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How I charted my progress in learning the constellations

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#1 caussade

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Posted 18 April 2020 - 08:06 PM

How I charted my progress in learning the constellations

By Armando Caussade

 

I am opening this topic to see if there is anyone in the Cloudy Nights forums that has been recording their progress in learning the constellations, like I did 35 years ago.  But I will first share my own story of surveying the 84 constellations that are visible from my latitude of 18 degrees north, a project that I started back in 1983—when I was 12 years of age—and carefully documented over two years.

 

The charts that I have posted below illustrate the stages that I went through during my journey in learning the constellations, which spanned from December 1983 to December 1985.  The maps themselves are photocopies that I made in 1984 from an old reference book found on my school library, but the handwritten dates were added by me, with formatting in Spanish.  I recently came over these copies after sifting through an old file box—as part of a project to digitize and preserve old personal documents—and following some computer work was able to successfully clean them and restore their original appearance.  Before going any further, I would like to affirm my belief that both the original photocopies as well as the derivative work that I present here, are covered under the fair use doctrine.

 

The charts alone do not tell the whole story, however.  Lacking any labels other than constellation names, these maps were used only to chart my progress, with my primary study reference being the 14 hand-drawn charts by none other than the English astronomer Patrick Moore (1923–2012).  His cartography appears throughout all editions of his Amateur Astronomy / The Amateur Astronomer book, being included as Appendix XXVII in the 6th edition from 1968 that I used at the time, a text that—as explained in a previous post, available here—I did not actually own, but repeatedly kept borrowing from the library.

 

By March 1984 I had become a subscriber to Sky & Telescope magazine, which provided multi-horizon maps drawn by George Lovi (1939–1993) as a two-page spread on each monthly issue, and whose 20-degree horizon was a good fit to my latitude of 18 degrees.  The cartography was spectacular, and I was saddened when the magazine dropped Lovi's charts in 1991, although they would be reprinted in 1995 as a book-length work entitled Monthly Sky Charts.  But in spite of my tremendous regard for Lovi's work, I preferred the maps from Moore because of their larger scale and accompanying descriptions.

 

I started teaching myself the constellations in December 1983, alone in my suburban backyard under the balmy weather and transparent night skies of the Caribbean winter, with the help of the 14 star charts from Moore and a red flashlight.  With no local astronomy groups to join (at that time, back in 1983) and no relevant community courses to enroll with, I was all by myself, with the school library as my only source.  A 50-millimeter Sears-branded refractor that opportunely showed up for Christmas was like a godsend, proving useful not only for the Moon and planets, but also for a number of deep-sky objects that Moore went on to discuss—with much erudition—in the notes that supplemented his charts.

 

Chart #1 from December 24, 1983, shows the results of my work during that first month of regular stargazing.  Orion was the first constellation that I unambiguously identified, with the Orion Nebula and the nearby Pleiades cluster being the first deep-sky objects that I ever managed to locate.  Using Orion as a landmark I proceeded to survey and study the surrounding constellations, particularly those like Taurus and Gemini which possess first-magnitude stars.  The chart also displays my familiarity with the extreme northern end of the constellation Eridanus, marked in the sky by the third-magnitude star Beta Eridani, which at the time I mistakenly considered as belonging to Orion.  Limited visibility would keep the southernmost parts of Canis Major out of my reach for yet another month, while fainter neighboring constellations such as Lepus and Monoceros would not begin catching my interest until later on.

 

Chart #2 from March 2, 1984, shows how my knowledge of the skies spread eastwards from Orion and into the spring constellations, including major ones such as Leo and Ursa Major, together with the westernmost part of Hydra, and even into the south with groups such as Puppis, Vela and Carina—which together comprised the ancient superconstellation of Argo Navis.  Isolated spring stars and asterisms are also represented, such as Arcturus, Spica, Alpha and Beta Centauri and the Southern Cross.  Of interest here is my early awareness of summer groups such as Scorpius and Sagittarius, whose invisibility during evening hours in March, necessarily points to pre-dawn observations.  Surprisingly, I found it possible to advance westwards from Orion, into autumn constellations such as Perseus and Cassiopeia.

