View Full Version : question about how you view the night sky

2002-Jul-03, 12:11 AM
when you go outside at night, do you already have in your mind a view of where the major celestial objects will be? formed based on some intuitive understanding of the celestial plane and sidereal time? or do you pick out a few major points, polaris, major planet, and figure out the rest from there, consulting star charts along the way?

as i embark on my first experiences with a telescope, i'm wondering how intuitive it all becomes.


2002-Jul-03, 03:01 AM
The more you observe the more you get tied into seasons. I've been watching steadily for three years now and pretty much know the constellations that should be up each month. But not all the objects (galaxies, nebula,etc). How my observing session progresses depends...

If I haven't been out in several months, I usually get surprised by how quickly everything has shifted. Then it's fun to look at the constellations for awhile, like catching up with old friends. Then I grab a chart and start looking for favorite objects or try to find new ones.

If I have been out a few days before, I go right to the charts to look for the ones that got away or something new.

The third case is if something unusual has been predicted; comets, occulatations, transits, eclipses, ... Since this might be the only chance to see them, they're first on the list.

Clear Skys

2002-Jul-03, 03:58 PM
I've been at this amature astronomy thing a relatively short time so I may be of help.

When I first started I'd get set up and as the sky darkened, I'd become overwhelmed by what appeared to be random light specks in the sky. The only thing I could readly identify was the Moon.

I used star charts and the sky charts in S&T and Astronomy magazines but at first they just looked like printouts of the random lights in the sky. But the more I looked the easier it got to pick out the "biggies" like the dippers, Orion, Cassiopia, etc. Then, as I got those down I could pick out the planets because they were always described as being in X constellation. After weeks of observing time (months of elapsed time) I got to where I could star hop pretty well. That allowed me to find the globulars, galaxies, nebulae, etc. I still struggle with this technique but think that's just because I'm a little dense rather than it actually being a hard thing to do.

The secret, I am told, is persistance. It seems to be true for me so perhaps it will be for you too. Just look at the sky until you start recognizing patterns. It took me a good year get what I'd call adept at it.

Hope this helps. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

2002-Jul-03, 04:49 PM
I don't think there is one technique that works for everyone. Some people see the paterns and have a great memory. I have always had trouble with the constellations for some reason, but I can star hop pretty well with a chart in my hand. My brain just doesn't remember those patterns for some reason.

Yeah, persistence is definitely key, but they way you learn to find your way around the sky could be very diffferent than anyone elses and you shouldn't worry about it. Just find what works for you.


2002-Jul-03, 05:09 PM
The 1st thing I notice is the clouds. When something cool is going on up there, some pesky little cloud is usually in the way.

But when the cloud isn't there, I notice the constellations and bright planets. Only the bright stuff can be seen from my backyard. It gets worse then a game is going on in the nearby ballpark.

The coolest thing I've seen lately is the ISS, but that was with binocs, not a scope.

Have fun!

2002-Jul-04, 06:53 AM
I think first using a star map to find something in the sky can be a big rush. Hold the chart up, hunt around a bit, find a good bright marker star and locate something prominent from its position. For me it was, "DANG! That sucker is BIG!" And if you get lucky, maybe nature will throw in a comet once in a while; they're fun to track through the constellations...fuzzy blotchy things that aren't on the chart! Watching them over the course of weeks or even months can be fun. Well, for some of us, it can!

David Hall
2002-Jul-04, 08:27 AM
Well, however people do it, and I'm sure everyone has their own idiosyncracies, it really all comes down to the same thing.

Just like in everything else, it's practice. Whenever you first start out doing something, you are hesitant and unsure of yourself. You have to go back and check the manuals (sky charts), make mistakes, ask questions, fumble about, etc. But as you go through it, and start to learn, you become more and more familiar with what you are doing. After a while the basics become natural. You learn the constellations, how to locate things in the sky, how to read the conditions, etc. And you discover that over time there's less and less that you have trouble with (but always more to learn).

A master is just a person who's gone through the routine often enough that it's second-hand to him. So, however you do it, just do it as often as you can. Don't worry about how to learn or your progress. That will come naturally over time. Just enjoy discovering new things as they come along.

David Hall
2002-Jul-04, 08:52 AM
To give you some detail as to my learning pattern, my first experiences were the joy of being able to find the constellations. I would take a sky-chart out and try to find the constellations as they appeared on the paper. It was such a thrill when I could actually pick out the stars that formed suchnsuch. I remember the first time I saw Hydra snaking along the horizon, with Crater sitting on it's back, for example.

After I could make out the biggies easily enough, I began a program of trying to fit them all together. I started practicing how to find one constellation by remembering it's position relative to others. That helped a lot, though I still find it very difficult sometimes because they are laid out over a globe and not a flat piece of paper like on the sky charts.

Now I can star-hop to my favorite sky objects rather easily. My eye always goes to straight to M31 any time it's visible. I'm still trying to learn all of the other deep-sky objects that are visible to the naked eye or binoculars. When and if I get a telescope I'll learn more. I've also started trying to locate and remember all the little and lesser-known constellations. It'd be easier if I could get out to observe in dark areas more often, but that's a common problem among stargazers, isn't it. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

As a suggestion for viewing, I'd say it's useful to make a basic plan before you go out. Go over the charts, find what's visible to you, and decide on what things you want to look for before you start. Then go for them. But don't bother to follow it to the letter if you don't want to. Leave yourself the freedom to just browse around the sky too. There are many times I'd just go back and forth looking for new things, or lie down and look at the sky as a whole. Seeing the big picture can help you understand and remember where all the little things are.

Ah, who am I to say. Just have fun. That's all that matters. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif

2002-Jul-05, 03:51 PM
On 2002-07-04 04:52, David Hall wrote:
I remember the first time I saw Hydra snaking along the horizon, with Crater sitting on it's back, for example.

This was one of my first discoveries in stargazing, too. The difference is that Hydra is higher in my sky. I just got amazed by that strip of stars ranging (almost) from horizon to horizon. To find the Crater was a big challenge, but I'll never forget the joy that followed. That moment I saw that I could really be an amateur astronomer.

As to the sky pattern, DJ, I have the basic elements in my mind, after years seeing sky charts. But I always consult my Starry Sky(tm) to verify the exact pattern of the day (or, saying it better, of the night).

But don't you worry. Practice makes perfection. Go for the fun of it! /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_wink.gif

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Argos on 2002-07-05 11:55 ]</font>

2002-Jul-06, 03:54 AM
I think that every amateur astronomer has to pretend to believe in the Ptolemaic (Aristotelian) System in order to find anything in the night sky. When you are searching for celestial objects, you need to treat the sky as if it were turning overhead (which you know is preposterous). If you are going to find stuff FAST, such as doing an adequate to superb Messier Marathon, you cannot waste time with the actualities in the universe. When you are finished with your observing session, you can go back to thinking scientifically until the next observing session.

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