If looking up at a sky full of stars feels bewildering, a simple sky chart is your friend. And that doesn't change once you get to know the sky — star charts will keep helping you hop to ever-deeper targets.
But sky charts themselves can be intimidating, because translating what you see on the page to what you see in the sky isn't always as straightforward as it might seem. That's why we've created a tutorial to help you use our sky chart — whether you're using the evening chart available in every issue of Sky & Telescope or the interactive sky chart on this website.
The basic steps, as outlined in the video above, are these:
- You’ll start by figuring out in which direction you’re looking. If you’re unsure, just remember where the Sun sets — that’s roughly west.
- Now look at the yellow direction labels around the map’s edge. (Note that west is on the right — celestial maps are reversed from Earth-based ones!)
- Turn the map around so the label for the direction you’re facing is right-side up. The stars above it will match the stars you’re facing. The farther toward the map’s center a star is plotted, the higher it’ll be in your sky. The map’s center is the zenith, directly overhead.
- Happy stargazing!
Our centerfold and interactive sky charts are designed to show stars, planets, and other objects visible to the unaided eye. We also offer planispheres, which are customizable star charts that you can take with you anywhere. But charts come in a variety of shapes and sizes, particularly if you're using one at the telescope. To read more about using star charts at the telescope, see "How to Use a Star Chart at a Telescope."