It’s hard not to be fascinated by our night skies – especially when we’re out in the countryside, where the natural darkness allows the stars to shine brightly. Stargazing is one of the best ways to gain new perspective on our roles in this life, on this planet.
While simply stargazing in your backyard or atop a mountain can be a meditative and romantic experience, it’s only once you learn how to identify different stars and planets that things get really interesting.
There is so much to learn about the constellations, and the deeper we immerse ourselves into the knowledge of our ancestors, the more evident it becomes that the stars truly have a way of guiding us in our own lives – and they always have.
The most important tool for anyone passionate about the beautiful, twinkling night sky, is a star chart – a navigational map if you will, much like those used by sailors only for the sky. With the help of a star chart, you will quickly learn how to identify all the stars and planets currently ruling and observe their changing positions.
Referring to your star chart is about much more than observing nightly changes and positionings. It can also be used to pinpoint the exact alignments of stars and planets on a day that was of particular significance to you, such as your wedding day.
If you’re ready to learn more about our universe by ways of a start chart, here’s how to make one.
Craft Your Own Star Chart
When we feel strongly about a new subject of interest, our best approach to learning more about it is to take it upon ourselves to research, study and create what is needed to broaden our knowledge. As such, crafting your own star chart could be a valuable learning experience.
You won’t need much in terms of materials to create your start chart: a pencil and eraser, a large sheet of paper, a set of large compasses and a ruler, a protractor and, of course, the coordinates of the stars you are looking to chart.
Scraping together your materials for this project is the easy part –getting down to the business of mapping will take a lot of focus and precision. Don’t let this deter you, we will guide you along every step of the way.
- Start out by using your compass to draw a big circle onto your paper, preferably with a radius of one foot. Next, add the concentric circles with a radii of 1 inch, going up by one inch the closer you move toward the center – i.e. 2, 3, 4 reaching all the way to 11. The centers of each added circle should be positioned in the same place as the main center.
- Draw six radii from the center of the circle, at the following degrees: 0, 60, 120, 180, 240 and 300 degrees.
- Repeat this process this time drawing the radii from the edge of the smallest circle, to the edge of the largest circle. They should be at the following degrees: 30, 90, 150, 210, 270 and 330 degrees.
- We are basically working our way from the smallest circle outward toward the biggest circle here, so this step requires twelve radii moving from the edge of the second biggest circle towards the large outer circle, at the following degrees: 15, 45, 75, 105, 135, 165, 195, 225, 285, 315 and 345 degrees.
- Now it’s time to mark your coordinates! Don’t panic now, as you are going to be hit by an overload of minus and positive numbers – just follow our instructions and you won’t have to break a sweat. If you’re mapping the northern hemisphere, find the point where the 0 degree radius meets the large, outer circle and mark it with 0h.
- Moving clockwise, mark the following radius-circle meeting points: from 1h up to 23h. Mark the point where the radii meet in the middle with 90. If you’re mapping the southern hemisphere, check online for the according degrees and move anti-clockwise.
- Phew. Now that you have this part behind you, move on to the outer circles labeling the radii +80, +70, +60, +50, +40, +30,+20, +10, 0, -10 and -20. The large, outer circle should be marked at -30.
Find You Coordinates & Get to Mapping Your Stars
The trickiest part is over – now you’re ready to move on to the task you’ve been waiting for, the one that inspired you to start this process in the first place: mapping your stars! For this step, consult a trusted website to find your coordinates or those of the location you are looking to chart.
These coordinates are presented as declination – measured in degrees – and right ascension, which is measured by hours and pinpoints where the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator in March. Once you’ve found the coordinates start mapping your stars in your own chart.
Find the right declination and, starting from the center, move outwards along the 0h radius until you meet at the point of declination. From there, continue your journey clockwise until you’ve landed on the right ascension – congratulations, you can now map your first star!
A great way to add in as much information about each star without crowding your chart, is by marking your stars with a small, numbered circle. This will allow you to create an extra “cheat sheet” to refer to when you’re consulting your chart.
You can also choose to connect the stars and start familiarizing yourself with the many patterns we may not always recognize when we’re gazing up at the night sky.
Start with a Star You Know
Now that you have completed your star chart, it’s time to plan your first outing and put it to the test. Check your weather forecast and pick a clear night for stargazing.
Once you’re all set up, hold your chart to the sky and try to find stars you know, prior to focusing on those that are more challenging to locate. The Cassiopeia is a fantastic place to start for those based in the northern hemisphere; for those based in the south, Centaurus is a good starting point.
You’ll see just how quickly you’ll get the hang of it and, within no time, you’ll be sharing your insider knowledge with fellow fans of astrology.