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As a beginner, how are you learning about the sky?

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#1 Harry Jacobson

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 11:39 AM

As a beginning amateur astronomer, what is it that you are doing as you become involved in this hobby? Are you reading guide books? Using printed star charts? Using software? Using computerized go to telescopes?

 

I’d like to hear about what beginners are actually doing these days.

 

Things were different when I started out in the 1970’s. There was neither automation nor accessible astronomy software. I followed the recommended route: I purchased binoculars and printed star charts and guides. I got to know the sky by star hopping to objects of interest. Upon gaining this familiarity, I bought my first telescope, a Dobsonian, and continued manually star hopping more deeply in the sky, always referencing printed charts and guides.

 

How is it different for you?


Edited by Harry Jacobson, 05 January 2024 - 01:55 PM.

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#2 zman2100

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 11:58 AM

I started in February of last year and am 33. I was gifted a StarSense 80mm refractor on a terrible mount and became skeptical of its quality after a few days of use. StarSense was a very cool piece of tech, but the wobbly tripod was frustrating and it seemed like I should have been able to see things better than I could with that scope. I ended up returning it less than a week after receiving it and getting a tabletop dob (AWB OneSky/Heritage 130p) after reading and researching a lot and determining that the tabletop scope would be much better for basically the same price. 3 months later I found a used 10" dob for $300 and couldn't resist, and those are the two scopes I still own today (both manual).

 

My hot take as a beginner who started in 2023 is that Turn Left at Orion, while I can appreciate is a great resource, is wholly unnecessary at the scope in an age where Sky Safari is so easily accessible and such a powerful tool for aiding in star hopping. Why would I want to use a paper chart when I can zoom and pan across the starfield at will, flip the orientation to match that of my reflector, and can dial in the exact FOV of my finderscope or telescope with eyepiece? My phone uses an OLED screen so with a software-based red filter on, it doesn't bleed white light and therefore provides little to no impact on dark adapted eyes (certainly no worse than red light on a white page).

 

So yeah, I manually find targets with Sky Safari as my guide. I passed 60 Messier objects after 10 months with a scope just last weekend, and so far I have yet to attempt to find an object and been unable to do so (other than M101, which I "found" but didn't really see due to the conditions and small aperture I was working with). I am not attempting to read books or learn the sky and constellations through reading, but instead am learning it naturally through using my scope and trying to work my way through the Messier list.

 

My other hot take is that binoculars are a terrible blanket recommendation for people wanting to buy scopes on a low budget. I have a pair of 10x50s and very much enjoy using them for astronomy when I go to my dark site. But they barely come out at my light polluted house because the best objects at my house are objects that demand magnification like the moon and planets. I have no problem recommending binoculars to someone, but I'm always clear that they aren't going to help with planets and they will struggle under heavy light pollution, and most people in the early stages of interest in astronomy want to be able to see the rings of Saturn and the cloud bands of Jupiter.


Edited by zman2100, 05 January 2024 - 12:00 PM.

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#3 RCLARK28

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 12:27 PM

Decades ago, I spent too much time chasing hardware upgrades. This time around I make it a point to USE my hardware at hand.

Getting back in last year after being away for almost a decade I decided to break out my old planisphere (ordered on new one) and dusted off the binoculars. Binoculars are a must for me.

*I took the advice from members here and acquired some material to study.

-Deep-Sky Wonders, Sue French
-Turn Left At Orion, Guy Consolmagno & Dan Davis
-Observers Map of the Moon, Celestron
-Orion’s DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart
-Collins Atlas of the Night Sky, Storm Dunlop

 

*Started to get familiar with some apps- Stellarium and Sky Safari really is helping very much. Several others.

*With a good set of observing chairs and stools.

*Most important I make it a point to use what hardware and scopes I have at hand and make it a point just get out and try as many sessions in as I can. Dusk to dawn checks for sky conditions. Mornings are great.

*I find out what works for me and get behind the telescope. (This forum has been the biggest help for me. Very grateful.)


Edited by RCLARK28, 05 January 2024 - 12:30 PM.

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#4 PPPPPP42

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 12:33 PM

Zman said it before I could.

I am learning by looking at “tonight’s best” in sky safari on my tablet (or phone) so I can see what is both good to look at and high in the sky at that exact moment. It shows me what it is and where it is and eventually I remember it.

Being able to pan and zoom the map is non optional. I would have to use a star picnic blanket or phone book of charts to get even close to the same level of detail. I want to be able to go from my whole current sky view to the eyepieces view and back again with a quick finger swipe.

