Astronomy Star Charts
When it comes to learning all about the cosmos, astronomy star charts are a perfect introduction to the vast and beautiful worlds in the sky. Sometimes called star atlases, astronomy star charts are essentially a map of the night sky at a given period of time. The reason star charts are so time-specific is because the night sky is constantly changing. Constellations and planets are always moving through the sky, making it necessary for different star charts to show different periods of time, usually divided by months. In addition, astronomy star charts must be specific to the hemisphere in which you live. The celestial bodies that you see in the sky are different depending on where you live. This makes it painfully clear that just one star chart simply won't do!
The best source for astronomy star charts is the internet. Sites like go-astronomy.com or skyandtelescope.com offer downloadable charts that are tailor-made for where you live and when you are gazing up at the sky. The best star charts to print out or buy have a white background, making each star, planet, nebula, or galaxy highly visible and easy to locate. A star chart might look confusing and complicated at first, but you can treat it exactly like a road map. First, you'll need to find something in the sky to help you locate your eye position accordingly. A great barometer is the North Star, or Polaris. This star is easy to find because it is the brightest in the night sky. It also is conveniently located directly above the North Pole. Once you find the star in the sky and its according location on the map, you can easily consult the legend and identify nearly every other star in the atlas.
The Big Dipper is also a handy locator. It is easily one of the most visible constellations, but also it is always above the horizon. It is nearly impossible to miss because it looks like a giant spoon.
Some star charts are more in-depth than others. Some will show more details while others may only show constellations, or planets. These different gradations in detail are called magnitudes. For instance, a star chart with a level one magnitude may only show a few of the brighter stars while a level four star chart will show all of the planets, constellations, and galaxies that are visible. Obviously, a chart with a higher magnitude will be more confusing and complicated than one with a lower magnitude. Which type of chart you choose will depend on how curious you are about the night sky, and the level of your knowledge of astronomy. At any rate, a star chart is an essential item for anybody who has even the slightest interest in astronomy.