How to Locate Constellations

Constellations may be light years away, but thankfully to innovations and technology of the modern day world, we can see this possibly impossible to reach celestial bodies through extremely powerful telescopes, or perhaps sometimes even the naked eye. However, locating constellations with the human eye ranges in difficulty, as some constellations may be more visible to the human eye, and perhaps some that may need high powered telescopes. There are numerous ways to locate a constellation for those that are visible to the naked eye, some methods include using latitude and longitude, and some require visibly seeing a set order of stars, while some just use other constellations as a reference point. Most astronomers use right ascension (RA) in place of longitude when looking at the stars. Right ascension is not measured in fixed spots, but instead in hours, minutes and seconds to account for the rotation of the Earth. The 0 ° is found at the point in which the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator on the suns way north. It is at this point where imaginary lines are drawn from the north celestial pole through the North Pole and down to the South Pole. Every 24 hours it will cross the same point. A slightly less complicated system is declination. Declination is measure in degrees, as well as in minutes and seconds. As you move above the celestial equator, numbers start at 0° and make their way to 90° at the north celestial pole and -90 ° at the south celestial pole.

Though the processes discussed above sound very difficult to the average star gazer, locating constellations does not necessarily have to be tricky, but often times take practice. In order to locate constellations it is heavily dependent on the conditions of the weather, and the geographic location of where an individual is located. Pollution or busy night skies detract from the ability to locate these constellations. A fundamental friendly beginner’s guide to finding these constellations may be to use a star map. Star maps help beginners by showing the shape, location in relevance to other constellations, and as well as which constellations to look for depending on your location and time of the year. Star maps can be combined with an understanding of the declination system to easily find your favorite constellation. Overall, locating constellations is a free, relaxing, and fun experience that can be done with friends and family of all ages.

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