View Full Version : Pls Help Me Read My Meade Star Charts
2007-Aug-12, 10:06 AM
So I just got a pair of Celestron 15x70 binoculars and a tri-pod about a month ago and have been using them to look at the moon, a few planets and random stars from inside of my city. I also picked up a the book Nightwatch by Terence Dickinson and the Meade Star Chart book. Nightwatch has your regular 360 degree round charts which I can understand just fine. The Meade book however has a different style of chart that I'm having problems with. I'd really like to figure out how to use them because they are far more detailed that the other.
I just went out into the country last night for my first attempt at dedicated viewing outside of the light polluted city and spent more time digging through my book than actually observing. I eventually gave up and just started looking at random things because it was almost 5am and I could see sunlight creeping over the horizon. I did find what I think was the pleiades and a couple of the constellations around it but other than that I was lost because those were the only things that were on the simple chart in the Nightwatch book in the direction I was looking. I didn't even find those same things that I had already identified in the Meade book even though I knew what I was looking at in the sky.
So I have a few questions about this book because I'm trying to understand it and the instructions in the book are pretty confusing for a noob like myself.
1. This obviously isn't a 360 degree view chart. The instructions say to face south, but what if I want to look at the northern sky? It seems like these charts only show the southern sky and part of the east & west, but they put Polaris at the zenith but it's probably 30 degrees below zenith in my sky.
2. I think the main problem I'm having is knowing which chart I should be looking at. They are supposed to be seasonal charts but the summer charts didn't really seem to help me at all last night. The instructions say that the date table at the bottom of the charts is for 9pm standard time. Is that the same as Greenwich Mean? I live in Madison, Wisconsin which is US Central time. How am I supposed to know what chart I should have been looking at when I was outside at 3:30am looking at the eastern sky?
I imagine that some of the problems I'm having will just be something I'll need to get used to because these charts weren't made to be used specificly from southern Wisconsin, but I should be able to get some idea of what's going on.
Any help or advice would be much appreciated.
Thanks In Advance,
2007-Aug-12, 01:55 PM
I'm not familiar with the Meade charts that you have but you may want to consider getting a planisphere, or star wheel, to help you get acquainted with the night sky. I also suggest a good beginners atlas like The Bright Star Atlas 2000.0.
Keep in mind that after 6 hours time the Earth has turned 90 degrees in relation to the sky so that the constellations of the subsequent season will be visible.
2007-Aug-12, 09:36 PM
the meade book has one of those on the front page but it only shows the base constellations. the other charts are far more detailed.
this is the book. http://www.opticsplanet.net/meade-star-chart-guide-09103-1.html
2007-Aug-12, 10:31 PM
I downloaded 2 'planetarium' programs that make life easy. There are many and I chose
'WinStars 2' http://www.winstars.net/english/
'Cartes du Ciel' http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/. You can enter in your position on earth and see a virtual sky at any time. You can even print out your own chart for any time of night and used in conjunction with your books it will all make sense.
2007-Aug-12, 10:42 PM
Like Dave, I've never used or seen the Meade charts you mention.
The first thing you need to do is become familiar with the major constellations so you can orient yourself in the sky and on star charts. For this Dave's recommendation of a Planisphere is seconded. You set them for your time. Be sure to buy one for your latitude. They don't come exact so a 40 degree one is what you want. Most good book stores and all planetarium shops have them. You must sent the date and time as the sky rotates once a day. Standard time means not daylight time. So for now when your watch says 10 p.m. it is 9 p.m. standard time at YOUR location. This isn't Universal Time (GMT's replacement). When we go off daylight time then your watch time is standard time. Actually you need to adjust for how far east or west of your time zone's center you are. But for you Madison is right in the center of the Central Standard time zone and thus you need make no adjustment. Me, I'm 6 degrees west of you so 9 p.m. standard time is 10:24 watch time. The adjustment is 4 minutes per degree for those not in the center of their zone. This is explained in the instructions to most planispheres.
Once sent for your date and time you should be able to start to learn the major constellations currently in your sky. This will take several nights but if you stay up all night you can cover over half the sky as it rotates past. 6 months later you can learn the other half.
Star charts are useful only when you know where in the sky to look for the area the chart covers. So if you are looking at say Cetus on the star chart you'll know not to go looking for it at 10 tonight! It won't be up until shortly before dawn. At first you will likely use the planisphere to determine what constellations are up at the time you are viewing then go to the proper star chart to see the detail. Eventually you'll carry that planisphere in your head and won't need that step.
