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Star charts.

Finding the brightest stars and constellations

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Circumpolar Stars

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Instructions:

This chart shows the stars around the south celestial pole. To use it, face south and rotate the chart following the instructions below.

Start by finding the most appropriate date in the left-most column of the table. In the top row, locate the time of observing. Note the letter found at the intersection. Now turn the star chart so that this letter is at the bottom. It will now approximately match the position of the stars in the sky.

Because of the Earth's motion around the Sun, the sky shifts by one letter every two weeks. Use this fact to interpolate between dates. For example, on January 15 at 21:00, "Q" should be at the bottom.

Summer Stars

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This map shows the night sky on December 1 at midnight, January 1 at 22:00 and February 1 at 20:00. These times are approximately accurate for Durban, Bulawayo, East London, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Harare. For Cape Town and Windhoek, add 50min; Kimberley and Port Elizabeth +20min; Bloemfontein and Grahamstown +15min. The solid circle represents the horizon as seen from latitude 30[degrees]S. The + indicates the zenith, and the x marks the South Celestial Pole.

Crux, the Southern Cross, is very low in the south. Although it is circumpolar (always above the horizon) from Cape Town, buildings or trees to the south may hide it from view. The long arm of Crux points to Achernar, 60[degrees] away. The 9th brightest star in the night sky, it marks the southern end of Eridanus (the River), which meanders high overhead, ending at the feet of Orion the Hunter. Above Crux is an asterism of four stars making a larger, dimmer cross, the False Cross. The longer arm of the False Cross points to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). Higher up, above the False Cross, is Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky. The bright star above the western horizon, making a curved line with Canopus and Achernar, is Fomalhaut. High overhead is the brilliant Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Anything that looks brighter will be a planet. Facing north, Orion the Hunter features prominently. Look for four stars in a rectangular pattern, with three stars in a row in the middle (Orion's Belt). Toward the west (left) is the reddish star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. Look out for the Hyades, the head of the Bull, a V-shaped cluster of stars with Aldebaran at one tip of the V. Further west is a smaller cluster of stars, the Pleiades. Known to the ancient Greeks as the Seven Sisters, it is a splendid sight in binoculars. Gemini the Twin lies below and to the right of Orion. Its brightest stars, Castor and Pollux, represent two heroes of Greek mythology.

The Orion Region Orion, Taurus, Monoceros, Canis Major

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M45: Better known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, this open cluster is one of the most spectacular of its kind in the heavens. Most naked-eye observers can see six or seven stars here, although keen-eyed stargazers can see almost 20. It is excellent in binoculars, which reveal over a 100 stars scattered across nearly 2[degrees] (almost four Full Moons) of sky. Hyades: This large V-shaped group of stars, spanning some 5 1/2[degrees], is the second-nearest open cluster to Earth. Reddish Aldebaran lies at one tip of the V, but is not a cluster member. The brightest star in the Hyades is OTauri, a wide naked-eye double star easily seen just south of Aldebaran. Upwards of 130 stars are shown in binoculars. NGC 1647: Open cluster in the same binocular field as Aldebaran (3[degrees] north-east). Situated much further away from Earth than the Hyades, it appears as a faint glow with a dozen or so stellar points sprinkled over an area just larger than the Full Moon. A 20-cm telescope shows about 50 stars, while a 30-cm will reveal almost double that number. NGC 1746: May just be glimpsed with the naked eye on a dark, clear night. Binoculars show a large sparse star cluster, much like NGC 1647. A telescope reveals many more stars, arranged in clumps. M1 (NGC 1952): Conveniently signposted by Z Tauri, this is the Crab Nebula, the remains of a massive stellar explosion seen from Earth in 1054. It is one of the few supernova remnants visible in binoculars, which show it as a small faint elongated glow. A 15-cm telescope shows its irregular outline. M42 (NGC 1976): The Great Orion Nebula, one of the most dramatic and best-known nebulae in the sky. To the naked eye, it appears as a fuzzy patch surrounding the multiple star O Orionis, the middle star in Orion's Sword. Binoculars reveal a bright curved glow with several embedded stars. The wealth of detail visible in even the smallest telescope almost defies description. NGC 2244/2246: NGC 2244 is an attractive open cluster visible to the naked eye as a bright spot in the Milky Way. Binoculars readily show six bright stars arranged in a distinctive rectangular pattern. A 15-cm telescope reveals three times as many stars. The cluster lies in the heart of the Rosette Nebula (NGC 2246), which is often photographed but is a challenge to observe. Large binoculars may show it as an extremely faint irregular glow surrounding the central stars. M50 (NGC 2323): Binoculars easily show this mid-sized cluster as a soft glow highlighted by half-a-dozen dim stars. It is a very attractive telescopic object, having a bright orange-red star set amongst 100 or so dimmer ones. Look out for several nice star chains in the grouping. M41 (NGC 2287): A beautiful cluster just 4[degrees] south of Sirius, marking the heart of the Dog. It is an easy naked- eye glow if the skies are dark, and was first recorded by Aristotle in 325 BCE. Binoculars show a dozen stars closely spaced, while a 6-cm telescope reveals 30 members, including a reddish star just off-centre. Several chains and loops of stars can be picked out, especially in larger telescopes.

