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Your Sky Tonight

Our star chart is designed to get you out learning the night sky within a matter of moments. Just set it for your time and location, make a few tweaks if you like for personal taste, and print it out. For stargazing, pick a location that's as free as possible from bright local lights, and give yourself at least half an hour outdoors so that your vision becomes fully dark-adapted. (This can take 15 to 20 minutes for adults, somewhat less for children.) Red light allows you to consult your printed, personalized star chart without damaging your night vision: Click here for tips on how to quickly and temporarily adapt an ordinary household flashlight for this purpose.

It's also easy to customize the star chart for use with binoculars or a small telescope. Please consult the directions at the bottom of the chart for more.

Using Your Sky Tonight Star Chart:

First, check your location. The chart should do this automatically, but if you'd like a chart for a different location you may enter it. Zip codes will do.

Then pick a direction. Most first-time stargazers begin by looking south, as that's where northern-hemisphere observers see the ecliptic, where the planets prowl. You can also alter direction by using the Move Field of View buttons.

Field of view: Our chart defaults to a naked-eye field, so if you're learning constellations or spotting planets, leave the chart on that setting. The wide-angle view shows even more sky, but the constellations look smaller. The binocular and telescopic fields are useful when you want to take a closer look at specific objects. For candidates, see this list of prominent objects. You can also zoom to a custom field of view by using the +/- buttons to the right of the chart.

Display options: For most purposes starting out, you may wish to leave these as they are. But you can customize the chart as you like—especially if you keep coming back, as we hope you will.

  • Equatorial Grid shows lines or right ascension and declination—the longitudes and latitudes of the sky. They're helpful if you're looking, say, for a newly-discovered comet and have its celestial coordinates.
  • Constellation Lines, displayed by default, are the stick figures that approximate how the ancients came to associate the positions of stars with the figures of animals, objects, and mythological heroes and villains.
  • Constellation Boundaries tell you precisely in which constellation a particular object resides; for most purposes you may not need them.
  • Object labels are useful for identifying bright stars and locating Messier objects—the star clusters and nebulae beloved by those with telescopes. A few starter objects are accessible at the bottom of the chart.

When you've got the chart you want, just click for a print version, print it out, and head outside to see nature on its largest scale!