Learn star navigation in 15 mins
July 26, 2007 5:51 AM   Subscribe

Learn to navigate using the stars in 15 minutes! OK, well maybe not navigate, but you'll know exactly where Orion, Betelgeuse, Polaris (the North Star), Cassiopeia, and Jupiter are.
posted by Mave_80 (36 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
This is *SO* cool! Thanks! I always wanted to know this stuff and it's great to be walked through it simply. Wonderful post.
posted by nickyskye at 5:55 AM on July 26, 2007

Thanks. That is very well done.
posted by rmmcclay at 6:00 AM on July 26, 2007

I too have always wanted to be hand-held through stargazing.
excellent post, thank you.
posted by Busithoth at 6:14 AM on July 26, 2007

That was terrific.
posted by gwint at 6:20 AM on July 26, 2007

That was cool!

But clean your screen before you look because it can be confusing...
posted by gomichild at 6:24 AM on July 26, 2007

Okay ... they pointed out Orion's arm and said it'd be important later -- but never got back to it.

Nice, though. I knew about planets only traversing the ecliptic and how to find Polaris from the Big Dipper, but I never knew how to tell North by Polaris. The explanation makes perfect sense now that it has been pointed out, but before it was like: "How does one point give you a direction?"
posted by RavinDave at 6:30 AM on July 26, 2007

Pretty cool and fun. And seriously oldskool web design.

The "how to find North" was needless confusing, though. If you are actually outside, just find Polaris. Face it. You are now facing north.
posted by DU at 6:41 AM on July 26, 2007

Oh and they got back to Orion's arm when they talked about Jupiter. But that seems a little misleading, since Jupiter can be anywhere on the ecliptic. Plus, Saturn is pretty bright and would presumably be in nearly the same spot sometimes.
posted by DU at 6:47 AM on July 26, 2007

Hi Ravin,

Orion's arm is important because it can help you find jupiter.
posted by zach4000 at 6:57 AM on July 26, 2007

I too have always wanted to be hand-held through stargazing.

This was fun, but nothing compared to literally holding hands with someone you love while gazing at the stars.

I don't get the obsession with Betelgeuse. What's it got that makes it more important to identify than Rigel or Sirius?
posted by sfenders at 7:01 AM on July 26, 2007

I always felt like kind of a douchebag and impostor for not knowing this. When you gaze up at the stars with a bunch of friends, there's always the one who knows where everything is, and is like, "Oh, there's Cassiopeia! And you can see Jupiter!," and everyone's sort of like "Yeah, yeah, of course."

Anyway, I now know where the hell Cassiopeia actually is, could probably pick out Jupiter if it were there, and I wouldn't even have to fake it...if I didn't live in one of the world's larger cities, and could actually see the night stars.

(Personal side note: I've always lived in the city, in one city or another. I've been out camping too many times to count, but always within a couple hours of the city, and always imagined myself to be looking at the stars when I was looking at them in the urban countryside. But of course I actually wasn't. Long story short: a couple of years ago, I went to a friend's wedding in the middle of rural rural rural B.C., somewhere a good ways up the coast, and like a good rural wedding, it was held in her rainforest of a backyard. Somewhere around 3 in the morning, after having drank what could only be described as a 'foolhardy' amount of champagne, I happened to look up at the sky. Which happened to be clear.

I can't convey --- especially to those of you who've never seen a proper rural starscape, but especially to those of you who have never seen anything but --- what I saw that night. I can offer a rough analogy: apparently, under the right circumstances and right prescriptions, contact lenses offer sharper vision than do glasses. I vividly, and, you know, indelibly, remember the first time I wore contact lenses. Imagine having gone your entire life, 13 years at that point, knowing nothing but a certain kind of clarity to something as fundamental as vision, quite literally incapable of even visualizing anything sharper. And then you put in your first pair of contacts. I distinctly remember walking around the streets and subways of Yorkville, Toronto, with my mouth agape, aware that my mouth was agape, but still, mouth-agapedly staring at every nuance. I distinctly remember saying, in my mind, "This is what real life looks like. Everything before was just a movie set."