Autumn Stars

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This map shows the night sky on March 1 at midnight, April 1 at 22:00 and May 1 at 20:00. These times are approximately accurate for Durban, Bulawayo, East London, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Harare. For Cape Town and Windhoek, add 50min; Kimberley and Port Elizabeth +20min; Bloemfontein and Grahamstown +15min. The solid circle represents the horizon as seen from latitude 30[degrees]S. The + indicates the zenith, and the x marks the South Celestial Pole.

The Southern Cross, or Crux, is prominent high in the south. To its upper right is the False Cross, an asterism of four stars. The stars of the real Cross are brighter, closer together, and have two bright stars, the Pointers, pointing towards them. The Milky Way from Crux, through the False Cross, to Sirius is rich in bright star clusters, dozens of which can be seen in binoculars. Orion the Hunter is setting in the west, lying on its side. On the other side of the sky, towards the south-east, the long curving constellation of Scorpius, with its red star Antares, is rising, in eternal pursuit of Orion. In Greek mythology, Orion challenged the Olympian Gods, and to punish him for his hubris, they sent a scorpion to poison him. In the north-west, Gemini the Twins lie on their side, as if preparing for a night's rest as they set. Facing north, the reddish Regulus in Leo is placed high in the sky. It lies at the top of a curve of stars known as the Sickle of Leo. Above Leo, straddling the zenith, is the largest constellation, Hydra the Water Monster. Its brightest star, Alphard, has a plain red colour in binoculars. The reddish Arcturus in Bootes the Herdsman is prominent above the north-eastern horizon. Higher up in the eastern sky, the bright star Spica in Virgo is prominent. Look for the distorted square of stars above it, Corvus the Crow; two of its stars point directly to Spica.