Edit: another place that zooming comes in handy is figuring out what you are looking at around a moving target. On a rare near perfect night I was able to see eight of Saturns moons in my 127mm thought at least one was only with averted vision and came and went as the sky changed. The only way I could verify that was to zoom the map in super far and verify that the complex positions and even the brightness listed of all the moons and all nearby faint stars agreed with the image I was seeing. Most nights I’m lucky to see just a few. I’ve had people say that it doesn’t always get the moons positions right, but they always seem to match up for me.

A trick for that sort of situation is to look at the chart with one eye open in red mode, then use the other eye at the eyepiece. It keeps the one eye adjusted to full darkness though things look super trippy when you open both.

 

I often will just be walking around somewhere and look up at night and wonder what a bright star is. It’s about ten seconds with my phone and I will know everything about it. I basically always have my star chart with me.

Also despite often just taking out my manual alt/az for a quick look, I just got a cgem 2 because I missed being able to quickly find multiple targets. I don’t want to stare at the same target for more than a few minutes and so I don’t have time for star hopping when I might have an hour total to use for actual viewing.


Edited by PPPPPP42, 05 January 2024 - 01:03 PM.

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#5 cjarvis64

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 12:37 PM

I learned by trying to find targets manually with a RA tracking only mount (iOptron Skyguider Pro) and a small refractor with a laser dot finder.  Staring at the sky for long periods of time at night trying to create mental "triangulations" between stars in order to find my target.  To orient myself initially, I used the SkyGuide iOS app, then it was just trial and error moving the telescope until I could see the target in my field of view.  Repeating this process for a year or two will get you pretty familiar with the constellations and locations of targets.  I'm glad I went through that process before purchasing a go-to mount. That being said, the only thing preventing me from buying a go-to mount at the time was money, so being poor works out sometimes wink.gif


Edited by cjarvis64, 05 January 2024 - 12:40 PM.

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#6 SporadicGazer

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 12:39 PM

  ... I was gifted a StarSense 80mm refractor ....

Sorry, I'm going to be "that jerk" and nitpick here (in the hopes there is no confusion latter when this thread gets archived and picked up in a search.)

 

You have had "StarSense Explorer" product, or SSE.

 

Celestron, in their "infinite wisdom" creates and sells different products with the same, or very similar, names.  Their StarSense product is a very different thing than the beginner focused StarSense Explorer product.

 
(Again, sorry!  Carry on.)


Edited by SporadicGazer, 05 January 2024 - 01:43 PM.


#7 PNW

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 01:00 PM

I use GoTo and Stellarium. Over time I've become pretty familiar with the night sky.


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#8 Harry Jacobson

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 02:43 PM

...My other hot take is that binoculars are a terrible blanket recommendation for people wanting to buy scopes on a low budget. I have a pair of 10x50s and very much enjoy using them for astronomy when I go to my dark site. But they barely come out at my light polluted house because the best objects at my house are objects that demand magnification like the moon and planets. I have no problem recommending binoculars to someone, but I'm always clear that they aren't going to help with planets and they will struggle under heavy light pollution, and most people in the early stages of interest in astronomy want to be able to see the rings of Saturn and the cloud bands of Jupiter.

As they say, YMMV. Check the Binoculars Forum, you'll find lots of experienced people enjoy the Moon and planets with binoculars, from inner city and out.

 

...*Most important I make it a point to use what hardware and scopes I have at hand and make it a point just get out and try as many sessions in as I can...

*I find out what works for me and get behind the telescope. (This forum has been the biggest help for me. Very grateful.)

+1 to that. Use what you have at hand. 



#9 zman2100

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 03:44 PM

As they say, YMMV. Check the Binoculars Forum, you'll find lots of experienced people enjoy the Moon and planets with binoculars, from inner city and out.

Experienced, yes. I won't deny that there are plenty of people who can get enjoyment out of binoculars for the moon and planets. But the whole point of the thread is about beginners, and I stand by the premise that a newbie living in a light polluted city and wanting to see planets should not be told to pivot to binoculars simply because of their budget. Even in my short time of doing this I've discovered that the thing that consistently and without fail will blow people away is seeing the rings of Saturn; that's what beginners want and expect to see and is usually why someone first wants to get a scope. The first thing I put my "hobby-killer" scope on was Jupiter because it's bright, easy to find, and I knew what it was supposed to look like as someone who knew nothing about scopes.

 

All I'm saying is that if we tell someone to pivot to binoculars for budget reasons as opposed to offering up alternatives like building a Hadley (which can be done for under $100), looking at a decent $150 retail scope like the Orion SkyScanner 100mm or Orion Observer 114mm, looking at the used market, or joining an astronomy club, I think we at least should be up front about what the experience will be like so someone doesn't have mismatched expectations. And again, I say all of this as someone who loves using binoculars for astronomy.


