Tip Center Category: Astronomy

Observing Basics

Any introduction to astronomy should include directions for observing in good conditions, being able to identify constellations with the naked eye, and being able to spot stars and constellations with binoculars or telescopes. However, there are also some technical tricks you can use to enhance your astronomy experience, perhaps after being inspired by an astronomy star gift from a thoughtful loved one.

Are you looking for your star using a telescope? It can help you to wear an eye patch on your observing eye while going to the observation point and setting up your telescope. You want your observing eye adjusted to darkness, which will make stars much easier to spot through the lens.

Before locating your star through the ‘scope, consult a star chart, constellation map, or software like Name-A-Star Live’s Virtual Planetarium™ to find the general area where a particular star is located. Then use the telescope to zoom in on it.

Observe the Stars With No Moon

Not all nights are equal when it comes to astronomy. Many are surprised to learn that the best nights to observe the stars are often those with low moonlight. The absence of moonlight makes finding dimmer stars much easier and simplifies navigation to the dimmer stars from more familiar constellations or systems.

On “moonless” nights, consult constellation maps or constellation software to pinpoint the general location of your astronomy star gift. Although, if weather conditions are poor (even though you cannot see the clouds at night, they are still present) you may have trouble finding the star in the night sky until visibility is better. If you lack a telescope or binoculars, you may be able to get some extra help by using a camera lens focused to “infinity,” which is often marked on the lens by a sideways figure eight.

Naked Eye Astronomy

With the products available through Name a Star Live, it’s easy to answer the question, “How do I name a star?” In addition, even without a powerful telescope, it’s easy to answer the question, “How do I find a star?” In fact, depending on where you observe from, there are many well-known stars and constellations that require no lens to identify.

Two of the most obvious constellations are the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, which are located in what are known to astronomers as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, respectively. The North Star (Polaris) is found at the edge of the Little Dipper’s “handle.” It’s also aligned with the two stars that form the outer edge of the Big Dipper’s “bowl.” The North Star is aimed directly at the earth’s axis, so it never changes position in the sky—one reason why ancient sailors navigated by it. Contrary to popular belief, the North Star is not the brightest star in the sky. Though, with a bit of practice, the North Star is easily identified.

Another well-known and easily spotted star is Arcturus, which can be found by following the handle of the Big Dipper. You can also find Sirius, which is also known as the “dog star.” Sirius is actually the brightest star in the night sky.

What is an Asterism?

An asterism is a group of stars or a star pattern not classified as a constellation, though asterisms can be found within a constellation (or among several). The Big Dipper is considered an asterism, it’s located within Ursa Major, and so is part of something larger than itself. A group of stars called the Great Square of Pegasus is an asterism of the constellation Pegasus, the winged horse. The Sagittarius constellation has an asterism called The Teapot, and Leo has an asterism called The Sickle.

Asterisms are handy for locating your astronomy star gifts in the sky. For example, if your star is in the constellation Orion, begin by looking for the prominent asterism known as “Orion’s Belt,” which consists of a line of three bright stars. Once you locate Orion’s Belt, you can narrow down the searchable area of the constellation to find your star.

You can use astronomy software to help pinpoint the area, but until you actually search with the naked eye or a telescope, you won’t have an idea of how challenging some parts of the sky can be to navigate.

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