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Pocket Sky Atlas - Tips?

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#1 Domerman

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 02:29 AM

Ok, so I am not new to this hobby, however, I am fairly new to finding objects in the sky on my own. I have been spoiled by GOTO scopes and I've come to realize I know very little about how to find objects in the sky on my own. I've done quite a bit of astro-imaging and observing through the years, but ask me to point out a fairly well-known object in the sky without GOTO and I will look like a fool! :tonofbricks: :tonofbricks:

I got myself a PSA awhile back, but I have not really used it all too much..partly because it looks really intimidating. I can't seem to wrap my head around RA and declination and how the things on the map correlate to what I am seeing in the sky. I am so confused! I know RA is essentially longitudinal (and increases when you move east) and dec is latitude in the celestial sphere. I know simple things like celestial equator, zenith, prime meridian, nadir, ecliptical, but using the PSA to find things simply confuses the heck out of me! HELP! :confused: :confused:

#2 Tony Flanders

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 04:42 AM

There are really two separate questions here: How celestial coordinates work, and how to find things in the sky using star charts. They're both worth learning, but neither one is necessary nor sufficient for understanding the other.

When I'm actually out there at night using the Pocket Sky Atlas, I don't think much about R.A. and Dec except for organizing my session and locating things in the PSA. I have a rough idea of the R.A. and Dec of all celestial objects, just as I have a rough idea of the latitude and longitude of every city and country on Earth. (Doesn't everyone? :o) That helps me flip quickly to the right page.

But the process of finding something doesn't involve R.A. and Dec. First I find out what constellation the object is in. Then I locate the constellation in the sky. Then I locate the closest bright star to the object. And only then do I begin the serious work of correlating what's in the atlas to what I'm seeing.

Until you know all the major constellations, you're navigating blind.

The Pocket Sky Atlas isn't really appropriate for learning the constellations; you need something that shows much bigger chunks of the sky in less detail, such as a planisphere.

A good way to learn the sky is to use your Go To backwards. Find something with the Go To, then look where your scope is pointed to see what the region looks like to the unaided eye.

The very best introduction I know learning the sky and celestial coordinates is H.A. Rey's book The Stars: A New Way to See Them.

There are a bunch of very useful articles our website (I work for Sky & Telescope). Probably all of the articles in Stargazing Basics are potentially interesting to you, particularly Using Star Charts and Star Wheels and Understanding Celestial Coordinates. For a deeper look, see Using a Map at the Telescope.

#3 kenrenard

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 07:07 AM

Along with Tony's excellent advice. I would recommend this book.
http://www.amazon.co...obert/dp/093...
It's out of print but you can still get it used. Dave Mitsky had this posted in the beginners section and its a great way to learn star hopping. Alan MacRoberts takes you through many practice hops and shows you many interesting objects.


Ken

#4 Tim L

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 07:16 AM

Domerman,

I use the technique described in the third article Tony linked (Using a Map at the Telescope). I made a couple small rings out of wire to correspond to the fields of view of my finderscope and low power EP.

The 1* ring didn't get used much in my experience, but I was always using that 5* ring to hop my way across the map and match what I was seeing in the finderscope. After using it a lot, I sort of instinctively know how big the 5* circle is now and don't have to use it so much anymore.

Good luck--star hopping is loads of fun!

#5 csa/montana

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 10:20 AM

You never mentioned what finder(s) you have on your scopes. I have a Telrad, and one long winter, I used a washer & penciled in Telrad rings on objects that I wanted to see. This was an immense help in locating the objects; simply by matching your Telrad ring to those on the charts. The one drawback, is if you are viewing from a light polluted area; then the rings of the Telrad do not show up well, from what I've read from other members here.

When I first started; I also took one Constellation for a night of viewing, & really worked it, finding everything I possibly could; rather than hopping all over the sky. This also is a great way to learn the Constellations.

#6 caheaton

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 10:59 AM

Just wanted to add to the good advice already given here. The best way to learn to star hop is to practice...you'll learn to get a feel for how those fainter stars shown in the atlas really look in your telescope and finder and once you've learned that, star hopping becomes much easier. Also, be aware of the size of the field of view of your finder and of your low power eyepieces. Drawing circles on the atlas, using rings of wire, circles on clear plastic, etc. that match these fields of view are great aids to navigation. Also, use of a RACI finder helps considerably, and be aware that the view through your eyepiece will vary from the atlas and this view will differ if you're using a reflector or a refractor.

