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Naked Eye Astronomy Guide

Humankind has been enamored with the night sky for millennia. Early civilizations interwove tales of the constellations' origins into their mythology. Beyond mythology, the stars held a practical purpose in the lives of mankind as maps. It was the stars that led explorers home from across unfamiliar terrain, and it was the stars that guided sailors across the seas. As technology progressed, scientists were able to learn more about the night sky with the help of telescopes. Yet, even though these pieces of technology have unearthed beautiful images and incredible pieces of knowledge, there is still something to be said for gazing up at the night sky unaided. Naked eye astronomy brings us back to our roots of gazing at the sky without any binoculars or telescopes.

What is Naked-Eye Astronomy?

Naked-eye astronomy refers to studying the night sky without the aid of any optic device like binoculars or a telescope. Stargazing is limited to what the eye can see without any help from lenses or telescopes.

  • Naked-eye Observer's Guide - This overview prepares beginner astronomers to observe the sky unaided.
  • Bite-size Naked-eye Astronomy - Novice astronomers are provided with "bite-size" tidbits in regards to a variety of aspects of naked-eye astronomy, including the definitions of angle of declination and angle of right ascension.
  • How to Navigate Using the Stars - Learning how to "read" the stars can build useful survival skills such as navigating without the use of a map or GPS. This article offers graphics and instructions that will help you learn how navigate using the night sky.
  • Using the North Star to Measure Latitude - The North Star can be used to measure latitude, which is useful if an individual is trying to determine his or her coordinates.
  • Telling Time by the Big Dippe - Not only is the Big Dipper fun to locate in the night sky, but campers and explorers alike can tell time simply by the location of the Big Dipper.
  • Naked-eye Astronomy - This MATC resource guide provides an overview of naked-eye astronomy.

Understanding Magnitude

Understanding the magnitude and the capability of the human eye is important when learning about naked-eye astronomy. Magnitude is a numerical value that relates to the brightness of an object. The larger the number, the dimmer the object. The brightest objects in the sky will actually have a negative magnitude. For instance, the sun has a magnitude of negative twenty-seven. The dimmest star visible with a large telescope has a magnitude of twenty-five. The naked eye is capable of seeing stars with a magnitude no greater than a six.

When planning a naked-eye astronomy session, it is important to remember that a variety of factors can affect your ability to see objects in the night sky. For instance, the use of bright lights like flashlights and phones can reduce visibility. Events which may be out of your control can also affect visibility. These incidences could include light pollution, cloud cover, inclement weather, and untreated physical eye ailments such as nearsighted vision.

Objects Visible in the Night Sky

When gazing up at the sky, the most obvious objects are the plethora of stars. However, stars are just one of the many objects that can be seen by the human eye. In addition to the constellations and stars, the following objects can be seen: the moon, galaxies, comets, asteroids, and satellites. Although airplanes are not considered a component of astronomy, it is important to distinguish satellites from the aircraft's exterior lights.

  • The Distant Artificial Satellites Observation Page - This link provides useful information about the man-made objects visible in the sky.
  • How to Find Asteroids and Comets to Observe - For astronomers looking for asteroids, this guide will assist him or her in locating asteroids.
  • The Elusive Milky Way - How to Find It! - The Milky Way is beautiful, but it can be hard to locate at first. This helpful chart highlights which months and moon phases are ideal for spotting the milky way - and which months have zero viewing opportunities.
  • What is a Comet? - This Northwestern University article explains what a comet is and what it looks like when it is spotted from earth.
  • Satellite Observing Opportunities - Because satellites are always moving, astronomers can input data into a form that allows users to search for times when satellites will be visible in their location.
  • Motions of the Moon - Individuals studying the moon will find useful information about the moon's movement and what to expect when looking for the moon.
  • The Planet Venus - Learn everything you need to know about Venus and how to find it in the night sky.
  • Constellations: Frequently Asked Questions - Locate the constellations with this information about when and where each constellation is visible.
  • Positions of Planets - Although the planets are not all visible at all times, this month-by-month guide offers the best viewing times for the planets.

Tools for Learning about Astronomy

No matter what you end up seeing in the night sky, you will most likely want to know the proper names of the stars and constellations you find. For this reason, it is helpful to implement a few tools. Note that the use of tools does not negate the "naked eye" aspect of naked-eye astronomy. Simply put, tools may be used as long as they are not optic devices.

No matter what you end up seeing in the night sky, you will most likely want to know the proper names of the stars and constellations you find. For this reason, it is helpful to implement a few tools. Note that the use of tools does not negate the "naked eye" aspect of naked-eye astronomy. Simply put, tools may be used as long as they are not optic devices.

  • Astronomical Observing with Unaided Eye - In addition to providing a succinct definition of naked-eye astronomy, this link also offers a few of the necessary tools, such as star charts.
  • Graphics of All Constellations in the Northern Hemisphere - Bring these graphics into the field to identify constellations.
  • Star Gazer Scripts - Learn from the past scripts of a PBS show entitled "Star Gazer", a series which provided educational information about naked-eye astronomy.
  • What's Up in Tonight's Sky - Download these PDF files that depicts each month's "to look for" stars and objects.
  • Star Date - Plan night sky sessions with a calendar that indicates the best month for finding certain constellations and moon patterns.
  • Sky Map Online - By utilizing a time and date input, naked-eye astronomers can learn the exact names of the stars that they witnessed at a certain time and place.
  • Interactive Sky Chart - This beta program provides an interactive sky chart which is useful when first learning about the positions of the constellations.
  • How to Use a Star Chart - Read this "how to" guide before attempting to bring a star chart into the field.