The Southern Cross Region Centaurus, Crux, Musca, Carina, Vela

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NGC 5139 (Omega Centauri) is the most impressive globular cluster in the entire sky. A fuzzy star to the naked eye, it was noted in 140 CE by Ptolemy. Edmond Halley (of Halley's comet fame) in 1677 was the first to recognize it as a cluster of stars. Larger than the Full Moon, binoculars will show some of its individual stars set amongst its glowing mass. A telescopic view is breath-taking. NGC 5128 (Centaurus A) is a bright galaxy that can be seen in binoculars as a 7th magnitude fuzzy star, looking a bit like a globular cluster. A small telescope shows a dark lane bisecting the glow, which in a larger telescope makes it look like a hamburger. Nearby NGC 4945 is an edge-on spiral galaxy conveniently located next to Centauri. A 15-cm telescope shows it readily. The Coalsack, a dark nebula measuring 5[degrees] x 7[degrees], more than fills the field of view of most binoculars. To the naked eye, it is an obvious "hole" in the Milky Way, and is the dark nebula closest to Earth. NGC 4755 lies between the Coalsack and 3 Centauri. Binoculars show a small compact open cluster with one reddish star. A telescope reveals a dozen or so stars, exhibiting contrasting colours--hence the popular name, Jewel Box. NGC 3918 is one of the few planetary nebulae that can be seen in binoculars, which show it as a dim bluish star. A 15-cm telescope shows the 11th mag. central star, and begins to reveal the surrounding nebula's intricate structure that is best appreciated in a larger telescope. NGC 3372 (Eta Carinae Nebula) is the best example of a bright (diffuse) nebula in the entire sky. To the naked eye, it appears as a brighter patch of the Milky Way. Binoculars will show a huge 2[degrees] glow, studded with stars and divided into sections by wisps of dark nebulosity. The largest nebulous mass contains the open cluster Trumpler 16, within which lies the remarkable star Eta Carinae. NGC 3532 is a spectacular open cluster, perhaps the finest example of its kind. Even small binoculars will show over 60 stars gathered together in a 1[degrees] area. IC 2602, the Southern Pleiades, is a large bright open cluster, and one of the nearest to Earth. It contains the 3rd magnitude Theta Carinae, which forms one tip of the Diamond Cross asterism. Binoculars show over a dozen bright stars arranged in a striking pattern. The globular cluster NGC 2808 is situated just outside the Milky Way, between the False and Diamond Crosses, and can just be seen with the naked eye from a dark site. Easy in binoculars, its small bright centre is prominent in a telescope. NGC 2516 is a prominent open cluster near the False Cross. Binoculars show 30 or so stars, one of which has a red tinge. A small telescope shows over 70 stars in a %[degrees] patch of sky. IC 2391 is an attractive open cluster with some 20 stars visible in binoculars. The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way, and is readily seen with the naked eye as an irregular 10[degrees] long 'cloud'. Almost a lifetime could be spent studying the 700+ clusters and 400+ nebulae in this galaxy, which contains some 30 billion stars. The brightest patch within the LMC, visible to the naked eye, is NGC 2070, the Tarantula Nebula. This nebula is a fantastic sight, rivalling Eta Carinae and the Orion Nebula. A large telescope reveals a complex network of looped nebulosity, studded with minute star clusters. The Small Magellanic Cloud (not shown) lies about 22[degrees] away and is roughly 4[degrees] wide.

Winter Stars

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This map shows the night sky on June 1 at midnight, July 1 at 22:00 and August 1 at 20:00. These times are approximately accurate for Durban, Bulawayo, East London, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Harare. For Cape Town and Windhoek, add 50min; Kimberley and Port Elizabeth +20min; Bloemfontein and Grahamstown +15min. The solid circle represents the horizon as seen from latitude 30[degrees]S. The + indicates the zenith, and the x marks the South Celestial Pole.

The Southern Cross, or Crux, is high up in the southern sky, pointing downwards to the bright star Achernar, which may be hidden by buildings or trees along the southern horizon. Surrounding Crux is Centaurus, a legendary half-man half-horse. In the south-west, the False Cross is setting. At this time of year, the Milky Way is well-placed, stretching from the False Cross in the south-west, up through Crux and Centaurus, to the curved figure of Scorpius the Scorpion overhead. From there the Milky Way passes through Sagittarius and Aquila, and on towards the north-eastern horizon. Overhead in Scorpius, notice the reddish colour of its brightest star, Antares. There are several bright star clusters in the area. In adjacent Sagittarius the Archer, the Milky Way is particularly bright, marking the centre of our Galaxy. Several bright and dark nebulae can be seen here with the naked eye from dark skies. According to Greek legend, Sagittarius was a centaur who slew Scorpius with an arrow to avenge the death of Orion. Facing north, the sprawling constellation of Ophiuchus lies below the scorpion. In Greek legend, Ophiuchus used a magical potion to resurrect Orion after Scorpius had killed him. Below Ophiuchus lies another hero of Greek legend, Hercules. Low on the northern horizon is Vega in Lyra. The reddish star high up in the north-west is Arcturus in Bootes the Herdsman. Facing west, high above the horizon lies Spica in Virgo the Maiden, who is setting headlong.

