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For the budding astronomer or navigator, look to Star Wheels and Sky Charts

“All I ask is a Tall ship and a star to steer her by…”

By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(England's Poet Laureate from 1930 to 1967

A star wheel, or planisphere if you want to get technical, is an analog computer for predicting the positions of stars.  It helps you visualize and interpret the stars you see by adjusting for the motion of the earth on a very simple non-electronic device. 

Perhaps you have a youngster who dreams of “sailing” to far away stars on a spaceship.   Maybe your dad has always wanted to learn celestial navigation.  Well here is a good way to get either one started on learning the night sky.  Planispheres by a number of manufacturers can get them hooked, such as the one by Will Tirion shown below. 

 

There is the Sky & Telescope’s Star Wheel ($15.95) that let’s you dial in the date and the time and match up the chart to what’s in the heavens.  It is available by 10 degree increments of latitude for better accuracy (40 degrees North for the NE waters of the US). The American Association of Amateur Astronomers put out their own versions and have lots of useful information on their website. http://www.astromax.com/chandler/nightsky.htm)

Or you can make your own by downloading the parts online and putting them together for a homemade version.  (http://washjeff.edu/physics/plan.html or http://school.discovery.com/schooladventures/skywatch/howto/planisphere1.html)

But the real piece de resistance is Sky & Telescope's Mobile Sky Chart, the portable view of the night sky's constellations, stars, and planets. Just pull out your cell phone, key in your zip code, and voila, you get a simulated naked-eye view of the heavens from any location in the US. You need Verizon's Get It Now feature to activate. We also really like their website with a cool planetary phenomenon to observe on most nights depicted right on the home page. So if there are three planets aligned in a row tonight, this is the place to find out about it, include best viewing time and place. They also have MP3 downloads of the monthly sky from their website. Overall Sky & Telescope a very cool place to hang out.

Add a book…

There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars

By Bob Crelin, Illustrated by Amie Ziner

Here's a perfect bedtime story to entertain and educate children about the effects of light pollution. Poetic and lyrical, this beautifully illustrated book helps children discover the magic of the night sky while learning about the growing problem of light pollution and what they can do to help.  



     
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