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ConCards teach constellations and show best deep sky targets

Novice deep sky observers are faced with at least two challenges: learning the constellations, and finding the best deep sky views. A new set of charts, called "ConCards" (for 'constellation cards'), aims to help the beginner overcome these two hurdles.

The first goal of the ConCards are to help the beginner identify the constellations. Each Card shows a single constellation, illustrated by plotting the most prominent naked-eye stars it contains. Cues describing the prominence of the star pattern, and its period of visibility, help observers to decide when to explore a constellation.

A set of five finder charts helps the observer to orient each ConCard in the night sky. These finder charts take a slightly different approach to the usual: instead of trying to show as many stars as possible (causing clutter), the finder charts show only the brighter stars in the sky, as well as the emphasizing the official boundaries of each constellation.

To find a particular constellation, the observer would use the appropriate finder chart to locate the approximate position in the sky, and then note the orientation of the constellation's boundary lines. It is then a simple matter to turn and orient the detailed constellation chart so that the boundary lines match the orientation the finder chart shows.

The second goal of the ConCards is to highlight some of the cool deep sky objects in the sky. All to often, novice observers end up looking at the same objects again and again because they don't know about the other deep sky delights nearby. In Carina, for example, folk may turn to the gorgeous eta Carinae Nebula again and again, and not realize that a lovely globular cluster, NGC 2808, is just a stone's throw away.

The ConCards thus show a (subjective) selection of other highlights visible in the constellation being studied. Most of these objects can be picked up readily in binoculars, using basic star-hopping skills from the stars plotted on the Card. From time to time, however, the target object may not be a winner in binoculars, so a slightly more detailed map, for telescopic use, is shown.

The present version of the ConCards (pre-release, 0.53) shows all the constellations at least partially visible from mid-southern latitudes, so if you're a northern-hemisphere observer planning a trip to the south, these Cards are you "must see" list for southern gems.

The ConCards can be downloaded here:

ConCards (version 0.53, charts only)

Footnote: Another driver in the design of the ConCards was to assist the presenter/telescope operator during an outreach event by providing a summary of the basic data about each object plotted on the chart. I certainly can never remember how far the Jewel Box is, at what speed the Crab Nebula is expanding, or how old IC 2602 is.

In a future update of the ConCards, a compilation of this kind of information will appear on the reverse side of each Card, so that the present can use the Card as a finding aid, a suggestion of what to look at next, and as a reminder of the interesting factoids about each object. Collecting this information is taking a bit longer than I expected, so if you're keen to help, please get in touch!

ConCards (version 0.53)

Recent news

top story: A charming planetary nebula in eastern Triangulum Australe. — A charming planetary nebula in eastern Triangulum Australe.

March newsletter of the ASSA Deep-Sky Section, featuring 47 Tuc on the cover. — "Nightfall" (2015 April) is the current newsletter of the Deep-Sky Observing Section of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa.

A globular cluster in the realm of the galaxies — A rare gem - a bright globular cluster in the realm of the galaxies.

The Dark Emu rises, in pursuit of the Magellanic Clouds — The beautiful complex of dark nebulosity along the southern Milky Way appears like an ancient monster, its serpentine neck reaching out as if to gobble up the Magellanic Clouds.

Massive star forming region in the Small Magellanic Cloud — Dale Liebenberg images NGC 346, a gigantic star forming region in the SMC.

Flocculent Galaxy in Southern Leo — Dale Liebenberg images the spiral galaxy NGC 3521 in southern Leo.

Ancient open cluster in Lyra — Anthony Ayiomamitis images the old open cluster NGC 6791.

Golden Coin Galaxy — Dale Liebenberg images the Golden Coin, NGC 4945 in Centaurus.

NGC 2467 in Puppis — Dale Liebenberg images NGC 2467 in Puppis.

Last but not least - Messier 103 — Anthony Ayiomamitis images Messier 103 in Cassiopeia.

The Arkenstone of Thrain — Dale Liebenberg images Messier 22, the "Arkenstone of Thrain" according to Burnham.

ConCards available — A handy set of beginner's star charts, "Constellation Cards" are now available for free download.

Deep sky celebrations — Three deep sky observers of yore have birthdays this week: William Herschel (1738), the Fourth Earl of Rosse, and Stephane Javelle.

Necklace Nebula featured on APOD — The recently-discovered planetary nebula nicknamed the Necklace Nebula, recently featured on APOD.

Methuselah Nebula featured on APOD — The old bipolar planetary nebula MWP1, a.k.a. Methuselah Nebula, is today's APOD.

New deepsky book from CUP — Deep sky author Wolfgang Steinicke's latest book, "Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters: From Herschel to Dreyer's New General Catalogue", has just been published by Cambridge University Press.

NGC 1365 in infrared (ESO VLT) — The bright barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 in Fornax has been imaged in the infrared with the ESO VLT telescope.

New HST image of eta Carinae Nebula — New observations, combined with images made in 2005, show beautiful detail in part of the extensive eta Carinae Nebula.

First planetary in open cluster found — A team of astronomers from Australia, the UK, the USA and France have discovered the first planetary nebula known to be associated with a galactic open cluster.

NGC 300 in Sculptor imaged at ESO — The bright spiral galaxy NGC 300 has been imaged with the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Superwind galaxy NGC 4666 — A remarkable galaxy with very vigorous star formation has been newly imaged on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

News archives

All earlier news items can be browsed in the archives.


I resolved to attempt the completion of a survey of the whole surface of the heavens, and for this purpose to transport into the other hemisphere the same instrument which had been employed in this, so as to give a unity to the results of both portions of the survey and to render them comparable with each other.
John Herschel

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