The Sagittarius-Scorpius Region Sagittarius, Corona Australis, Ophiuchus, Scorpius

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M4 (NGC 6121) is one of the closest globular clusters to Earth. Binoculars show it easily as a large glow west of red Antares. A small telescope will show many individual stars, as well as the remarkable line of stars running through the cluster's centre. In a large telescope it is well resolved, with several striking star-chains. M6 (NGC 6405) is visible to the naked eye as a patch of light. Nicknamed the Butterfly Cluster, binoculars show an attractive grouping of 30 or so stars, with a dense central region from which the "wings" spread. The cluster's star-chains are particularly prominent in a telescope. M7 (NGC 6475) is a spectacular open cluster, obvious to the naked eye. Even small binoculars will show 30 bright stars, while a wide-field telescope reveals three times that number. M8 (NGC 6523) is a beautiful diffuse nebula, plainly visible to the naked eye as a glowing patch. Binoculars show a complex region of scattered stars with a large bright mass divided by dark nebulosity--hence the nickname the Lagoon Nebula. A telescope reveals a wonderfully rich object, rivalling the Orion Nebula, that is well-worth studying at length. NGC 6231 is a brilliant tight cluster of stars set in a beautiful field, at the point where the Scorpion's tail is attached to the body. The cluster and surrounding field are fantastic in binoculars. The cluster bears magnification well, so even a large telescope shows it effectively. M16 (NGC 6611) is the often-photographed Eagle Nebula. Binoculars show an attractive open cluster, a dozen bright members with the glow of many unseen stars in the background. A telescope reveals over 40 stars in a half-degree area. With special filters, the well-known complex nebulosity can be seen. The talons of the eagle were the subject of the famous Hubble Space Telescope "Pillars of Creation" photo. M17 (NGC 6618) is a superb diffuse nebula, nicknamed the Omega Nebula. Binoculars will show an obviously elongated nebulous patch, set in a loose collection of faint stars. A small telescope shows the nebulosity having a tick-shape, a celestial Nike sign. A larger telescope shows exquisite, subtle detail within the cloud, and also why some call it the Swan Nebula. M20 (NGC 6514) is quite difficult in binoculars, which show only a small nebulous patch with a stellar centre. Through a mid-sized telescope, M 20 is a fascinating sight. The central star is shown to be a triple star, and the nebulous surrounding is divided into three sections by intervening dark nebulosity, giving it the nickname Trifid Nebula. M21 (NGC 6531) is a large bright open cluster of 20 or so stars visible in large binoculars or a small telescope. A larger telescope reveals almost 60 stars, with many doubles and chains of stars. M22 (NGC 6656) is a magnificent globular cluster, visible to the naked eye from a dark site. A telescope will reveal intricate star chains and dark zones, providing a fascinating spectacle. M25 (IC 4725) is a bright open cluster, showing a dozen stars in binoculars and double that in a telescope. This attractive grouping hosts a Cepheid variable, which regularly varies between mag. 6.3 and 7.1 with a period of 6.74 days.

Spring Stars

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This map shows the night sky on September 1 at midnight, October 1 at 22:00 and November 1 at 20:00. These times are approximately accurate for Durban, Bulawayo, East London, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Harare. For Cape Town and Windhoek, add 50min; Kimberley and Port Elizabeth +20min; Bloemfontein and Grahamstown +15min. The solid circle represents the horizon as seen from latitude 30[degrees]S. The + indicates the zenith, and the x marks the South Celestial Pole.

The Sculptor Region Cetus, Aquarius, Sculptor, Phoenix, Piscis Austrinus, Grus

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Crux, the Southern Cross, is positioned low down in the south-west, with the Pointers above it pointing almost vertically downward. Directly above the Pointers is an obvious equilateral triangle of stars, Triangulum Australe. Crux points to Achernar high in the south-east. On a dark night, look for the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) between Achernar and Crux. Half-way down to the horizon is the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). The Magellanic Clouds are the nearest galaxies to our Milky Way. Below Achernar, just above the horizon, lies Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky. Fomalhaut, in the Southern Fish, is almost directly overhead. Around it are a number of watery constellations: Aquarius, Pisces and Cetus. Facing north, look for the four stars in the shape of a large square that marks the body of Pegasus the Winged Horse. Trailing down and to the right of the Square of Pegasus is Andromeda, in which lies M 31, the Andromeda Galaxy. The bright star high in the north-west is Altair in Aquila the Eagle. Below it, hugging the horizon, is Vega in Lyra, while Deneb in Cygnus lies a bit higher and to the right. Above Vega and to the right of Altair lie the two small constellations of Delphinus and Sagitta. In the west, Ophiuchus lies on his side, accompanied by Scorpius, which is setting head-first, its tail pointing up in the sky. Above it lies Sagittarius and the central region of our Milky Way.