 

Chart #3 from April 20, 1984, reveals swift progress, with half of the accessible skies from my latitude now surveyed after only four months of skywatching.  This is a significant achievement, considering that my criteria for "pocketing" new constellations comprised not only an initial sighting, but also subsequent study and memorization.  By this time I had already learned the entire spring sky, with the exception of inconspicuous groups such as Leo Minor and Coma Berenices, plus the southern constellation Lupus and the easternmost part of Hydra.  The inclusion of summer stars such as Vega, Altair and Deneb in this chart from mid-spring, again indicates pre-dawn observations.  Yet, my knowledge of Ursa Minor remained incomplete—and limited to its three brightest stars—for the simple reason that despite its year-round visibility, this group never rises much above the horizon as seen from my latitude. 

 

Chart #4 from December 29, 1984, shows the result after a full year of study.  Moving eastwards from Orion I was able to complete a 360-degree cycle, scanning the entire northern celestial hemisphere with the exception of only four groups whose stars are no brighter than the fourth magnitude: Leo Minor, Coma Berenices, Lacerta and Pisces.  From the southern skies, I was missing the obscure constellation Sculptor, as well as the southern part of Cetus that I had somehow overseen during the previous autumn season.  A circle with an approximate radius of 36 degrees around the south celestial pole also remained, due to the 18-degree circumpolar "zone of avoidance" resulting from my latitude, plus an additional outer radius of stars that—despite theoretical visibility—never rise much above my southern horizon.

 

Chart #5 from December 31, 1985, shows further refinements of my all-sky survey, after an additional year of work.  Gone are the omissions from the northern celestial hemisphere—which I had now learned in its entirety—plus the inexplicable lapse of southern Cetus from the year before.  In 1985, I also undertook the challenge of reducing the 36-degree circle in the southern hemisphere to a radius of 24 degrees, successfully achieving this goal after numerous nights of meticulously-planned observations.

 

The last chart is a key to the 14 maps by Moore, as per the 6th edition of Amateur Astronomy that I used (later editions would go on to introduce changes).  I drew this myself, of course by hand, the way things were done before the widespread availability of personal computers.  To my surprise, this showed that a few areas of the celestial sphere had been left uncharted by Moore, albeit all were uninteresting regions.

 

Despite my entrenched habit of recording happenings and milestones, I am still amazed that I kept such detailed records of my progress with the constellations.  Has anyone kept similar records?  How many constellations have you learned to identify?  Is there a particular set of star charts that you found useful?  How long did it take you to learn the entire sky?  I would be delighted to hear your experience.

 

Image credit: Original charts by J. Hedley Robinson (1905–1991), from "Astronomy Data Book" (1972).

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Edited by caussade, 19 April 2020 - 10:24 AM.

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#2 ShaulaB

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Posted 18 April 2020 - 08:29 PM

Your post made me so happy. The amount of work and thought that goes into learning the constellations is considerable. Congratulations on your splendid achievement. And thank you for sharing your knowledge and the maps.

 

We get too many posts on CN from beginners who want a scope that does everything with the push of a button.


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#3 caussade

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Posted 18 April 2020 - 08:32 PM

Thanks, ShaulaB.  I appreciate your reply, and I am glad that my experience can be useful to ohers.  As much as I enjoy telescopic astronomy, I also enjoy minimalist astronomy using only the naked eye.



#4 72Nova

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Posted 19 April 2020 - 05:54 AM

Thank you for sharing this caussade.  My interest in naked eye astronomy also started around 1983, when I was a high school junior.  I purchased a paperback book titled "SKYGUIDE a field guide for amateur astronomers" that I used to help me identify stars and constellations in my rural sky (I still have the book). 

 

Although I wasn't as dedicated as you in learning the constellations, this field book was used quite a bit and I also enjoyed the mythology associated with the constellations.  I didn't own a telescope and I didn't even have a pair of binoculars at the time, but I loved this field guide and used it regularly.

