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The Art of Backyard Stargazing in Santa Barbara

September 12, 2020

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map of stars, focused on boreal constellations areas to use when backyard stagaving in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara and Montecito  are renowned for having perfect Mediterranean weather and miles of pristine beaches. But what many don’t realize, or at least notice, is that at night the sky is filled with stars and planets; perfect for backyard stargazing. The night sky seems darker on the American Rivera, and the stars and planets look brighter, even to the naked eye. That’s because there’s less "light pollution" in Santa Barbara in the form of streetlights, as well as house lights due to the many large estates set on acres of prime real estate. When it's darker in your immediate surroundings, the sky is easier to see.

READ: Santa Barbara and Montecito Landscape Design

If you’re ready to join Santa Barbara’s backyard stargazing masses, here are a few stars and planets to look for:

Big dipper constellation 3D illustration with colorful stars

Ursa Major 

Also known as the “Great Bear,” the “Big Dipper,” or the “Plough,” Ursa Major is the most widely known constellation in the northern hemisphere. Although it doesn’t contain remarkably bright stars, it is readily recognizable all year round because of its distinctive pattern. Look for the seven moderately bright stars that outline it. The star Alkaid makes up the tip of the “handle” of the dipper, or the tip of the bear’s tail, while Dubhe and Merak make up the far edge of the “cup,” or the front of the bear. You’ll need keen eyesight or binoculars to see the middle of the “handle.” You’ll see a famous optical double star there, formed by Mizar and Alcor.

Ursa Minor

Also known as the “Little Dipper” and Latin for the “Lesser Bear,” Ursa Minor is a well-known constellation that is also visible year-round in the night sky of the northern hemisphere. Seven more stars form a similar shape to Ursa Major. However, these stars are smaller and dimmer. But Ursa Minor contains a very important star: Polaris, also known as the Pole Star or the North Star. Although Polaris is 680 light-years away, it radiates energy equivalent to 6,000 of our suns. This star has guided travelers for millennia, as it lies very close to the celestial north pole.

Moon wiht clouds behind it over the blue ocean

The Moon

Experts believe that approximately 4.5 billion years ago, while the Earth was still forming, our planet was impacted by a foreign body that resulted in the moon’s formation. It quickly fell into synchronous rotation with Earth, rotating around our planet every 27.3 days on its own axis. Consequently, we only see one side. The moon’s diameter is one quarter that of Earth’s, but it has only 1/81 its mass. The moon was recently found to have water deposits, which is important for lunar habitation efforts.

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Milky Way Galaxy

Our solar system is part of the enormous Milky Way Galaxy. Consequently, the vast majority of stars and planets seen by the naked eye are part of this spiral galaxy that contains some 200 billion stars, with a diameter of 120,000 light-years. Our sun lies about halfway from the galaxy’s center. Look for a disk-like shape or a band crossing the sky brightly lit by radiating energy from distant stars. Meanwhile, gas and dust create dark patches. Although it’s believed to be just one of 100 billion other galaxies, the Milky Way Galaxy is one of only four other galaxies that are visible to us with the naked eye.


The massive 5th planet from our sun can also be seen with the naked eye. Known as a gas giant, Jupiter is by far the largest planet in our solar system. Jupiter’s thick atmosphere contains 90% hydrogen, 10% helium, and other gases, which turn into liquid as they reach its unimaginably hot (60,000 degrees Fahrenheit!) core. If you have a small telescope set up for backyard stargazing, you can see the creamy and white bands on its surface, caused by powerful 400 mph winds.

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International Space Station

If you are a careful backyard sky observer, you can glimpse the International Space Station (ISS). This research station constructed in low orbit around Earth celebrated 19 years of continuous human occupation. The size of a football field, the ISS is many things: an observatory; a platform to develop spacecraft systems; and a laboratory to explore how people, biological organisms, chemicals, and physics operate in these unique conditions. The research is relevant to space exploration as well as life on Earth. For more observational information, see or


The giant Arcturus, the fourth brightest star seen from Earth as a whole, is unmistakable with the naked eye. However, this orange giant is even lovelier with binoculars. Arcturus lies inside the constellation Boötes, which gives the impression of a distorted “Y” shape. You’ll find Arcturus in the southwestern end along with several other orange giant stars.