The Sculptor Region Cetus, Aquarius, Sculptor, Phoenix, Piscis Austrinus, Grus

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Some 36 galaxies make up the Local Group, a small cluster of galaxies which includes our Milky Way. Of these, the Magellanic Clouds and the Andromeda Galaxy are the easiest-to-see members. The chart above shows two other Local Group members, the Sculptor Dwarf and WLM. These galaxies are a challenge to see--experienced observers have picked up the Sculptor Dwarf with a 15-cm telescope; WLM needs a 40-cm telescope. The chart on p95 shows another Local Group member, NGC 6822, which is within reach of large binoculars. The nearest galaxy group beyond the Local Group is the Sculptor Group. Five of its members are shown in the chart above. NGC 55 is a bright edge-on barred spiral galaxy, which binoculars show as an obvious pencil of fuzzy light. A telescope reveals subtle detail along its scalloped edge. NGC 247 shares a binocular field with 3rd magnitude P Ceti. It can be hard to see in small binoculars, but in 11x80s appears as a cigar-shaped glow with a brighter nuclear region. NGC 253, the Silver Coin galaxy, is a spectacular spiral, seen edge-on. It is easy to find only 7[degrees] due south of P Ceti. Binoculars show it readily as a slim torpedo-shaped glow with a bright central core, amongst a scattering of bright stars. Much detail is visible in a telescope. NGC 300 can be seen in small binoculars as an oval smudge with no prominent nucleus. With a telescope, it is best observed at low magnification. A 15-cm shows some brightening toward the centre, but no other features. NGC 7793 is reasonably easy to spot in binoculars as a round nebulous patch but, like NGC 300, without a definite nucleus. Most telescopes, however, reveal an obviously brighter, almost stellar, nucleus. The globular cluster NGC 288 lies in the same binocular field as NGC 253 and is somewhat out of place amongst its extra-galactic neighbours. Binoculars show it plainly, set amongst several faint field stars. In a telescope, it is clearly resolved into stars that are surprisingly loosely packed. In Capricornus lies M30 (NGC 7099), a globular cluster which appears as a bright round glow in binoculars, attractively positioned just to the east of a 9th magnitude star. It makes a fascinating telescopic sight, with several star-chains criss-crossing it. NGC 246 in Cetus is one of the largest planetary nebulae, but its light is spread out over a large area, making it difficult to see. Careful observation with a small telescope shows it as a glow set amidst stars. A 20-cm shows its peculiar appearance reasonably well. NGC 7293 is the famous Helix Nebula. It is the closest known planetary nebula to Earth (some 500 light years away) and is quite old. It is thus large and faint, and needs a wide field of view to be properly appreciated. In binoculars it is a remarkable object, a bright round glow set in an attractive star field. A 15-cm telescope shows it beautifully as a large round ghostly glow of light containing several faint stars. Subtle detail is revealed in larger telescopes, with the darker central region obvious in a 25-cm telescope.
Guide to orienting the chart

Date    18h   19h   20h    21h   22h   23h   00h

Jan 1                O      P     Q     R     S
Feb 1                Q      R     S     T     U
Mar 1          R     S      T     U     V     W
Apr 1          T     U      V     W     X     A
May 1    U     V     W      X     A     B     C
Jun 1    W     X     A      B     C     D     E
Jul 1    A     B     C      D     E     F     G
Aug 1    C     D     E      F     G     H     I
Sep 1          F     G      H     I     J     K
Oct 1          H     I      J     K     L     M
Nov 1                K      L     M     N     O
Dec 1                M      N     O     P     Q

Date    01h   02h   03h    04h   05h   06h

Jan 1    T     U     V      W
Feb 1    V     W     X      A
Mar 1    X     A     B      C     D
Apr 1    B     C     D      E     F
May 1    D     E     F      G     H     I
Jun 1    F     G     H      I     J     K
Jul 1    H     I     J      K     L     M
Aug 1    J     K     L      M     N     O
Sep 1    L     M     N      O     P
Oct 1    N     O     P      Q     R
Nov 1    P     Q     R      S
Dec 1    R     S     T      U
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sky Guide Africa South
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:3930
Previous Article:Basic observing skills.
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