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#10 Harry Jacobson

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 04:25 PM

Zman,

 

I’m the topic starter. I merely asked what beginners are doing, not what they are told to do. I contrasted that with how I went about things in the 1970’s in the absence of today’s technology. There were no recommendations made. I’m looking to hear how the times have changed how beginners are doing things today. Your opinion about beginner’s choice of equipment is duly noted but should be a different topic.

 

I do know people who got into this hobby after viewing the rings of Saturn, the bands of Jupiter, or craters on the Moon under high magnifications of an experienced user’s choice of telescope equipment. Those experiences were truly inspirational for them to embrace the hobby.


Edited by Harry Jacobson, 05 January 2024 - 04:37 PM.

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#11 Spile

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 04:53 PM

I started in the early 70’s with Nortons Star Atlas. Today my go to equivalent at the eyepiece is SkySafari on a tablet. It’s made life so much easier for me. At the desktop I use Stellarium.


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#12 Tony Flanders

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 07:33 PM

My hot take as a beginner who started in 2023 is that Turn Left at Orion, while I can appreciate is a great resource, is wholly unnecessary at the scope in an age where Sky Safari is so easily accessible and such a powerful tool for aiding in star hopping. Why would I want to use a paper chart when I can zoom and pan across the starfield at will, flip the orientation to match that of my reflector, and can dial in the exact FOV of my finderscope or telescope with eyepiece?


Interesting. I spent a lot of time with Turn Left at Orion when I was a beginner in the 1990s, but certainly not for the sake of its charts. Not that there's anything wrong with the charts in TLO, but I've always preferred standard star atlases. Or charts printed by planetarium programs, which were widely available when I started.
 
These days I mostly use Sky Safari, but Turn Left at Orion provides something critical that Sky Safari doesn't, namely careful selection of targets and in-depth discussions of how the objects appear and how their appearance relates to the astrophysical reality.
 

My other hot take is that binoculars are a terrible blanket recommendation for people wanting to buy scopes on a low budget. I have a pair of 10x50s and very much enjoy using them for astronomy when I go to my dark site. But they barely come out at my light polluted house because the best objects at my house are objects that demand magnification like the moon and planets. I have no problem recommending binoculars to someone, but I'm always clear that they aren't going to help with planets and they will struggle under heavy light pollution, and most people in the early stages of interest in astronomy want to be able to see the rings of Saturn and the cloud bands of Jupiter.


Agreed. Though I do find binoculars very useful in urban settings for teasing out constellations like Cancer and Pisces that would otherwise be invisible.


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#13 cbowlsby

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 08:35 PM

I consider myself a beginner skills-wise (just getting back into the hobby after a long hiatus due to life reasons), and I make heavy use of Sky Safari.  I actually printed out one of the free star atlases when I first got back into the hobby and I find I never use it!  I'm forcing myself to use Cartes du Ciel for session planning but I don't use it in the field.

 

Between Sky Safari and Rukl's Atlas of the Moon I'm good for now.  I have years of observing to do with what I have before I exhaust what I've got.  Need to complete the Messier list!


Edited by cbowlsby, 05 January 2024 - 08:37 PM.

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#14 Echolight

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Posted 05 January 2024 - 09:39 PM

To start out, late spring of 2020, I got a planisphere, binoculars, a yard cannon, and a big 2 inch eyepiece, and just poked around the sky.

And a zoom and a barlow for when I wanted to get closer.

 

I used the binocolars as a finder of faint fuzzies. So I could more easily point my telescope at them. Because I'm not an accomplished star hopper.


Edited by Echolight, 05 January 2024 - 09:51 PM.

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#15 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 06 January 2024 - 02:58 AM

Novices may find some of the information on astronomy, amateur astronomy, and observing presented in my post (#22) at https://www.cloudyni...mers/?p=5184287 useful.  There are sections on various books, observing guides, the Moon, the planets, star-hopping, stellar atlases, planispheres, planetarium programs, astronomy apps, deep-sky objects, lists of worthwhile celestial objects to observe, binocular astronomy, urban astronomy, and other related topics.


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#16 ABQJeff

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Posted 06 January 2024 - 03:35 AM

Like Echo, I started in 2020. I started with Telescopius then Sky Safari app to plan (and execute) my night, then observing, observing, observing with GoTo working my way thru lists (btw aligning a GoTo mount is a great way to learn the famous stars); reading multiple books and online articles.