 

In college, I took an astronomy class and picked up a cheap pair of Tasco 7x35 binoculars and would use the field guide occasionally on breaks since I worked the grave yard shift to help pay for school.  Once I graduated college and started my family and career, my interest waned.  Fast forward a few decades....I purchased another cheap pair of binoculars (Celestron 15X70) and a tripod and my interest in learning the night sky was rekindled.  Last month, I bought an 8" Dob and some quality eyepieces and I've since been in my backyard at least a few times a week with my new toys!.

 

I'm just a few years away from retirement now and my daughter will be graduating college next month.  I now have the time to revisit the constellations  that I viewed by naked eye many years ago (now with a telescope), and I'm feeling like my 16 year old self again!  


Edited by 72Nova, 19 April 2020 - 06:25 AM.


#5 caussade

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Posted 19 April 2020 - 10:33 AM

You're welcome, 72Nova.  That is a great story, and I wish you all the best in your return to the hobby.  It is interesting to read other's insights and experiences, and I learn a lot from forums like this.  Thanks for sharing!



#6 dhawn

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Posted 19 April 2020 - 05:09 PM

Learning the constellations (I'm still working through the process) is extremely beneficial in so many ways. I cherish the fact that on any clear night I can look up and be re-acquainted with my stellar companions.

 

It continues to baffle me how seldom people look up. 



#7 caussade

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Posted 19 April 2020 - 05:48 PM

Very beneficial, and I wholeheartedly agree!



#8 starblue

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Posted 20 April 2020 - 02:27 AM

Hi Armando.

 

I've got to admire your dedication to learning all the constellations visible to you, including the obscure ones. So many beginners nowadays can't even be bothered to learn the bright ones.

 

When I was a little kid my much older sister taught me the constellations over the course of three June nights. She used H. A. Rey's book "The Stars: A New Way to See Them"; the "new way" referred to shapes that were easier to remember than what was conventional at the time. On night #1 we started out at the Dippers, then "drew the arc" to Arcturus and Bootes, then on to Spica and beyond until she figured my brain was full enough for one night. On night #3 we ended with the tracing out of the large but dim constellation Ophiuchus.

 

The problem was, I had lost her back at Arcturus. Growing up in rural Kansas in the 50's, skies were pitch dark and naked-eye stars numbered in the zillions--how did she know which dozen or so stars made up the shape? She pointed out most of the shapes to me without consulting the book so she obviously had them memorized. I was even more amazed by her accomplishment knowing that she had zero interest in math or science. It made me wonder what sustained her motivation to get through the book in the first place.* I was the only one in the family with any interest in science, yet I had just failed my first science test, knowing no stars except Arcturus. My own interest in astronomy was killed, and I put the book back on the bookshelf.

 

(* If you don't know, H. A. Rey and his wife are more famous for writing and illustrating the children's book series "Curious George". I suspect it was his clear writing, humor, and clever cartoons that provided the motivation. The sky provides stories (myths)--you wanted to see those characters and be part of the storytelling yourself.)

 

A couple summers later I pulled the book back down and decided to repeat the 3-night task by myself (she was in college then), determined not to move on until I had Arcturus and Bootes under control. The number of stars was still overwhelming, but I gradually began to understand how to pick out the important ones from the zillions, and eventually I had an "aha" moment when I could trace the shape fluidly. I tested my newfound understanding on the next couple constellations, and when they worked out too, I was off and running. I paced myself to match our 3 nights. On the third night when I traced out Ophiuchus for real, I had a real sense of accomplishment. It restored my interest in astronomy, and it's been there ever since.


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#9 caussade

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Posted 20 April 2020 - 11:18 AM

Thanks, Starblue, and I read your story with much interest.  It is amazing what you achieved in those initial three nights, and I am glad that you were able to enjoy the advantage of truly dark skies.  By the early 1980's I already had to deal with light pollution, although not as bad as it has got now (my area was then at Bortle level 6, having nowadays degraded to level 8).  The insights about H. A. Rey are valuable.  At some point in the 1980's I heard about his book but never had a chance to get hold of a copy, and the details you share about his life and work are also new to me.


Edited by caussade, 20 April 2020 - 05:05 PM.


