sponsored by psychohistorian.org
Published: 2006 January 01. Updated: 2008 August 11, 2009 January 10
This free workbook is ideal for learning all the constellations visible from the southern hemisphere, and for discovering the brighter deep sky objects on your own. It consists of 25 simple star charts, an example of a page from an observing log, a record sheet for noting star colours, and a deep sky observing checklist.
Discover! (version 2.0, updated 2008 August) (PDF, 7.1 Meg)
Discover! (version 2.0, compressed PDF) (PDF, 4.4 Meg)
Discover! (version 1.9, low resolution PDF) (PDF, 1.3 Meg)
"There are no deep sky objects plotted on these charts. You must discover them for yourself – happy hunting!"
Chart 1 shows the constellations around the south pole. Use the brightest stars – Pointers, Crux, Canopus and Achernar – to orient the chart properly. Charts 2 to 6 show the regions immediately surrounding Chart 1.
Chart 7 shows the brighter stars around Orion, a prominent summer constellation. Charts 8 to 13 show the regions surrounding Orion.
The remainder of the charts covers the rest of the sky, with generous overlap between charts for easy use. Along the borders of each chart appears the map number of neighbouring charts. For each constellation, a pronounciation guide is given, as well as the English name, genitive and abbreviation.
A bonus chart at the end of the workbook illustrates a few San (Bushman) star tales, unique to our African skies.
Three handy tables can help you plan your observing. The first table lists the charts visible at 21:00 for mid-month, for each month of the year. The next table lists the constellations depicted on each chart, as well as the months during which the charts can be used. The third table lists those constellations that are directly overhead at 21:00 and 02:00 at the beginning of each month.
You may want to make photocopies of the star charts, as you will be writing on them, plotting any objects you discover as you go along.
To use this workbook, you will also need a clipboard, pencil, eraser and a very dim, red-shielded torch – you don't want to compromise your night vision. Observe from the darkest skies you can safely reach, avoiding bright lights at all costs. Give your eyes sufficient time to dark adapt (about 30 minutes) before starting to observe.
Naked-eye observers can use these charts to learn the constellations. From a dark (rural) observing site, several deep sky objects can be seen with the naked eye. From brighter (sub-urban) skies, many are visible in binoculars. While working with a particular chart, study the sky carefully and mark any non-stellar object you come across on the chart. Make a note of your discovery, describing each object in as much detail as necessary (see below for guidelines; an advanced format is given in the appendix). Sample observing log sheets are given at the end of this workbook.
Binocular observers already familiar with the constellations can use these maps to seek out any non-stellar objects hidden amongst the stars on the maps. Plot all discoveries, number them, and provide descriptions and sketches. A separate record sheet is provided to note the colours of the brighter stars.
Once a map has been thoroughly examined, send your annotated star chart and observing notes to the ASSA Deep Sky Section (Director: Auke Slotegraaf, [aukepsychohistorian.org]). Your observations will be returned along with detailed feedback.
If you're already reasonably familiar with the constellations, or are using a small telescope, you should also take a look at the Deep Sky Explorer's Atlas, which shows fainter stars and plots a selection of deep sky objects.
PS: For advanced observers, charts down to magnitude 11 are available, covering selected areas of the sky. The first selection is available for download; contact me for further details.
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