I got the same feeling looking up at the real night sky for the first time. I found my mind reeling, trying to come up with something suitable for the occasion, but only dredging up clichees. These things have lost any sort of meaning, of course, but honestly, all a poor star-struck city boy could think when he finally saw the stars was this: that I finally understood the enormity of the universe (after having seen only the most insignificant fraction of it) and that I had also begun, in the slightest of ways, to see myself and my relation to the universe and its insignificance but also its utter necessity. And also, holy shit.

I awoke the next morning with a unique and indescribable agony emanating from my neck that I still ascribe to having spent two hours with my head craned back, looking at the stars (and not from having passed out in the hot tub, with my head craned back and drool pouring out of my mouth.)

Anyway, that part in the website where they showed what the night sky would have looked like to the ancients: that reminded me of this.

Also, sorry for this very long personal aside; it was intended as a little anecdote, but as with most things, I got carried away. It is, I think, on topic: this website --- what it does is help you to start giving names to some of the things that have been constant to all of humanity, the things that have always (and literally) given humanity a compass. And even still, these things are great things: they still have the power to drop you on your ass, even if the champagne has a hand in that too.)
posted by Tiresias at 7:02 AM on July 26, 2007 [9 favorites]

Very nice, but a little antipodeanist, if you ask me.
posted by TedW at 7:18 AM on July 26, 2007

This is so cool. A skill I've been long-wanting, and what a tutorial. I had absolutely zero trouble once things were explained that way. Thanks.

Tiresias: I had a very similar feeling. I went to visit a friend in the boonies of New York State, and driving at night was absolutely mystical. I lived close to New York City (now I'm in St. Louis, so still no upgrade), and the sky there always keeps a sickly shade of light purple, and it seems especially and absurdly bright when you see the silhouettes of the trees in front of it. In the country, though...the only difference between the area below the horizon and the area above was all the little white dots. Mesmerizing. I'm sick of cities.
posted by invitapriore at 7:28 AM on July 26, 2007

This is a great site and a great post. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 7:34 AM on July 26, 2007

Perhaps it's a little ironic, but I found the "find Orion" tests to be a lot easier if I first found the Hyades, then the Pleiades, and traced a line back to the belt. Dots on a monitor don't quite capture the range of brightness of stars in the sky, so the Hyades is a lot more recognizable.

As an aside on that, if you've ever played with one of those 3D interactive Hipparcos catalog browsers, this is exactly how you find your way home. The Hyades is easily recognizable from anywhere within about 1000 light years. From there, the plane of the galaxy orients you vertically and the putting the Pleiades to your left gives you your bearing. Then it's just a few tens of lightyears home. This knowledge may come in handy in the future.
posted by rlk at 7:45 AM on July 26, 2007

rlk --- those little shortcuts you used, maybe unconsciously: that's why this site was so thoroughly useful to me. I've looked at maybe dozens of constellation websites, dozens of "Exploring the Night Sky" websites, and they all work the same way: they print a picture of the "Sky in Late Autumn" and then label the stars and constellations, and you feel like an idiot for being totally lost when you actually try to identify stuff in real life. It's like studying anatomy: you can't learn it from a textbook, you can't learn it from a cadaver; you need to learn it using the years and years of medical school mnemonics and short cuts and age old hand-me-downs. You think you can figure it out without them, but truthfully, you probably can't. You need to know that that you can draw a rough line from the Hyades to the Pleiades to Orion's belt --- and that's great, because I could always find Orion's belt, and now I can pretty much find the Hyades and the Pleiades.