#10 tchandler

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Posted 21 April 2020 - 06:06 PM

It’s a comforting feeling to look up at the night sky and know your way among the stars. Orange star rising in the early evening in April: Arcturus in Bootes. Spring arrives. Red star rising in the southeast in May: Antares in the Scorpion. Summer arrives. A lonely pale star rising in the southeast in September: Fomalhaut in the southern fish. Fall. Yellow star rising in the northeast in September: Capella in the chariot driver. Winter. Six circumpolar constellations, as reliable as a the dog we had as a kid.  Learning the sky is not necessary to live; but I’d argue it’s a necessary part of making life worth living.

 

Getting to that point of knowing the sky well can likely happen in as many ways as there are stars. For me, it started with a book: The ABCs of Astronomy. It contained simple stars maps perfect for a 10 year old. On cold, cloudy winter nights, I used these maps to make my own. Steadily, I learned my way around. Growing up in the countryside helped too. I’d lie outside on the grass (or snow) and connect the dots. I still recall the moment I discovered the Square of Pegasus hiding in plain sight.

 

Over time, I would travel to the Southern Hemisphere to find the southern circumpolar constellations. The last constellation I found was Tucana, located in northern Chile early in the morning of May 1999. I had to climb a fig tree to see it!

 

I’ve got a pretty good handle on the constellations. There’s only 88. But all of those stars. So many. Many of which have several names, and meanings, and centuries of lore They’re are a whole different ballgame!


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#11 caussade

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Posted 21 April 2020 - 07:18 PM

Those opening lines are beautiful, Tchandler!  Your words flow almost like poetry; and the story is very compelling too, particularly your observations from Chile.  A few years ago I also enjoyed the opportunity to travel to the South Hemisphere—all the way down to Antarctica, via New Zealand—but having to contend with the short (or nonexistent) darkness of the austral summer at those high latitudes, made stargazing a bit complicated.


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#12 Stacyjo1962

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Posted 21 April 2020 - 07:58 PM

Outstanding Caussade!!!  I find going back to the basics so very comforting even though I've been in this hobby for gosh, 20-21 years now...



#13 caussade

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Posted 21 April 2020 - 07:59 PM

Thanks, Stacyjo1962!  Much appreciated.



#14 Chris K

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Posted 21 April 2020 - 08:28 PM

This is such a great story Armando, thank you for sharing.

I'm still learning the constellations. For me the hard part is knowing where they should be during a particular night of the year.

 

I always loved the sky as a kid, but really envy the perseverance you showed. Borrowing the same book over and over is so fun to think about.

 

I really picked up interest on a Cub Scout trip to the Hayden Planetarium in NYC. I bought the below book from the gift shop and remember my parents not being too happy that I didn't bring home any change! It was $1.95 haha. I still have it, and it proudly sits on my bookshelf. I must have read that cover to cover one million times.

I too was lucky that Santa went to Sears and bought me a telescope. I never saw more than the moon with it and no longer have it.. wish I did.

 

Somewhere along the way I became too focused on work and other nonsense and stopped looking up. What a waste of years (and dark sky). I could see many constellations from my neighborhood in Queens, NY. I doubt you can see any stars from there now. I can hardly see any in my suburban neighborhood. 

 

Thank you again for the post, and trip down memory lane.

Chris

 

S l640

 


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#15 rowdy388

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Posted 21 April 2020 - 09:06 PM

 

This is such a great story Armando, thank you for sharing.

I'm still learning the constellations. For me the hard part is knowing where they should be during a particular night of the year.

 

I always loved the sky as a kid, but really envy the perseverance you showed. Borrowing the same book over and over is so fun to think about.

 

I really picked up interest on a Cub Scout trip to the Hayden Planetarium in NYC. I bought the below book from the gift shop and remember my parents not being too happy that I didn't bring home any change! It was $1.95 haha. I still have it, and it proudly sits on my bookshelf. I must have read that cover to cover one million times.

I too was lucky that Santa went to Sears and bought me a telescope. I never saw more than the moon with it and no longer have it.. wish I did.

 

Somewhere along the way I became too focused on work and other nonsense and stopped looking up. What a waste of years (and dark sky). I could see many constellations from my neighborhood in Queens, NY. I doubt you can see any stars from there now. I can hardly see any in my suburban neighborhood. 

