CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Hampshire Life today CLICK HERE

Top tips and best places for stargazing in Hampshire

PUBLISHED: 17:18 13 April 2015 | UPDATED: 17:18 13 April 2015

Photo: Digibloc

Photo: Digibloc


The skies above our county are littered with constellations – you may even spot a planet if you know where to look! But if you don’t know Polaris from Uranus, fear not, Jenny Shipway, Head of Winchester’s Planetarium is here to point us in the right direction


According to the UK Dark Sky Discovery partnership, the UK has some of the largest areas of dark sky in Europe. Even from the centre of a street-lit city you may be able to see 100 stars with the naked eye. Head out to the countryside, away from light pollution, and on a dark night you can see over 1,000.

Dark Sky Discovery sites have been springing up across the UK, with 108 locations nominated by local groups and organisations for being accessible, with good sightlines and relatively low light pollution, offering the best conditions to gaze at the galaxy, on a clear night.

Luckily for us, two of these spectacular stargazing sites are right here in Hampshire at Butser Hill in Queen Elizabeth Country Park and the car park at Winchester Science Centre & Planetarium.

But what exactly are we searching for when we look up? Jenny Shipway, Head of Winchester’s Planetarium explains what can be seen in our Hampshire skies this time of year: “This is your last chance until Christmas to have a good look at the constellation Orion, which is now setting not long after the sun. You will need to look towards the South West to spot him. Look out for three stars close together in a line, with a box of stars around them. The three stars in the middle are imagined as Orion’s belt around his waist, the other pairs are his shoulders and knees.

“One of his shoulder-stars is the red supergiant Betelgeuse; a huge and ancient star over 100 times the width of our sun. It is slowly running out of fuel and one day will explode so spectacularly that it will look as bright as the full moon from earth.

“Also, if you look down from his belt, on a dark night you might be able to make out a fuzzy patch. This is a vast cloud of gas and dust (a nebula), incredibly far away from us. You can see this cloud because within it, gravity is squeezing up gas to make new stars. Some of these new stars are lighting up the nebula from within. This is the closest place to us in space where new stars are being born.

Photo: DigiblocPhoto: Digibloc

“If you follow Orion’s belt up and to the right, it points to a beautiful cluster of young stars, barely 100 million years old. These are the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters), and are still close together after having been born from the same nebula. This star cluster is a great target for binoculars if you have a pair, as there are many more stars than can be seen with the naked eye.”


Top tips for budding astronomers

Orion Nebula - Photo by VistaOrion Nebula - Photo by Vista

• Wrap up warm, go outside to the darkest place you can (even if this is just in the shadow of your house) and look up!

• There are so many things you can observe just with your own eyes. Some things, like meteor showers, are even better without optical aids. Winchester Science Centre has a free beginners’ stargazing guide that can be downloaded from the website, and there is a lot of other useful information available from the internet.

• If you want to have a practice in the warm, then look out for the presenter-led Simply Stars planetarium show at Winchester Science Centre, which is perfect for beginner stargazers. This often runs in holiday periods.

• If you want to see further, then consider buying binoculars or a telescope. Binoculars are great, especially for children, as they require little set-up and have a wide field of view, meaning it is easier to find objects. Buy binoculars with big, wide ends which will capture lots of starlight - an aperture of at least 50 is best. You will be amazed by how much more you can see - moons around Jupiter, clusters of hundreds of stars and even, faintly, other galaxies.

• If you are thinking about buying a telescope, it is best to save up and invest in good quality model. Be prepared to spend at least £150 to get something worthwhile. Remember also to budget for the mount - if you have a wobbly tripod then even a good telescope will be of no use! Be prepared to spend a significant amount of time learning how to set it up - it’s a sad fact that many telescopes end up unused when people are unable to get them working immediately.

• Think about what type of objects you are most interested in observing, and see if your local astronomy society has any events you could attend to ask them for advice on what is best to buy. Make sure you know what to expect - your telescope will not be able to produce images like the Hubble Space Telescope, but will bring gasps of amazement from anyone observing the Moon or Saturn for the first time.


About Jenny Shipway, Head of the Planetarium

“I’m unusual in the planetarium world,” explains Jenny, “as I had no interest in astronomy as a child! I never really appreciated how it connected to 
my life.”

A love of science saw Jenny train and work as a biochemist, before moving into Science Communication: “I found work in a mobile planetarium and fell in love with the magical atmosphere they can create.

“I had to learn astronomy for my job, but quickly became fascinated and started reading more, attending lectures and talking to experts. Every time a child asked a hard question I would go home to research the answer!

“I think my late arrival in to the world of Astronomy is, strangely, a benefit, as I can remember the process of learning the concepts, and the excitement of discovery. It’s wonderful to watch others taking their first steps on that journey.”



Susan Calman bringing hit show ‘Lady Like’ to Winchester - Fresh from the successful first leg of her debut tour, the multi award-winning Susan Calman takes her hit show Lady Like back on the road this spring.

More from Out & About

Wed, 14:44

Savour spectacular views of the Needles and Alum Bay and discover history tales on this invigorating walk on the Isle of Wight

Read more
Mon, 12:35

With late-night shopping, fairs, Christmas markets and plenty of food and drink, we’ve rounded up some of the best festive offerings in Hampshire

Read more
Mon, 12:34

Havant a clue where to go or what to do? Here are some pointers to parks, paths and performances

Read more
Mon, 12:33

With its connections to Shakesepeare and royalty, the village of Titchfield is full of surprises

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

As the mellow fruitfulness of autumn takes hold across the New Forest, what could be better than spending a few days in and around Lyndhurst? We take a tour and come up with our top 8

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Hampshire is full of autumnal scenes this month, so we asked the county’s photographers to share their secret spots for stunning vistas

Read more
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

We round up some of the best events and things to do across Hampshire this month

Read more
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Remember, remember… Here’s a quick round up of some stunning displays across Hampshire this year

Read more
Monday, October 22, 2018

Is this the ultimate city break? Winchester has it all: from ancient history to space exploration, plus cafes, cocktails, culture and countryside… But with so much to do, choices are going to have to be made

Read more
Monday, October 22, 2018

Our guide to some of the best Halloween events on offer across Hampshire this October

Read more
Monday, October 15, 2018

The community shop is thriving. Why? And what makes the perfect village store? We went in search…

Read more
Monday, October 15, 2018

From Jane Austen to Karl Marx, our towns and villages have fascinating links to some of the biggest historical celebrities. Viv Micklefield follows in their footsteps with the help of a blue plaque or two

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

We round up 8 things you didn’t know about this little South Downs village

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Enjoy some easy walking around the Lymington to Keyhaven Nature Reserve says Fiona Barltrop

Read more
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Latest Competitions & Offers

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search