Latin for “scorpion,” Scorpius cannot be missed during backyard stargazing. Consisting mostly of a long, snaking line of bright stars, the most brilliant of which is Antares, which literally means “the rival of Mars.” The name of this star comes from its color and mass—it’s red, like Mars. This supergiant radiates 7,500 times more energy than our sun. The Milky Way runs through the Scorpius constellation, making it an ideal place to observe several star clusters in addition to Scorpius. See if you can find M7 located near what would be the stinger.

Stay in the Know About Celestial Happenings allows Santa Barbara homeowners hooked on backyard stargazing to stay updated on what planets are visible in the night sky on any given night. For more resources, visit the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit.

Maybe you need a new home for backyard stargazing. If so, give me a call at +1 (805) 886-9378 or email me at Cristal@Montecito-Estate. We can even set a tour of any of my listings at night so you can check out the backyard stargazing opportunities before you move in!

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“It was an emotional experience selling our mother’s home in Montecito that we all loved so much but Cristal made the process easier on our whole family by guiding us through the transaction every step of the way. She knows the market so well and everything she recommended was on point including the asking price, painting, and staging the home, which looked beautiful and helped the buyer envision her new home. We sold it the first day it hit the market with an offer above asking! Cristal did an incredible job communicating with us and the buyer to ensure that the transaction would run smoothly. We highly recommend using Cristal, she was a pleasure to work with! ”

- J & A

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- M.F.

“Cristal Clarke is #1 in her field - and you don't become #1 by luck. Cristal works harder, and longer, and with more charm and patience than any real estate agent I have ever worked with in the past; her calendar has no weekend, her days have no clocks, her only concern is selling your property as soon as possible and for the best price on the market. Am I a fan? You bet!”

- P.B.

“We have used Cristal now several times and cannot express how grateful we are for her expertise, dedication, and unwavering support throughout the entire home-buying process. Cristal is knowledgeable, patient and attentive. Her attention to detail is remarkable, and she consistently went above and beyond to provide us with all the information and resources we needed to make informed decisions. Cristal is a skillful negotiator and advocate. She can navigate complex negotiations with professionalism and grace and felt like a true partner to us in the home-buying process. Cristal has a genuine passion for real estate and a deep commitment to her clients' satisfaction. I cannot speak highly enough of Cristal and her exceptional service. She is a true expert in her field and her dedication to excellence, combined with unwavering support is the reason we choose to work with her for all our real estate buying needs.”

- T.C.

“Cristal is a top-notch realtor who sold my home before it ever went on the market. I had two competing offers that enabled me to get top dollar for my home. Not only is Cristal superb but her team is extraordinary. I cannot say enough about Cristal and her team. They are simply phenomenal, the consummate professionals, who took care of every possible detail, making the sale and transition period, smooth from our end. They are also lovely, caring people, who knew all the right professionals, to get the job done. Thank you, everyone!”

- D.R.

“I could list lots of cool adjectives to describe Cristal. All good by the way. But, that is not why I or anyone should hire Cristal. My reason for hiring her, which proved to be correct, is very simple. She got the job done. And, she does it time and time again and with zero issues. And, that is why she is one of the top agents in the country. End of subject. ”

- M.A.

“Working with Cristal was a complete pleasure. Cristal was extremely patient with us as we evaluated nearly 2 dozen homes over a span of 2 years. Her knowledge of the market is unmatched. Cristal provided us with exceptional counsel as we evaluated opportunities and negotiated pricing. The closing process was handled thoroughly and efficiently. We could not be happier with our purchase and even more happy to now call Cristal our friend.”

- D.K.