 

Thank you again for the post, and trip down memory lane.

Chris

 

 

 

 

I've still got that same Golden Book in my library as well! Amazing amount of knowledge

packed in there. I've probably read it dozens of times over the years and learned so much

from it including identifying all the northern constellations. Just a fun read, especially for a young,

curious mind.....an older curious mind also!


Edited by rowdy388, 21 April 2020 - 09:07 PM.

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#16 caussade

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Posted 21 April 2020 - 09:13 PM

 

This is such a great story Armando, thank you for sharing.

I'm still learning the constellations. For me the hard part is knowing where they should be during a particular night of the year.

 

I always loved the sky as a kid, but really envy the perseverance you showed. Borrowing the same book over and over is so fun to think about.

 

You're welcome Chris, and thanks for chiming in.  I am learning a lot with all the stories here, yours included.  And as for when the constellations should become visible during the year, time and practice will get you there.

 

 

I've still got that same Golden Book in my library as well!

 

And thank you also, rowdy388.


Edited by caussade, 21 April 2020 - 09:19 PM.

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#17 oldmanastro

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Posted 21 April 2020 - 11:21 PM

It has been a pleasure to read such a well written story about how my good friend Armando learned the constellations that visit our skies during the year at latitude 18 degrees north. His experiences took me back 55 years to 1965. This was the year that my interest in astronomy took off. I had observed the moon with a cheap toy telescope and found out that even with this small and inadequate instrument I could glimpse craters in our nearest satellite. The combination of this little telescope plus the continuous coverage of the space race in the news was enough to spark any 12 year old interest and imagination. I started learning my first constellations in the winter of 65 using only profiles that I found in our home encyclopedia. Astronomy became my favourite reading subject. In Christmas that year my parents gave me a Sears 60mm f/11 altazimuth refractor. Fortunately it came with a book "The Telescope and the World of Astronomy" plus a one year subscription to the Review of Popular Astronomy (RPA), a bimonthly publication for amateurs. Using the monthly maps in RPA I continued to familiarize with the constellations but some of the more southern ones were missing. This took me to the General Library of the local public university where I found copies of Sky & Telescope with their monthly maps that covered down to 20 degrees north. I photocopied them although the copies were not too good. It was years before I was able to subscribe to S & T.  I do remember that at first my idea the size of constellations was way out of scale. They were much bigger than I expected. 

 

I think people miss a lot when they don't know the night sky. The constellations announce the seasons better than anything else. These days while at my observing spot on the roof, Armando knows where, I just sat down to admire the Southernmost constellations. The Southern Cross and Centaurus were both there in clear black skies. The Omega Centauri Cluster at almost 25 degrees altitude if not more. I pointed my 4" refractor there to find an explosion of sparkles in the field of view. The cluster was magnificent.

 

My story is almost 20 years older than Armando's but basically the same. Two young kids just discovering that there was something up there more than merely sparkling points of light. 

 

Thank you Armando for bringing many memories back.

 

Clear Skies!

 

Guido


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#18 Tony Flanders

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Posted 22 April 2020 - 06:28 AM

I'm curious what counts to you as learning a constellation. I have learned all 88 constellations at some point in my life, but they tend to flit out of my brain almost as fast as they go in. When I visited Argentina and Chile last year I had to re-learn everything that I had already learned 15 years earlier. Though many snippets did come back, vaguely.

 

The phenomenon isn't limited to constellations that are challenging for geographical reasons, either. A few weeks ago, when I was chasing down Comet C/2019 Y4 (Atlas) (why for, you might ask?), I was humiliated to realize how little I remembered Camelopardalis. Granted, Camelopardalis is a strong contender for the title of Most Forgettable Constellation, though it does have some stiff competition.

 

There's also a question of how many stars you need to know. Even with constellations that I known intimately, I'm hard-pressed to tell you the Bayer letter for each of the stars, or tell you whether any given 5th-magnitude star happens to lie in (say) Monoceros or adjoining Canis Minor.

