12 Feb Quick guide to stargazing
Imagine going for a romantic walk with the object of your affection. Wouldn’t it be even more romantic (and impressive) if you could point to the sky and name some constellations? We made a quick guide to stargazing for you, to impress everyone you meet on a starry night. Use the hyperlinks to find beautiful maps to help you figure out the wonders in the sky.
All year constellations
First of all, it is important to know that the Earth is turning, meaning the night sky differs from summer to winter. However, there is one star which is visible all year round: the pole star. Because it is positioned above the rotation axis of the earth, it doesn’t change position throughout the night, making it a good benchmark. The constellations around this star are visible all year round from the Netherlands (except when it’s cloudy). So, let’s start by describing these connect-the-dots-figures.
The easiest one to recognize is the Little Bear (Ursa Minor) because it contains the pole star. It thanks its North American name, Little Dipper, to its shape. Behind it lays a small square with a long tail, curling lovingly around the Little Bear. This one is called the dragon: Draco. On its right side we find Cepheus, a small constellation which looks like a children’s drawing of a house. Continuing clockwise you bump into a big W named Cassiopeia and then you’ll find a rectangle with two legs and a long neck, just like a… Giraffe (which coincidentally is also its name). Finally we arrive at the Little Bear’s older brother the Great Bear (Ursa Major), which looks just like the little one. Knowing these should already score you some points. Have you found them all?
Seasonal constellations travel around the sky during the year, so it’s difficult to find them by their place in the sky. Unless you can recognize them by their form, you can look up their current location online or using one of the apps described below. But be sure to do so beforehand, because googling constellations during a date might be a turnoff and it definitely looks a lot less impressive.
Cuddle up with some hot coco and point out a nice winter constellation: Orion. This warrior in the sky is shaped like an hourglass and it contains a few stars in a row, as if he is carrying a sword. According to the Greek myth, Orion was a hunter who was accidentally killed by Artemis and got a place in the night sky after that.
Go for a walk when the freshly sprung spring flowers go to sleep and look up to admire the spring constellations. During this season an unusual threesome lives above us: a water snake (Hydra), a crow (Corvus) and a goblet (Crater), happily living together. It must be possible to make up nice stories about these three spring friends.
Move a bit closer to your summer love after the campfire goes out and point out some of the summer stars in the sky; he/she won’t be able to resist you! Going for the sweet and endearing feeling? Point out the Dolphin (Delphinus). More of a tough guy? Look for the serpent-bearer (Ophiuchus) grasping the snake (Serpens) constellation. Having a royal evening? Try to find the tiny constellation the Northern Crown (Corona Borealis). The stars have something for everyone.
Pick one of the few days it doesn’t rain and catch a glimpse of the constellations of this rainy season. Look for three bright stars forming a triangle, and amaze your significant other by telling them the name: Triangulum (Latin for triangle). If you want to give the stargazing a more romantic feeling, there is also a swan (Cygnus) which should be easy to find.
A little help from your phone: Apps
Even with the information described above it can be difficult to find the right constellations. There are several apps available to help you decipher the stars (most are available for android and iOS).
- SkyMap: Usable online and they also have a free app!
- Star Chart: also free and has good reviews.
- SkEye: free and can also be used together with a telescope.
- Night Sky Lite: another free app.
- SkyView: for iPhone and iPad: just point it to the sky and it tells you what you should see.
- Star Walk: not for free, but definitely a beautiful app.
- ISS Detector: there’s more in the sky than stars. This app shows you where the International Space Station is. Wave to the astronauts!
Were you successful with your stargazing skills? Or do you still feel the sky is filled with unconnected, shiny dots? Let us know in the comments which constellation is your favourite!