#17 woodswalker88

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Posted 06 January 2024 - 09:49 AM

"What beginners are doing". Well I always loved space & science fiction. A decade ago I looked in a telescope. I have Double Vision. I saw 9 moons & said "astronomy is the wrong hobby for me."
Fast forward to Sept 23 when I visited Cherry Springs Darksky park and was STARSTRUCK. We almost forget that stars even exist. Well I got a pair of binocs and was blown away to actually see loads of stars up there in my bortle6 neighborhood. 
I don't especially care about Jupiter or Saturn...what fascinates me is the vast profusion of stars out there. So binocs are the best for me. I like to randonly scan the sky and bask in that sense of wonder. 
I was especially stoked to discover the Pleiades ("a happy little family of dancing stars") and Orion's Sword ("what ARE t hose fuzzy stars??") and I got a Dwarflab Camerascope and photographed the Orion Nebula ("the Almighty Firebird"). 

So it has been an awesome few months. I borrowed a few scopes. (Orion Skyview, Orion Starblast Dobson). They were too heavy for me. I have a bad back, bad shoulders, everything hurts. (I'm Elderly.) I love my binocs but I'm researching the lightest possible scope purchases for zooming in a little closer on some of my favorite asterisms. 

My main problem in identifying constellations/deep objects/stars: my bad vision. I wear glasses to look at the sky, but I can't see my phone app unless I take my glasses off. So I am always awkwardly wrestling with glasses, phone and binocs--in the dark where it's easy to lose them. It hasn't worked too well. Especially since it is cold (can't stay out too long) and Bortle 6 (is there sposed to be a star out there? can't see it.) Have never actually been able to see the Big Dipper. 


Edited by woodswalker88, 06 January 2024 - 09:50 AM.

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#18 Captain Quark

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Posted 06 January 2024 - 11:21 AM

SkySafari, the www, and… cloudynights.com! And lots of practice.


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#19 star69

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Posted 06 January 2024 - 11:50 AM

When iPhones first became available, and long before I bought a scope, I found an app called Pocket Universe. Every time I was out under the night sky, sometimes with binos, I could point my phone toward a bright object and it would (approximately) tell me what I was looking at and draw the constellations so I could know where I was looking. This really blew me away. I did that for a long time with periods of inactivity due to life stuff, etc. But that's where I started. 

When I got back into it, and decided to "get serious". I found Stellarium and bought a couple of books including Night Watch, TLaO, the Jumbo Pocket Sky Atlas and planisphere. I'm still a total green horn with maps and charts, but that is the direction I am moving with learning the sky. Stellarium is super useful when listening to Dave Chapman's "Stars you should know" podcasts to follow along with. 

Software is a most excellent tool, and I lean on it for planning and in some cases, in the field when I am lost. But my goal is to learn to use the planisphere and charts so the phone can stay off. I almost never use it in the field anymore as I have come to value dark adaptation.waytogo.gif

 

Now, if the darn constellations would just quit moving around so much...confused1.gif 

 

In summary it's a combination of software, charts and podcasts for this newbie. 

-Kevin
 


Edited by star69, 06 January 2024 - 11:54 AM.

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#20 Maranatha

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Posted 06 January 2024 - 12:27 PM

As a beginning amateur astronomer, what is it that you are doing as you become involved in this hobby? Are you reading guide books? Using printed star charts? Using software? Using computerized go to telescopes?

 

I’d like to hear about what beginners are actually doing these days.

 

Things were different when I started out in the 1970’s. There was neither automation nor accessible astronomy software. I followed the recommended route: I purchased binoculars and printed star charts and guides. I got to know the sky by star hopping to objects of interest. Upon gaining this familiarity, I bought my first telescope, a Dobsonian, and continued manually star hopping more deeply in the sky, always referencing printed charts and guides.

 

How is it different for you?

https://stellarium-web.org/
 

Also, as you referenced, binos. Just looking around you find things, then figure out what it is using the link above.

 

Planisphere is also nice for looking at what is coming in future months ahead.

 

And, though you didn't mention it, moon maps. I love looking at the moon but am still learning landmarks on it.


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#21 RCLARK28

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Posted 06 January 2024 - 01:16 PM

My teenage granddaughter is learning through her club and a class at school. Learning different ways to observe. Using planispheres, charts, maps and binos/spotting scopes. Getting introduced to SCTs, DOBs, reflectors and refractors. They are learning applications like StarSense to push and go. She is now in the middle of learning apps like Stellarium, Skieview and others. They are now going to the Go-To/Tracking Mounts and getting to know how to use them. By the end of the school year, they will get introduced to AP. They have good teachers, class volunteers and guest seminars. I am glad she started this path.

