Best Astronomy Flashlights

Astronomy flashlights differ from ordinary flashlights in two ways, color and intensity. Part of getting the most out of your telescope and binoculars is related to the dark adaptation of your eyes. It takes a good 15 to 20 minutes for your eyes to fully dark adapt, opening up your iris to take in the most light. A dark-adapted eye will see more in the sky and the eyepiece. Dark-adapted eyes will pick up more details when viewing planets or deep-sky objects.

While it takes a long time for the eye to dark adapt it will lose that in a couple of seconds if there is a bright light nearby, especially if it is a white light. Whether it is a passing car headlight, the white screen of your cell phone, or a white light flashlight, your eye will quickly close the iris to protect your retina. When that happens, you have to wait for another 15 to 20 minutes for your eyes to fully dark adapt again.

Red is the color of choice for the beam from an astronomy flashlight. The reason is that red has the least impact on our dark-adapted eye. If you ever watch old submarine wartime movies, they turn the entire interior of the sub red 30 minutes before they surface at night so the lookouts will have dark-adapted eyes when they go up to stand watch.

But a bright red light will hurt your dark adaption so, for astronomy, you want a flashlight that is not too bright and one that has adjustable intensity can be even better. Keep it as dim as possible to read what you have to read. Turn up the intensity only if you must and for the briefest period possible. A bright red light will hurt your dark adaption.

What to look for:

  • Red beam – not too bright
  • Variable intensity – even better
  • A neck strap is a plus
  • Headlamps – use with caution
  • Clip-on lamps can be useful too

What to avoid:

  • Avoid fixed intensity flashlights that emphasize a brilliant light, high intensity, a tactical flashlight. These will be too bright to be useful. They will destroy your dark adaption almost as fast as white light.

Some astronomy flashlights offer red and white light. Look for adjustable or dual intensity features. White light can be helpful when you are packing up at the end of the evening. Just be considerate of any observing buddies as your white flashlight will destroy their dark adaption even if you don’t shine it in their direction.  To avoid problems you might prefer to have a separate white light flashlight.

A neck strap is very useful. You can turn on the light and have it hanging around your neck as you look through your eyepiece case or check a chart. Sometimes finding the flashlight in the dark can be a bother, but if it is hanging around your neck you always know where it is. My favorite astronomy light has a long lanyard that goes around my neck to hang in the middle of my chest.

As a second light, I recommend clip-on lights, often marketed for music stands or backstage lights for stage managers. These can be useful for charts on a table, clipped to the back of your car while you unpack, or to clip onto an equipment box. I will include one in the recommendations.

I have mixed feelings about headlamps. They are extremely convenient for the user but too many owners of headlamps forget they are wearing them. People around them don’t appreciate being blasted in the face by the light on their heads. When I go to a shared astronomy session I look for the guy with the red headlamp and then set up as far from him/her as I can.

I do have one recommendation for a headlamp that can be set very low and not have to be cycled through intensities when turning on and off. The one I include here can also be worn around your neck so the light points down rather than in people’s faces.

Reading Product Reviews

A note of caution when reading product feedback on any online shopping site. Does the person providing the review understand the purpose of the product and how to use it properly? You can usually tell by their comments. For example, if they bought an astronomy light and complain that it is not bright enough, you have to wonder if they understood the light’s purpose. Astronomy lights are not supposed to be bright.

Recommended Best Astronomy Lights

1. Celestron 93588 Astro Night Vision Flashlight

Price – $19.99

This is a very popular astronomy flashlight and my personal favorite. It is small and light with a long cord that hangs around your neck so you always know where it is. The variable intensity wheel is easy to use allowing you to adjust the beam intensity. It is powered by a single 9V battery that is easy to change. The battery lasts a long time but I do keep a spare handy.

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Celestron 93588 Astro Night Vision Flashlight

2. Orion 5755 RedBeam II LED Flashlight

Price – $24.99

This is a top choice as it offers a variable red beam and a long cord so it can hang from your neck. Orion adds a white light feature that can be very useful at the end of the night when you are checking to be sure you don’t leave anything behind. It uses a convenient 9V battery that lasts a very long time if the light is used on low intensity most of the time.  

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Orion 5755 RedBeam II LED Flashlight

3. Celestron - PowerTank Glow 5000

Price – $34.95

Portable USB Rechargeable Power Bank + Red Flashlight – If you use your smartphone or tablet to run astronomy apps, this combination tool may be very attractive. For long observing sessions or astronomy camping trips, keeping your phone or tablet charged may be a concern. The Celestron power tank red flashlight is a dual purpose adjustable intensity red flashlight for your astronomy needs and it has a USB port to charge your phone/tablet or to run low power USB based accessories. Celestron includes straps that will allow you to attach this to the leg of your telescope tripod. One device to light your work area and to help ensure your smartphone astronomy apps will be available to you over a long observing period.

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Celestron - PowerTank Glow 5000 - Portable USB Rechargeable Power Bank + Red Flashlight - 5000 mAh Capacity – The Best Astronomy Flashlight - Must-Have 2-in-1 Accessory for Amateur Astronomers

4. Rigel Systems Starlite, 2-RED LED Flashlight

Price – $33.95

Rigel is a well-known name in astronomy accessories. The description says brilliant intensity but the light is variable so you can turn it down when preserving night vision and up when you are finished for the night.  A moderately bright red light will have less impact on your neighbors than if you were using white light. The lanyard is long enough to be used as a neck strap. It uses a single 9V battery.

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Rigel Systems Starlite, 2-RED LED Flashlight

5. On-Stage LED202R Clip-On Dual LED Stage Light, Red

Price – $16.95

Not your typical red flashlight but extremely useful as a second light. I use one of these clipped a table to light charts or to clip on to my accessory box to make it easy to find eyepieces and filters. It works great on the back of the car to provide light while setting-up. Using red will still allow eyes to dark adapt. Made for backstage use the intensity of the light works well for astronomy. It uses 3 AAA batteries that last a very long time. This particular model has two lights on flexible stalks so you can direct the light wherever you wish. Use both lights and you can illuminate two areas at once. Be careful when ordering as this is also offered with white lights. Look for the R in the model number.

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On-Stage LED202R Clip-On Dual LED Stage Light, Red

6. Princeton Tec Fred Headlamp, Black

Price – $25.99

This headlamp is a good choice for astronomy because it is not overpowering. It provides enough light on the low red setting for you to do what you want without the excessive power typical of headlamps. It comes on in low red by default and does not cycle through the high intensity or white lights as you turn it on and off. It has a brighter red setting when you need it, but again you can avoid this level during normal operations. The white lights are bright which can be helpful during twilight set-up or end of night close up when there is no one around. It is small and lightweight which makes it very comfortable to use and will fit nicely in your equipment box. It can also be used as a neck light so that the light tips down rather than shine in other people’s faces. It uses 4 AAA batteries.

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Princeton Tec Fred Headlamp, Black

Summary

For the best experience in astronomy, you need your eyes to be as dark adapted as possible and you want to avoid any light that will ruin that dark adaptation. Low-intensity red is the beam of choice for astronomy.