Start by star hopping to fairly easy, obvious targets (e.g., M31, M13, etc). Point your scope to a naked eye star that's fairly close to your target and center it in your finder and your scope. Note this star in the atlas and look for any little "patterns or chains" of stars in the direction of your intended target. Move the scope onto that pattern and repeat the process. This will lead you to your target! (It works for me... ;) ).
Craig

#7 Jeff2011

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 11:16 AM

Steve,

I too had problems reading star charts at first. What really helped me were the apps available on my smart phone. I started with Distant Suns and later got Sky Safari. Sky Safari has the most stars from the apps that I was able to find and also tracks commets, asteroids and satellites. More stars is useful when zooming in to match the view through the eyepiece.

Finding objects for yourself can be very fun and rewarding. I enjoy just looking up in the sky and known were objects exist even though I can't see them with the naked eye. Hopefully you won't give up on it.

Jeff

#8 FlyBD5

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 01:09 PM

I've had a lot of fun using Google Sky Map for Android (the now open source version of the extinct Google Sky). I don't think it's available for iPhone, but perhaps someone will consider porting it. It's very basic (stars, constellations, Messier objects, planets, "meteor showers", has an RA/Dec grid and a horizon line) but is pretty accurate, drawing from your phone's location services. Just point it at the sky and it tells you what should be there...

Juan

#9 acochran

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 01:25 PM

Sky & Telescope magazine has a monthly sky chart in it. Not as detailed as the pocket atlas, but shows the whole sky. Find an easy constellation like the Big Dipper or Orion then start comparing the sky to the chart.

#10 TexasRed

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 01:28 PM

I want to second Tony's advice to use GoTo backwards. I've used GoTo to find a lot of great objects. My next step is usually to use my RACI finder and green laser pointer to see where the scope is pointed, what's in the immediate area and how I could find it again without the GoTo. That's when I pull out the star charts and start comparing what I can see with my eyes and/or binoculars with the same area on the charts.

#11 newtoskies

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 03:30 PM

Well what the others have said is sound advice. What I am doing to learn the constellations and star hopping is to use sky charts. I print out the charts (or the books) and go outside and see with naked eye and my binos. I like to use the monthly S&T charts to see what constellations are visible for each month.
I try to locate the bright major stars in each constellation with first naked eye and then with binos. I do this most clear nights even when I am not going to use my scope, even for just 10 minutes.
The winter constellation are slowly moving away, aor blocked in my area by trees,LP and houses. So with each month I learn new constellations. I figure by next winter I will know most of them, the bright stars and what objects can be seen in the constellations.
I have seen very little objects compared to my time behind the scope due to my wanting to learn the constellations and star hoping. I do visit the regulars I enjoy virwing, but mostly I just learn the stars and my way around. the binos have helped me out a lot the past couple months, so get yourself some. i bought the cheap Tasco binos at Walmart for $26 and they do the trick. Along with some charts, from books or printed from websites, the binos will help you out a lot. Let me know if you need the links to the various websites with charts.

#12 StarStuff1

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 05:09 PM

Ummm...ohh, the Big Dipper is not a constellation. Sorry, my astro lab instructor persona got a hold of me.

Practice, practice practice, look and look some more. Download Stellarium and just play around. Read more in S&T and other books and mags. Eventually things will settle in.

#13 Domerman

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 05:21 PM

Well, I recently purchased some Pentax PCF WII 10x50s and I plan to use those to help me learn the sky. I want to avoid scopes for a bit and just use the binos. I don't have a sky&telescope subscription anymore. Any recommendations as to free sky charts that are updated monthly?

Also, is my PSA pretty much useless at this point?

#14 newtoskies

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 05:51 PM

Here are links to online charts you can print out. I print out and order them by the seasons and what is visible this month.
By constellations

I like this one because it shows what and where to look through the finder, scope and naked eye....similar to the must have book Turn Left at Orion.
Finder charts

The telrad charts are also by Constellation with Messier objects.
Telrad charts

For the Herchel 400
web page

You'll be able to see some DSO's with binos and for sure some clusters. Start wit M42 then find easy clusters like NGC 884 & 869, the Pleiades. Get familiar with the brighter stars that make up the constellations with and without the binos. Then you can see/guess where an object is located.
Well that's what I do and it seems to work, and I am a big time newbie. Until I got my binos I could not find M36,37 and 38 even tho they are easy to find...now anyways. With the binos I was able to see more stars and learn to star hop to the clusters. now I find them easily.

Hoe any of this helps and I am sure more experienced members will add to this or correct me ( I hope).