*My path as a kid in the 60's & 70's was just some hobby killers and a clear sky.(loved it) I caught the bug after a field trip to the planetarium at the University of Toledo. My Uncle had a good refractor and shared his views with very limited hardware, and I was amazed. Any chance I had to observe I took. The skies were much clearer then.

*Like I stated before after coming back to astronomy after almost a decade away I am so amazed at the resources and hardware available. New beginners have great resources and can get up and running with good views on a good budget.

*The best thing I did was join a local club and joining Cloudy Nights. Hands down for me are the members here and the help I received is/are priceless. I am so grateful for all those that share and pass on their experience. New and old beginners have so many avenues to learn.

Rant over-> Clear skies.


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#22 UnityLover

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Posted 06 January 2024 - 02:49 PM

My atlas, cloudy nights, sketches, etc.



#23 Alexandrite

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Posted 06 January 2024 - 07:50 PM

I really, really love the combination of a GoTo scope, controlled by Celestron's SkyPortal app. Yes, many people get grumpy at this newfangled techno-stuff, but the app has helped ME personally to learn the night sky better than a  planisphere did when I was a child. I can look at the sky, look at the app, in the process of aligning my telescope it will confirm for me which stars I'm looking at, and then I can look up further information about a star in the app while observing it through the telescope. What is its name? Why was it named, and what legends do different cultures have associated with it? Is it a binary or multiple star? if so, what components and are they visible to me? Why is it the colour it is? How old is it? Etc etc etc - all of that info is just right there! I love learning this stuff while looking at the real thing, and thus remember it next time if I come back to it.

 

Also, because I have access to laser cutters at work, I made a planispheric astrolabe last year, which also helps - in order to use it, you have to get to know the brightest stars on the rete. :)
 


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#24 Tanglebones

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Posted 07 January 2024 - 12:55 PM

When I set out to learn the night sky (still a work in progress), I had a think about how to do it. What I came up with was to memorize the order of the zodiacal constellations, starting with Pisces and ending with Aquarius. I reasoned that no matter what time of year I went out, at least three of these should be visible. So these are:

 

Pisces, Aries, Taurus

Gemini, Cancer, Leo

Virgo, Libra, Scorpius

Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius

 

I repeated these to myself many times during the day until I had their order memorized then set about translating theory into practice - finding key stars in the night sky that would help me identify them. This became the foundation I would build on.

 

Next were the circumpolar constellations, again always up in the sky (at my latitude, at least). From there, the others were/are piecemeal, learning small tricks to find them. For example, as silly as it must sound, I kept getting the head of Draco mixed up with the keystone of Hercules, getting me into much difficulty in locating M13. Then someone taught me the 'Deneb to Vega and same distance again' trick and now I can find it effortlessly. It's the smaller, dimmer constellations that get me now, but they too will come in time.

 

Iteration is the key - starting small and building from there, layer after layer, until they become old friends. There's also a great app on Android that helps - Sky Academy - that teaches the constellations first with full lines and borders, then with just borders, and finally with just the stars themselves, at all orientations as  you would see them during a year.

 

Just my perspective, others will no doubt have a different experience.


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#25 Tony Flanders

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Posted 07 January 2024 - 01:24 PM

When I set out to learn the night sky (still a work in progress), I had a think about how to do it. What I came up with was to memorize the order of the zodiacal constellations, starting with Pisces and ending with Aquarius. I reasoned that no matter what time of year I went out, at least three of these should be visible. So these are:
 
Pisces, Aries, Taurus
Gemini, Cancer, Leo
Virgo, Libra, Scorpius
Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius
 
I repeated these to myself many times during the day until I had their order memorized then set about translating theory into practice - finding key stars in the night sky that would help me identify them. This became the foundation I would build on.


Interesting. I doubt I could rattle off the zodiac by heart, the way I rattle off the English or Greek alphabets to remember which letter comes before which others. Instead, I have to actually visualize the zodiacal constellations and think consciously about which ones would be visible on either side. So I learned them exactly backward from you.

Mostly, I have learned (or keeping learning) the constellations by using them. When you locate objects by star-hopping, the constellations just fall into place after a while. My first serious observing project was the Messier objects, so I learned the constellations that contain Messier objects before and better than the others.
 

Next were the circumpolar constellations, again always up in the sky (at my latitude, at least). From there, the others were/are piecemeal, learning small tricks to find them. For example, as silly as it must sound, I kept getting the head of Draco mixed up with the keystone of Hercules ...


You're not the only one! I still confuse those two patterns; the shapes are almost identical. The key difference, of course, is that Draco's head contains two bright stars, whereas all the stars of the Keystone are pretty faint -- and pretty similar to each other in brightness.


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