 

In general, I find that the best way to learn constellations -- and for them to stay learned -- is to use them. Whenever I get to a new location, I like to orient myself by picking out the major constellations. And when I locate telescopic targets by star-hopping, the constellations cease being challenges and start to become crutches for the much more challenging task of learning where all the sky's major deep-sky objects lie.


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#19 bumm

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Posted 22 April 2020 - 09:29 AM

I never kept any records of learning the constellations, but a brief look around most every clear night keeps me familiar with them and helps maintain my sanity.  (Others might argue that the second point has failed.)

                                     See my sig,

                                                    Marty


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#20 Chris K

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Posted 22 April 2020 - 09:44 AM

I've started drawing them from reference in hopes it'll create lasting images in my mind's eye.

 

Last night while out for the Lyrids shower I was able to spot Draco's head and Ursa Major's feet—as faint as they were.



#21 rowdy388

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Posted 22 April 2020 - 10:22 AM

Tony said:

"Whenever I get to a new location, I like to orient myself by picking out the major constellations. And when I locate telescopic targets by star-hopping, the constellations cease being challenges and start to become crutches for the much more challenging task of learning where all the sky's major deep-sky objects lie."

 

I like the post but not so much the word "crutch". I prefer the term treasure map.


Edited by rowdy388, 22 April 2020 - 10:25 AM.


#22 DHEB

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Posted 22 April 2020 - 10:24 AM

I'm curious what counts to you as learning a constellation. I have learned all 88 constellations at some point in my life, but they tend to flit out of my brain almost as fast as they go in. When I visited Argentina and Chile last year I had to re-learn everything that I had already learned 15 years earlier. Though many snippets did come back, vaguely.

 

The phenomenon isn't limited to constellations that are challenging for geographical reasons, either. A few weeks ago, when I was chasing down Comet C/2019 Y4 (Atlas) (why for, you might ask?), I was humiliated to realize how little I remembered Camelopardalis. Granted, Camelopardalis is a strong contender for the title of Most Forgettable Constellation, though it does have some stiff competition.

 

There's also a question of how many stars you need to know. Even with constellations that I known intimately, I'm hard-pressed to tell you the Bayer letter for each of the stars, or tell you whether any given 5th-magnitude star happens to lie in (say) Monoceros or adjoining Canis Minor.

 

In general, I find that the best way to learn constellations -- and for them to stay learned -- is to use them. Whenever I get to a new location, I like to orient myself by picking out the major constellations. And when I locate telescopic targets by star-hopping, the constellations cease being challenges and start to become crutches for the much more challenging task of learning where all the sky's major deep-sky objects lie.

Agree with that. As a variable star addict avid variable star observer and starhopper (no goto) I often find Camelopardalis the most challenging of the northern constellations to find targets. Observing from a light polluted suburb does not help either since that leaves the constellation's already dim stars almost invisible to the naked eye. The bright side is that even in Camelopardalis one becomes acquainted with the many small dim asterisms here and there that can be seen in the finder. In any case, it is a challenge. Finding Z, X or T Cam starhopping from Dubhe, Polaris or Capella, some ~20° starhopps, is serious business but surely a fun and sweaty adventure even in a cold Scandinavian night wink.gif
 



#23 caussade

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Posted 22 April 2020 - 12:59 PM

It has been a pleasure to read such a well written story about how my good friend Armando learned the constellations that visit our skies during the year at latitude 18 degrees north.

 

Thank you Armando for bringing many memories back.  Clear Skies!

 

Guido

Thanks to you, Guido!  I appreciate your response, and feel privileged to be counted among your friends.  That is an amazing story, a part of which I knew from your own comments during local astronomy gatherings.  But I believe it is worthy to leave a written record here.  Again, very grateful.



#24 caussade

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Posted 22 April 2020 - 02:16 PM

I'm curious what counts to you as learning a constellation.

 

Granted, Camelopardalis is a strong contender for the title of Most Forgettable Constellation, though it does have some stiff competition.

 

There's also a question of how many stars you need to know. Even with constellations that I known intimately, I'm hard-pressed to tell you the Bayer letter for each of the stars, or tell you whether any given 5th-magnitude star happens to lie in (say) Monoceros or adjoining Canis Minor.

