae.

Ultimately, the right telescope for city stargazing depends on your personal preferences and observing needs.

Whether you choose a refractor or reflector telescope, an alt-azimuth, or an equatorial mount, the most significant thing is to find a telescope that is easy to use and fits your budget.

Mounting and alignment

Once you have chosen your telescope, you need to mount it correctly. A sturdy mount is essential, as it helps keep the telescope steady and reduce vibrations.

Alignment is also crucial, and there are two methods for doing this: the alt-azimuth and equatorial methods.

The alt-azimuth method is simpler and more intuitive, while the equatorial method requires a bit more setup but is better suited for tracking celestial objects in the night sky.

Filters and eyepieces

Filters and eyepieces can be used to enhance your stargazing experience in the city night sky.

Light pollution filters can help block out unwanted visible light, while color filters can help bring out details in specific deep-sky objects.

Eyepieces with a wider field of view are also useful for city stargazing, as they allow you to see more of the night sky at once.

Nebula filters are another tool that can be used to mitigate the effects of light pollution and see fainter stars. These filters are designed to block out unwanted light that is commonly emitted by streetlights and other sources.

By using a nebula filter, astronomers can enhance the visibility of certain celestial objects, such as nebulae and galaxies, even in areas with high levels of light pollution.

Plan your observing session

Planning your observing session is essential for light-polluted skies stargazing. You will want to choose a location that is as far away from light-polluted areas as possible.

Parks and other open spaces with less light pollution are suitable options, as are rooftops and balconies with a clear view of the dark sky site.

Check the weather forecast beforehand and plan to observe on a clear night with little or no cloud cover.

Patience and persistence

Stargazing in the city can be challenging, and it may take some time to get the hang of it. Be patient and persistent, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t see everything you hoped to on your first attempt.

Take your time and experiment with different techniques and equipment until you find what works best for you.

Tips and techniques for light pollution stargazing

In addition to choosing the right equipment, there are several tips and techniques that can help you get the most out of your city stargazing experience.

Use a red light: Using a red light instead of a white light can help preserve your night vision. Red light has a longer wavelength than other colors, making it less disruptive to your eyes when observing the night sky.

Many telescopes come with red LED lights built-in, but you can also purchase a separate red flashlight to use while observing celestial objects.

Use a sky map, star chart, or app: Using a sky map or app can help you identify deep-sky celestial objects and navigate the night sky. There are many free and paid options available for both mobile devices and desktop computers.

Some apps even offer augmented reality features that allow you to see a live view of the night sky with overlaid celestial objects information.

Start with the moon and planets: The Moon and planets are good starting points for city stargazers, as they are bright enough to be seen even in areas with significant artificial light pollution.

Look for the Moon during its various phases and observe the surface details with a telescope. The planets visible to the amateur astronomers’ eye include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Look for bright stars and constellations: There are several deep sky objects: stars and constellations that can be seen in the city despite light pollution. Some of the most prominent ones include Orion, Ursa Major (also known as the Big Dipper), and Cassiopeia.

Look for these constellations and use them as starting points to explore the surrounding areas of the dark skies.

Observe during different times of the year: The night sky changes throughout the year, with different deep sky objects: constellations, and celestial objects visible at different times. Observing during different seasons can help you see a variety of objects and gain a better understanding of the night sky and faint objects.

For example, during the summer months, the Milky Way is visible in the Northern Hemisphere, while the winter months offer excellent views of the Orion Nebula.

Consider astrophotography: Astrophotography involves using a camera to capture images of the night sky. While it can be challenging with city lights due to light pollution, it is still possible to capture some impressive shots of the brightest objects.

Consider using a camera with a high ISO setting and a wide-angle lens to capture the bright image of constellations, star trails, and even the Milky Way.

Join a local astronomy club: Joining a local astronomy club is a great way to connect with other stargazers and learn more about the hobby.

Clubs often organize observing sessions in darker-sky locations outside the city, which can provide excellent opportunities for stargazing. Members may also have tips and tricks for city stargazing that can help you elevate your skills.

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We’re glad to answer some popular questions.

Can you use a telescope in an urban area?

Yes, you can use it in an urban area, although it can be more challenging due to light pollution. Light pollution can make it difficult to see faint celestial objects, so it’s important to use the right equipment and techniques to minimize its effects.

Can you use a telescope with light pollution?

It is possible to do so with light pollution, although the level of pollution impacts the quality of your observations.

Using a telescope with a larger aperture and lower magnification can help gather light and improve the visibility of objects in a polluted with unwanted light
sky. Using a red light instead of a white light can also help preserve your night vision.

Can I use a telescope anywhere?

Technically, you can do it anywhere as long as you have a clear view of the sky. However, certain locations such as urban areas or areas with significant light pollution may make it more challenging to observe celestial objects.

It’s important to consider the level of light pollution and other factors such as weather conditions and the position of celestial objects before choosing a location to observe from.


Stargazing in the city may be challenging, but it is still possible to enjoy the night sky with a telescope.

Understanding light pollution, choosing the right equipment, and using the appropriate techniques can all help you overcome the challenges of observing in an urban environment. With patience and persistence, you can explore the wonders of the night sky from the comfort of your own home.

In conclusion, despite the challenges posed by pollution and clutter in urban areas, stargazing with a telescope remains a rewarding and fulfilling experience. By using filters, different focal lengths, and seeking darker skies, stargazers can see more celestial objects and enhance their overall observing experience.

Moreover, by spreading awareness about the impact of pollution, individuals can help reduce its effects and preserve the beauty of the sky for future generations to come.

Remember, the night sky belongs to everyone, and with a little effort and the right tools, anyone can appreciate the beauty and majesty of the universe. So, grab your telescope, head out to a suitable observing site, and let the wonders of the cosmos unfold before your eyes!

If you need to read about observing from the city, please read our article.

Ida Stewart

I have had the incredible opportunity to work as a tour guide at the planetarium for over 5 years. Ever since I was a child, astronomy has held a special place in my heart, and I have nurtured a deep passion for exploring the wonders of the universe. Among all the celestial bodies, Mars has always fascinated me the most, captivating my imagination with its mysterious allure.

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