#15 Domerman

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 06:14 PM

I forgot I purchased skysafari awhile ago on my iphone. I will try with that first! I am waiting on my binos to get here. Thanks for all the advice folks!

#16 GeneT

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 06:20 PM

The Pocket Sky Atlas isn't really appropriate for learning the constellations; you need something that shows much bigger chunks of the sky in less detail, such as a planisphere.


Yes--get and use a planisphere. Also, Sky and Telescope and other astronomy magazines have a monthly sky map as part of their publications. You also can find a monthly star chart on the Internet. From a broader perspective, you can then dial in with your Pocket Sky Atlas.

#17 jochsner

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 07:28 PM

I also seems to be having trouble getting used to PSA I purchased for the Kindle Fire. Maybe I'll print out the map pages.
May I also recommend the Golden Sky Guide. I've used that for 22+ years and love it. Stellarium is nice and I also like Uranometria 2000.
The golden sky guide shows the constellations for every season in a perfect understandable way. I am scanning the book now to use on the Kindle.

#18 Domerman

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 08:14 PM

You guys recommend any book that has large big sky atlases?

#19 Domerman

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 10:13 PM

So I purchased "Turn Left at Orion" and a nice big planisphere! I spent a good hour or so using my PSA and Stellarium software to figure out some things and I think I'm getting the hang of the PSA! :jump: :jump:

#20 csa/montana

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 11:21 PM

Good to hear that you are getting to use the PSA; you will find it very helpful for your viewing!

#21 newtoskies

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 11:31 PM

Turn Left ( thanks again Phil) is a great book and very helpful. This Atlas or similar is also good. I plan on getting one soon. The Cambridge Star Atlas, 4th Edition, by Wil Tirion

#22 Patrick

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Posted 05 March 2013 - 12:47 AM

I see no one has mentioned one of my all time favorite field books Objects in the Heavens subtitled "The Complete Mag-10 Northern Deep-Sky Viewing List and Fieldbook".

If I'm just taking out one book for an evening it's this book. It's an excellent star hopping guide for the brighter deepsky objects and is loaded with tons of helpful indexes such as the major stars, best double stars, Messier objects, NGC objects, Common names of stars and DSO's, and Major Meteor Showers.

One of the sections I particularly like is the Seasonal Maps section. There are 4 maps, one for each season showing all the constellations visible during that season. It's kind of like a planosphere without the sliding parts. That helps me get my bearings for what's up in the night sky.

There's also a nice section on the moon.

The main part of the book is made up of constellations maps with all the indexed objects plus more.

The book is the work of Peter Birren and is more a labor of love than a professionally scripted text book. My personal copy was signed by Peter himself. I think if you order from him, he will sign it.

Anyway, check it out. I use mine all the time. BTW, I have the 5th edition. I have seen 3rd and 4th editions advertised, so make sure you get the latest edition.

Patrick

#23 core

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Posted 05 March 2013 - 01:04 AM

I see no one has mentioned one of my all time favorite field books Objects in the Heavens subtitled "The Complete Mag-10 Northern Deep-Sky Viewing List and Fieldbook".


+1 for OITH book! You can order the latest edition directly from Peter's website.

I believe that Peter Birren had stated that the Kindle edition on amazon is not the latest 5th edition. It makes a great companion to the PSA - in fact these are the first 2 books I'd reach for or pack. I've ordered several copies from Peter, along with the PDF copy available from there as well, loaded onto my phones, tablets, and computers.

#24 Mike4242

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Posted 05 March 2013 - 09:59 AM

One book I like a lot and don't see mentioned very much is The Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders. It's organized by constellation, so it's really helpful if you want to see everything there is to see in a particular constellation. I think it's a great book to move to once you've completed Turn Left at Orion.

#25 JimK

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Posted 05 March 2013 - 05:47 PM

... Any recommendations as to free sky charts that are updated monthly?

Also, is my PSA pretty much useless at this point?

Check out this website for a free, overall monthly skychart -- www.skymaps.com.

Your PSA will NOT be useless. Use the overall monthly skychart to see what constellations and bright objects are visible, then find that bright object (or constellation) in the PSA (use either the General Index at the back or the Chart Key on the inside back cover). The PSA will give you a more detailed map of what the stars in the area will look like through either binoculars or a small telescope.

There is no need to learn the details of RA and Dec right now -- it is more important to learn how to find a constellation that is visible from your area and date/time, then "go a little deeper" to locate something to look at.






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