Hello, Tony:

 

Those are interesting and very legitimate issues, and I will attempt to give the best possible answer.  While constellations are objectively defined by the official IAU boundaries from 1930, most people—including me— become familiar with them by "connecting the dots" and building geometrical figures, which are distinct from the "men and monster" figures that ancient peoples visualized when looking up at the sky.  The fact that there are only official boundaries—but no official geometric figures—brings an element of subjectivity to the constellations, since every introductory book or chart will go on to draw its own particular figures.

 

As early as 1983 I was aware of this subjectivity, and the charts that I initially used (from Patrick Moore's Amateur Astronomy, 6th edition from 1968) were prolific maps with generally intricate geometric figures, including a considerably larger number of stars drawn into patterns than most contemporary references.  As explained (see quote below), my criteria even at those early times of my astronomy "career" were pretty strict.

 

my criteria for "pocketing" new constellations comprised not only an initial sighting, but also subsequent study and memorization.

I can elaborate to give more specifics on those criteria:

 

(1) Identify every star down to magnitude 4.5 in every constellation, in particular those drawn into geometric figures, but I also made a point to become familiar with unfigured stars whenever possible, which led me occasionally use supplementary sets of charts with a better sampling of such stars, such as the ones by George Lovi from Sky and Telescope.  (2) Identify selected stars down to magnitude 5.5, particularly on fainter constellations such as Camelopardalis where even the main figured stars linger around the fifth magnitude.  From my location this was achievable back in the 1980's, when light pollution levels rated around 6 in the Bortle scale.  (3) Become familiar with as many Bayer designations and proper names of stars as possible, specifically for those above magnitude 3.5; I would exaggerate to say that I memorized them all, but I can honestly say that I still recall at least half.  (4) Re-visit and re-study every constellation during each new yearly cycle, until I would faithfully secure them into memory; again, I would exaggerate to say that I still recall them all after 35 years, but I believe I may have lost only a dozen.

 

I should add that there are four far-southern constellations that are invisible from my latitude, and which remain unknown to me: Octans, Apus, Chamaleon and Musca.  Four other groups (Hydrus, Volans, Triangulum Australe and Pavo) are achievable, but challenging, and I eventually pocketed them but never under optimal conditions.  On January 24, 2015, upon returning from Antarctica via New Zealand, I spent a night where I was able to indulge into some constellation watching.  The Southern Cross, together with Alpha and Beta Centauri were indeed spectacular; but the sky was covered in a thin layer of high clouds, and with noticeable light pollution from the Christchurch area—where I was staying—my attempt to locate the four inner circumpolar groups that I was due to learn, failed miserably.  So, at maximum, my constellation count was like 84 out of 88.

 

My zeal in learning the constellations was partly driven by the desire to, eventually, enter the field of telescopic deep-sky observation; and this paid off immensely in the early 1990's, when I used a 332-millimeter Coulter-branded reflector to chase galaxies from the Herschel 400 List, including little-known objects in obscure constellations that I was able to locate in no time and with incredible ease.  And I totally agree that Camelopardalis could be considered the most forgettable constellation.  Exactly the same happened to me the night of March 31, 2020, when attempting to locate Comet C/2019 Y4 (Atlas) during its passage through said constellation; indeed, my attempt proved to be unsuccessful.

 

I hope this expands and clarifies the statements from my original post.  And thanks for your interest.


Edited by caussade, 22 April 2020 - 05:02 PM.

  • 72Nova likes this

#25 Tony Flanders

Tony Flanders

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Posted 22 April 2020 - 03:02 PM

Tony said:

"Whenever I get to a new location, I like to orient myself by picking out the major constellations. And when I locate telescopic targets by star-hopping, the constellations cease being challenges and start to become crutches for the much more challenging task of learning where all the sky's major deep-sky objects lie."

 

I like the post but not so much the word "crutch". I prefer the term treasure map.

You're right; crutches was a lousy choice of words. Let me try again:

 

When I locate telescopic targets by star-hopping, the constellations are the framework upon which I hang my knowledge of the deep-sky objects contained therein. Doing that brings the constellations to life and cements them in my memory.


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