Alan M. MacRobert shares information that helps amateur astronomers understand this star chart of summer constellations.
The author shares information on how to read this star chart of summer constellations.
Step outside any night, and the cosmos awaits you. This time of year, the star Vega blazes high overhead late at night, the Big Dipper hangs by its handle high in the northwest and bright Scorpius curls in the south. Anyone can get to know them. Here's how to read this star chart of summer constellations:
Check the times printed at the upper left and right of this night sky map (see the image gallery). Take the map out under the night sky within an hour or so of these times. Bring along a flashlight with a red paper attached to the front to use for reading the map; the dim red light won't ruin your night vision.
Outside, you need to know which direction you're facing. (Unsure? Just note where the sun sets. That's west.) Hold the map out in front of you and turn it around so the label along the curved edge that matches the direction you're facing is right-side up. The curved edge represents the horizon; the stars above it on the map now match the stars in front of you. The farther up from the map's edge they appear, the higher up they'll be in the sky.
The center of the map is the zenith, the point in the sky directly overhead. So a star halfway from the edge of the map to the center will appear halfway from straight ahead to straight up.
Let's give it a try! Turn the map so that its northwest horizon (labeled "Facing NW") is right-side up. About halfway from there to the center is the Big Dipper, in Ursa Major. It's hanging with its bowl to the lower right and its handle to the upper left. Go out at the right time, face northwest, look about halfway up the sky — and there's the Big Dipper!
A couple of tips: Look for the brightest stars and constellations first; light pollution or moonlight may wash out the fainter ones. A bright "star" that's not on the map (and not moving or blinking) is a planet (Venus, Mars, Jupiter or Saturn.)
You can customize a night sky map for your location at SkyandTelescope.com