Okay folks.

You know how I pound on you that everyone with a telescope must have a good, detailed, for-real star atlas — or else the telescope will never show very much, you'll be lost in space, and you'll never advance in the hobby.

If I've been hitting you with that stick for years, here's a surprise carrot. Sky & Telescope's parent company (F+W Media) has authorized a 40% off coupon code for our star atlases and other products, for the next four days. Here's the code: FFSUMMER40.

It's good through this Sunday, June 7th.

If you've known you really ought to get at least our low-priced Pocket Sky Atlas (with stars to magnitude 7.6), or maybe the bigger, deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5), get over to ShopatSky.com and do it now. (And look around at our other 40%-discounted cool stuff too.)

Why are good sky maps so important?

Because most of the things that are visible in any telescope, big or small, are barely visible in that telescope. You can't pick them up just by sweeping around in the right area. You have to navigate step by step to the precise spot.

And if, looking in the eyepiece, you know exactly the place in the view to examine, you can see things at least a magnitude deeper than you could otherwise.

That's like enlarging your telescope's aperture by at least 60%. Your 6-inch scope suddenly performs like a 9.5-inch. Without the greater expense, weight, and setup and portability issues a 9.5-inch would entail.

I was flabbergasted to discover this many years ago when I was about 20, when I finally got an 8th-magnitude atlas after struggling along with the old Norton's Star Atlas, which went to magnitude 6. I had a home-built 6-inch reflector. The better maps enabled me to advance with it from being a stuck beginner to an increasingly capable serious amateur.

P.S.: When you get the atlas, you'll need to learn how to use it effectively with the scope. I had to figure this out mostly by myself, which took me longer than it should have. So I've written Using a Map at the Telescope to pass on to you the necessary tips and tricks in one place. Enjoy!

solar sibling in Hercules
Part of the Pocket Sky Atlas's chart 53, showing northern Hercules. . . and where to zero in, among faint stars, on the globular clusters M13 and M92 (yellow) and the little galaxy NGC 6207 (dark red) close to M13. (The red arrow here points to the star HD 162826, which astronomers think was likely born at the same time and place as the Sun 4.6 billion years ago.) Click image for larger, sharper view.


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