When it comes to astronomy charts, there are two schools of thought. One is that astronomy charts are handy tools that should be at the disposal of anybody ready for a night of stargazing. There is another group, however, that considers astronomy charts something of a crutch when it comes to truly understanding the night sky. Essentially, experts in astronomy feel that these star charts keep people from memorizing the positions of stars at any given time of year in any given hemisphere. While it is true that star charts are akin to paint-by-number art in a way, there is no need for someone who is just starting to get into astronomy to try to soldier on without them. Star charts can serve as a great introductory tool for learning the placements of the many majestic celestial bodies that appear each night in our vast and beautiful sky.
Astronomy charts can be bought at your local bookstore or downloaded from the internet. In the same way that roadmaps show highways and interstates, astronomy charts map out the various stars, constellations, and planets that are visible in your specific location at any given time of year. There is no such thing as a universal star chart. This is because the night sky is constantly changing depending on the season, month, day, and even time of day. Pegasus may be in the south sky one night and completely invisible two weeks later. Certain constellations are in fact not even visible to people in certain parts of the world. This is why there are so many star charts. Each one is made especially for a certain time of year in a certain region of the world. It is up to you to find the star chart that is appropriate for when you are trying to view the sky.
Astronomy charts vary in how much they show. Since there are so many stars, it would confuse a beginner to have a map that shows the name and location of nearly every star that is visible. This is why star charts have different levels of complexity. These different levels are called magnitudes, with a magnitude of 1 being the lowest and least complex magnitude. This is not to say that a lower magnitude means you are not reaping as much enjoyment as you would from a higher magnitude. It simply means that there is not as much data being shown. In fact, lower magnitudes are often preferable for beginners. No matter the magnitude of the chart, there is still plenty to see and enjoy in the night sky. Use a star chart for what it is; a handy and enjoyable legend to further your appreciation for the myriad beauties that appear in the sky each night