Charts can be confusing because they put north at the top but west is to the right. Just the opposite of a road map. This is because the stars are over your head not below your feet like roads are. When you hold a star chart or a planisphere over your head when facing south with north up then west is to the right and the chart matches the sky (things are a bit different if you live in New Zealand).
By playing with the planisphere you can watch the sky change with time and see how the stars rotate about the sky. You'll see that while in the southern sky everything moves from east to west same as the sun does by day and for the same reason, the earth is turning on its axis things get a bit complicated in the north. This is likely why the Meade charts seem to avoid north. Watch the planisphere as time passes and you'll find that stars in the north above the pole (about where Polaris is) rotate from east to west but those below the pole seem to rotate from west to east! Actually they are still moving west. Below the pole compass east is actually astronomical west. It's all enough to make your brain explode when you are first learning this subject. The planisphere will help greatly to understanding this and helping you learn the sky as time passes during the night and passes on the calendar.
You'll see that the sky on say August 1 at 11 p.m. is the same as the sky on September 1 at 9 p.m. for instance.
It's all confusing when you first jump in but with the planisphere and a good beginner star chart, the one Dave mentions is a good one, you will start to make sense of it all and soon it won't be a problem at all. You just need clear moonless skies for a few nights and some time studying that planisphere.
The best way to first use the planisphere is to first notice where the constellaion is in the sky at the date and time you are looking. Lets say the planisphere shows it in the north east about 30 degrees above the horizon. Now turn to the north east and hold the planisphere 30 degrees up. Point north to compass north. Now, with a red LED flashlight look at the constellation on the planisphere. Now, keeping your head and eyes steady, slide the planisphere out of the way and you'll be looking at the same stars in the real sky.
I'll add that Madison has a great astronomy club last time I was there. Look them up and attend a few star parties. They'll help you get the hang of things. http://www.madisonastro.org/
I hope this helps.
2007-Aug-14, 02:32 AM
thanks guys. it sounds to me like you're all saying that i'm getting a little ahead of myself and should try to learn the basics before i start getting involved with more complicated & dense star charts. so i ordered a good quality planisphere (the one built into the cover of the meade book is pretty crappy) and a red flashlight and will work on learning the basics of the sky for a while before i go hunting around for less obvious objects. since madison is at around 43 degrees north i ordered the 40-50 degree "The Night Sky" double sided planisphere because i'd seen it recommended in other places http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0961320745/105-7402121-5635634
i took the crappy planisphere out last night while looking at the meteor shower and identified a few more constellations and stars that i hadn't yet. i couldn't use it very well though because it's made with glow in the dark ink which only glows for a few minutes and then is difficult to see without a light.
i appreciate your software recommendation pkay. i actually run linux on my desktop rather than windows but there are some good open source applications that i have installed like "Celestia", "Open Universe" and "Stellarium" (which is my favourite). i have a windows computer at a friends place so maybe i'll check out the programs you've recommended the next time i'm over there. i don't think mine offer any printable accessories that i can take outside with me, although stellarium has a red mode so i can just carry my laptop outside and look at that in real time.
2007-Aug-14, 04:12 AM
Looks to me like you guys are saying that I'm kinda getting ahead of myself and should be working on the basics first before i break out the detailed charts and go looking for the 7 or 8 mag. galaxies. Makes sense.
I have a planisphere built into the cover of that Meade book which is made for my latitude but it's pretty crappy. It uses glow in the dark ink but that's kinda pointless because I can charge it and take it outside with me but by the time my eyes have adjusted to the dark the ink has lost it's glow and is difficult to read well without a light. I did however take it out last night while I was watching the meteor shower and located a few constellations and stars that I hadn't before. So yesterday I ordered a better quality double sided planisphere as well as a red LED flashlight. I got This Planisphere (http://www.amazon.com/Night-Sky-40%C2%B0-50%C2%B0-Large/dp/0961320745/ref=pd_bbs_2/102-6752069-4708165?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187061395&sr=8-2) from amazon.com and hopefully it will be easier to read & use than the one I've got.
Thanks for the software suggestions pkay. I actually use Linux on my home computer but there are a few open source astronomy programs that I've installed such as "Celestia", "Open Universe" and "Stellarium" which is my favorite. I have been able to use them to get a better grip on where stuff is at before I go out and it's really helpful. Stellarium even has a red mode so I could just take my laptop outside with me. I don't think any of them have any printable supplements like what you said but I've got a Windows computer at a friends place so I can try the programs you suggested the next time I'm over there.
I've had the website for the local Madison Astronomical Society bookmarked for a while but have yet to get in contact with them. Maybe i'll do that sometime soon.
Thanks again for your help and suggestions guys. Nice to know people on here are willing to lend a hand the noobs.
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