So: this tutorial kind of cuts off pretty early, as great as it is. Can anybody else recommend a good, practical (and I want to emphasize practical,) uh, Guide to the Night Sky?
posted by Tiresias at 8:12 AM on July 26, 2007

If you have an old Palm Pilot lying around, y'all should consider putting Planetarium on it. It's the only useful thing I've ever found to do with mine. Stretch a red filter over the screen, switch the program to "night mode", and you have a hell of a stargazing aid.
posted by anthill at 8:18 AM on July 26, 2007

Tiresias, here's a good general rule:

... even though most people in this thread probably know, most people don't realize simple rules-of-thumb like (as mentioned above) planets always follow the ecliptic. To translate that into something useful: Imagine if the Sun left a visible trail you could see in the night sky. All planets that are visible to your location will be somewhere along that line within 7 or 8 degrees on either side (I forget the exact measurement). So, if you take note during the day where the Sun rises and sets, you can quickly narrow down you search for planets.
posted by RavinDave at 8:38 AM on July 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

I love this! I love it! In my 45 years, I've never been able to do constellations (I have trouble with those posters where you're supposed to see a 3-D image, too), but this little tutorial has indicated that perhaps I'm not beyond help. Shit, I feel as if someone handed me a copy of the sheet music of "The Mephisto Waltz" and made me able to play it within 10 minutes. I hope the cloud cover clears so I can try this out tonight!
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:38 AM on July 26, 2007

posted by RavinDave at 8:49 AM on July 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Great find. Thanks for the link.
posted by Outlawyr at 8:51 AM on July 26, 2007

What a way to start my day! Thank you.
posted by metasav at 9:43 AM on July 26, 2007

Terrific link! Thanks!
posted by jasper411 at 9:49 AM on July 26, 2007

RavinDave: that's exactly what I'm talking about. Something to keep in mind that's both commonsense and commonplace. Thanks.
posted by Tiresias at 10:35 AM on July 26, 2007

So freakin' cool. I've always been able to find Orion and Polaris, but now I can find planets.

And because of our long standing grudge, Jupiter is in some shit now. No more hiding in Orion's arm for you, fucker!
posted by quin at 10:39 AM on July 26, 2007

That was awesome. A friend of mine once grabbed my arm, and started pointing out stars. I had no idea what he was pointing at, so just nodded along. Great post!
posted by djgh at 11:02 AM on July 26, 2007

I should've added "Not anymore!" to the end of that, but you get the idea I was driving for. Time for morning coffee, I suspect...
posted by djgh at 11:03 AM on July 26, 2007

This is great, cheers!
posted by twistedonion at 11:30 AM on July 26, 2007

I too have always wanted to be hand-held through stargazing.

This was fun, but nothing compared to literally holding hands with someone you love while gazing at the stars.

true, but when you have no idea what they're talking about, it's only so long until you're not holding just hands anymore.

one of my favorite memories is of riding prone, face up in the back of a friend's pickup truck on Martha's Vineyard on a gloriously clear night. Tracking the stars as they'd pivot and slide along.
posted by Busithoth at 11:32 AM on July 26, 2007

Pepi: Tell me more! I want to know ALL the constellations!

Homer: Well, that one's Jerry, the cowboy. And that big dipper-looking thing is Alan, the cowboy.
posted by RavinDave at 11:45 AM on July 26, 2007

Nice! (althoug a warning would have been in place that most of these can only be seen on the northern Hemisphere).
posted by theemperorhasnoclotheson at 12:38 PM on July 26, 2007

That was fun. Thanks.
posted by Cyrano at 5:12 PM on July 26, 2007

Also ob Stellarium plug.
posted by nicwolff at 6:06 PM on July 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd like to live wherever this site's "city" shot was taken.. I can count on two hands the number of stars I see.

And this place isn't even all that big...
posted by triolus at 7:11 PM on July 26, 2007

2nd on Stellarium plugging. Great program.
posted by Goofyy at 3:47 AM on July 27, 2007

As someone in Brazil, and far from the big city (and I do mean the big city), I have to say that I shared the antipodeanist concerns of TedW.

There's something really weird about being a northerner and looking up at the sky and thinking "Waaait a second... that's just wrong."

Still pretty, though.
posted by snifty at 10:03 PM on July 27, 2007

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