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The Night Sky Original 2-Sided Planisphere
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Over the past two months of my journey into the world of astronomy I have met quite a few astronomers who can trace their first day of this beautiful and addictive pursuit to an exact astronomical event. Halley’s comet in 1986 and comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 get mentioned numerous times. A much-publicized astronomical event also serves as day 1 of my own journey—October 9th, 2009. While scanning the news headlines in between classes at Stanford Medical School I read the article on the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). I thought that it was fascinating that NASA was going to impact the moon creating an enormous plume that would be analyzed for water. Even more interesting was that the plume would be so large that people with amateur telescopes on earth would be able to see it. My wife and I thought about heading to NASA Ames down the road to check it out on the big screen but my sleep-deprived body told me to watch it online. That night I had my laptop tuned to the NASA TV feed and the SLOOH telescope feed. I watched closely looking for the plume expecting a big show and like everyone else on earth I saw—NOTHING. It ended up not mattering because that night was enough to get me acquainted with numerous astronomy sites online, including Cloudy Nights, and most importantly it led me to see the night sky with a sense of wonder and awe that begged of exploration.
I spent the next few days reading everything I could about getting started in astronomy. My research led me to the decision that the best way to do this right would be to start learning the night sky with my naked eye and the piece of equipment that I will review here—The Night Sky™ 2-Sided Planisphere by David Chandler. This decision also worked perfectly with my cash-strapped position as a recently married medical student.
I bought my planisphere for only $5.40 in used but like-new condition from the student bookstore but it is available on Amazon for $11.95. I have the one for 30°-40° degrees north latitude and Chandler also has others available for north latitudes 20°-30°, 40°-50°, 50°-60°, and for the Southern Hemisphere as well. It is also available in Spanish and Japanese versions. It is extremely portable as it is no thicker than a few sheets of paper and even fits inside the space of a sheet of paper. It is very easy to use, as you only have to spin the dial to the exact time and date and then face north or south. What you see on the planisphere will match the night sky in front and above you.
If you are a complete beginner like I was you will realize that this is very easy and requires no compass of course. About a minute into your first observing session you will be able to find Polaris for the rest of your life and will always know what way you are facing when under the night sky. My first night using this planisphere I found the familiar W shape of Cassiopeia and worked my way from there until over the course of the next few weeks I had found and memorized all of the constellations visible during this time of year from my skies.
Both sides of the planisphere are very easy to read and marked with the brightest stars, outlines of the modern constellations, the ecliptic, and an outline of the Milky Way. A few of the brightest nebulas, galaxies, globular star clusters, and open star clusters are also included as “binocular objects.” The planisphere uses a white background with dark blue print making it very easy to read with a red-filtered flashlight at night.
So does this planisphere grow with you? I purchased my next piece of astronomy equipment a couple weeks ago off eBay—10x50 Nikon Action Extreme™ binoculars. I am currently hunting for Messier objects with my binoculars and I use my planisphere, along with my sky atlas, to plan my observing sessions ahead of time. It is nice to see what is up before I go outside and to see when the objects I am looking for are in favorable parts of my night skies.
What about the negatives? One of the things I don’t like about this chart is that even though the outer covers are made out of plastic the rotating wheel inside is made out of thin cardboard. I can foresee dew ruining the cardboard wheel but thankfully that hasn’t happened yet. I also wish Chandler had included more binocular objects as even with limited observing time due to my schedule I found everything on the planisphere in a matter of a few weeks. It has however wet my appetite for more and I have gone on to purchase a more extensive sky atlas to aid in my tracking down everything I can see with my binoculars and in the future with a telescope—did I say this hobby is addictive?
All in all I have been very satisfied with this purchase and with the beginning of my journey as an amateur astronomer. I love the satisfaction of walking outside at night and being able to trace and name the modern constellations, look for planets on the ecliptic, hunt for “faint fuzzies,” and impress my wife as I show her all of these things with the help of a green laser and a binocular tripod mount. We had a great time back in our hometown over Thanksgiving as I traced out the constellations for my family and gave them their first views through binoculars of the Pleiades, the Galilean moons of Jupiter, Mars, the Double Cluster, Orion’s Nebula, and the Andromeda Galaxy. If you are just starting out you can’t go wrong with this planisphere. I give it an 8/10 with those last two stars off to ask the David Chandler Company to make the center dial dew-proof like the plastic covers and to add more binocular objects. Clear Skies!