“Cristal Clarke has conducted numerous real estate transactions for me beginning 13 years ago with the purchase of a Lemon Ranch. She has handled both large and small purchases and sales with equal dedication. As a negotiator, you can’t find anyone better. Her transactions are always conducted in the most appropriate and professional manner. Cristal has considerable knowledge of the Santa Barbara market.”

- S.N. Decker Ph.D.

“Living in Europe, we were to say the least, unaccustomed to the nuances of Real Estate acquisition in California and Cristal steered us through the process with absolute professionalism and personal attention to detail at every turn. Her in-depth knowledge of the market place combined with enthusiasm and drive was the only reason we secured the property of our dreams and will be forever grateful. If you are looking for personal discrete and private representation of the highest quality we suggest you look no further than Cristal Clarke.”

- Johan and Paula van den Berg

“Cristal is very straightforward, cheerful, helpful, professional and trustworthy….we felt very lucky to work with her.”

- John and Lacey Williams

“After considering our many choices, we are grateful it was Cristal Clarke of Sotheby’s International who represented the sale of our Montecito cottage. We are familiar with Cristal’s reputation of hard work and dedication to clients, but it was her attention to detail that made our experience so positive. She offered suggestions for staging the property, worked in harmony with potential buyers and was even able to secure back up offers. The sale of our cottage was completed much sooner than we expected, due in great part to Cristal’s professional skills and support. We highly recommend Cristal as a first choice for anyone needing representation with real estate.”

- Michael & Nancy Lee

“Our experience in working with Cristal Clarke resulted in the successful and discrete acquisition of a property which was not yet on the open market. Her knowledge of the Montecito/Santa Barbara area and vast expertise blended with her passion for real estate and architecture, provided us with the very highest level of professionalism and personalized services. Cristal exhibited a rare combination of excellent communications, attention to detail, creativity and patience.”

- Richard and Catherine Frinier

“Cristal really breaks the mold. She knows every nook and cranny of this real estate market, understands value, and follows up on everything, all the time. She was incredibly patient with our two year quest to find the perfect house. Every house hunting trip from across the country was well planned, and our time was never wasted. On top of her professionalism and expertise, she is delightful to spend time with. We are thrilled with the home we purchased, and grateful to Cristal for so wisely advising us through this process, right through to the close and beyond.”

- Laurie Siegel

“We met Cristal first in the course of renting a winter home (for three years), then buying a house using her as our agent. She was amazingly good at listening to our wants and showing us homes that fit our needs. Her mastery of the paperwork was perfect. Most importantly, there was never a situation where we doubted her straightforwardness or integrity. If we do another real estate transaction in Montecito (which I doubt, we’re happy with what we purchased), without question we’d use Cristal again.”

- Ken Saffir

“Susan and I just want to thank you for your efforts in the sale of our home. You are really quite amazing. Your competence, persistence, optimism and humor made the entire process effortless. Every problem that arose, you somehow fixed; any obstacle, you overcame. We have bought and sold many homes. It has never been such a painless and enjoyable process!”

- Michael & Susan Marquart

“A little something about “our” realtor, Cristal Clarke. My wife and I came to Santa Barbara about fifteen years ago looking for a seasonal home from which to enjoy the weather and amenities of the central coast. Being in the real estate business myself I was familiar with agents and brokers so entered the market with open eyes. We “flipped” a few houses in the early years, dealing with various agents and finally ended up in Montecito. That’s when good fortune put us together with Cristal. To say we were impressed is to put it mildly. Cristal really knows the market. She is familiar with the area, its history and trends. When we have questions about a particular property she either has the answers immediately or gets back to us by phone or email. There is no waiting or wondering with Cristal. She is an agent who is “on top of it.” Her recommendations as to price points, contractors, inspectors and title agents have proven to be exceptional, showing great insight and the highest professional standards. We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to say that Cristal Clarke is our realtor and would recommend her services to any serious buyer or seller.”

- Rob & Judi Kelch