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Learning my way around the skies


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Hi

New to all of this and I have decided that instead of getting a telescope I just learn the night sky for the time being. I'm begining to feel a bit overwhelmed as I'm having trouble making out some of the constellations . Whats the best way of learning them , the way I see it either I learn some of the brighter stars nearby or I just learn then by referencing a familar location such as Orion . Any advice ?

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Hi,

For me the best way is not to try to take it all in at once but learn the main stars of one or two constellation a night. No need to rush the sky only changes slowly night to night.

A great help I find is Stellarium a free planatarium program which you input with your latitude and longitude to give a representation of your own sky. You can get it here

HTH

Alan.

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I know what you mean thunderbird. I remember when I first tried to spot the constellations (I was 9 or 10) I had no concept of the scale of the things. So you mentioned the most obvious (in my opinion) constellation and once I had seen the three stars in the belt, I could figure out the rest of that one. Ursa Major is also easy to spot, Cassiopeia's W shape and Leo is rising now in the Eastern sky and is quite an easy spot. Use Stellarium as Alan suggested or a book, pick out some patterns and try to spot them.

Good luck and welcome to SGL!

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I just learned what was up each month - and what comes up next when the current constellations set. Of course some like the Plough and Casiopeia are allways there. After a year you get to know, cos it all comes round again next year :)

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You might find a pair of binoculars will aid you when you can confidently pick out the easier ones as a starting point. The field of view being wider really helps to confirm that you are looking where you think you are. You can pick up some reasonable ones for astronomy at good prices. I only have some 8x42 Zeiss because I already had them for birdwatching.

I spent a good 4 months through autumn and early winter last year, teaching myself one or two constellations at a time, with binos and a planisphere. When I came home I used Stellarium to check what I thought I had seen. The next time you go out you can then use these to perhaps locate the less obvious ones. There are the seasonal ones of course but The Great Bear (containing The Plough asterism) is always there to help, pointing the way to Polaris and Ursa Minor. At this time of year Orion is a big obvious help too.

I still have much to learn and there are many, many constellations I have yet to pick out for certain. Sometimes it can overwhelm and then I just stop worrying and just marvel at what I am looking at. Remember, very few of them seem to resemble the Greek interpretation of what they thought they looked like. Try using Stellarium to check out what the Chinese or Native American cultures saw up there.

You will get so much help here too from people only too willing to pass on their expertise.

Take it steady, have fun and stay warm. :)

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Good advice above, you could also get a 'Planisphere' Philip's Planisphere: Northern 51.5 Degrees - British Isles, Northern Europe Northern USA and Canada Philip's Astronomy: Amazon.co.uk: Books only £6 and you can take it out with you on a dark clear night, use a red light torch to read it so you don't spoil your nightvision.

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What most people find difficult is getting the scale right. It's not always clear how big something ought to look when it's up in the sky. This isn't helped by the visual illusion known as the "moon illusion." Both the constellations and the moon look larger when they're nearer to the horizon (Moon illusion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

I find it helpful to identify one constellation then, when looking for new ones, use the distances in the first one as references. I compare distances on the map and in the sky to learn my way to new objects. Hold up your hand to the sky as a reference. Does that make sense?

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New to all of this and I have decided that instead of getting a telescope I just learn the night sky for the time being.

Why?

That's a bit like saying "I wanted to take a look around Bristol Town Centre, but I've decided instead to study it on a map."

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Hi Thunderbird,This is a good time of year to start learning them because if you can find Orion, you can use it as a guide for finding the others. I began with Orion and just learned the constellations in that area, such as, Gemini, Auriga, Canis Major/Minor, Taurus, etc. The more familiar you become with these, then it becomes easier to add to the list.As already suggested, a planetarium and flashlight is a good way to learn them.I used the monthly star maps in astronomy magazines instead, and brought them out to the countryside where it was dark. Another thing you can try is to pick out the brightest stars and match them to which constellation they belong to on your sky chart. Then try to connect the dots. It sure would be a lot easier to learn them if the constellations would just stay put. I found it so confusing at first--how their positions changed throughout the night. It does get easier though, so keep at it.

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That's a bit like saying "I wanted to take a look around Bristol Town Centre, but I've decided instead to study it on a map."

Sorry, my comment here - on it's own - isn't particularly helpful.

What I was really trying to say, is don't worry too much about learning the sky as a seperate study. If you use the monthly star guides in a magazine such as "Sky at Night" then you'll find that over the course of a year, you can't really help but learn the sky automatically.

It just kind-of sinks in over time - so you needn't let it hold you up from buying a scope.

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Can I suggest joining a local club. I had a quick look on the net and my local library and found 2 just around the corner. One was having an open day, or night, to get new members. Nothing like getting help from the old and experianced guys.

The one thing I did notice, most have beards.

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Thanks for the replies - I suppose I should have stated that I am using the naked eye at the moment but am planning to get some binos soon. Unfortunatley time and money are restricted so thats all I can do at the moment. I suppose my problem is 1 The scale and 2 The fact that some consellations are partly obscured by clouds so I cant see all the stars which make up the shape which is pretty abstract to begin with !

Still I'm enjoying myself at the moment - and orion has looked amazing the last couple of nights

Good advice about the Sky at Night mag

and Cancer 56 whats wrong wth beards :)

Edited by thunderbird
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One thing I quickly realised when I started trying to spot constellations was that a lot of them are quite dim and insignificant. Cancer is famous for needing quite a dark location- even then, once you've clocked the (is it 2) main stars and found your way to the Beehive (M44) if you have a very dark sky, there's not much else to see. The same applies to lots of others, too.

However, the opposite is also true. Some constellations, such as Orion, Leo, Gemini have a lot of brightish stars that make the constellation quite distinct. You might find it helpful to adjust whichever planetarium program you get, so that only the brightest (say mag. 4) stars are visible and then se which patterns/constellations stand out.

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Yup that's good advice - and I've found that careful tweaking of Stellarium settings can yield a very good visual match for even the poorest of skies. Of course you can even go so far as to superimpose a 360 view photograph of your own back garden under the virtual stars for extra realism!

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If you have an iPhone then I can recommend StarWalk (£1.79), or if you have a phone on the Android OS then I've heard there are more than one decent app available... I find StarWalk good because it tracks the sky and will display the area of the sky that the screen of your phone is pointing, and will overlap the constellations as well. It's also handy because it shows exactly what should be in view at whatever particular time and place you happen to be!

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