Stargazing Basics 1: Learn how get oriented in the night sky for stargazing

Hi I’m David Fuller from the “Eyes on
the Sky” video series. Let’s look at Stargazing Basics, starting
with understanding directions in the sky. Most of us are already familiar with the cardinal
directions of north, south, east and west. Those can be further split into 16 sub-directions,
like southwest or south-southwest and south-southeast. But all that really tells us is what direction
we are looking from our location; and at best, really only in areas close to the horizon. Not only that, just as the Sun rises in the
east and sets in the west, the stars in the night sky also rise in the east and set in
the west over the course of the night. So how do we discuss other aspects of the
sky? Let’s start with those cardinal directions
again. If we split the sky exactly in half, from
north to south, we would have a line bisecting those halves. That line is called “The meridian.” This line never moves, because it always divides
the sky from north to south. Now if we locate the exact halfway point of
the meridian, we are looking directly overhead, and that point in the sky is known as the
zenith. So what other “locating features” in the
sky are there? Although we don’t see stars during daytime,
the imaginary line in the sky that the Sun traces as Earth revolves around the Sun is
called the ecliptic. Since the planets in our solar system orbit
our star largely on the same plane as each other, the path of the planets in the sky
closely follows this line of the Sun. This line appears lower in the sky during
the summer, and higher during the winter months. So close to – or sometimes right on – the
ecliptic is where we will always find naked eye and telescopic planets in our solar system. Now keep in mind that the Sun doesn’t actually
rise or set; what is actually happening is the Earth is rotating – we just don’t
feel that rotation, because we humans are just along for the ride. So as Earth spins, imagine if you were standing
at the North Pole, and looked straight overhead (when it was dark). The stars would appear to spin around a circle,
with the axis of that circle at the zenith – the point overhead we talked about earlier. That point in the sky around which the stars
rotate is the celestial pole. Of course, you likely won’t ever see it
like that, because no one lives at the North Pole. So as we move downwards in latitude in the
northern hemisphere, that point in the sky around which the stars rotates will move down
towards the northern horizon. If you’re in the upper latitudes, it will
appear higher; the nearer you are to the equator, the closer that point is to the northern horizon. If you’ve every looked at a globe with latitude
and longitude lines on it, then you can probably imagine pretty easily our next set of markings
in the sky: The celestial sphere. The celestial pole is like a spot on a basketball
where the lines meet, and where a good basketball player can make it spin. To locate objects in the sky, we use coordinates
like on Earth, but instead of latitude and longitude, we projects those lines out into
space as if they were on a transparent sphere surrounding Earth, and these are called Right
Ascension and Declination. Right ascension is easy to remember: Face
north for a moment. If the Sun rises in the east, which side of
your body is that? The right side. So the sun, “ascends” from your right
– or Right Ascension. These are like the longitude lines on Earth,
that start at one pole and run to the other in equal spacings. These are listed in “hours” and “minutes”,
and the Zero “Hour” for Right Ascension begins in Aries the Ram That’s easy enough,
yes? And declination is simply the number of degrees
away from the celestial poles – so the degrees from the celestial pole to the celestial equator
is 90 degrees, just like the degrees from our North Pole to the equator. With me so far? Great! Lets review these: quickly: North, East, South, West never change. The meridian splits the sky into two half
from north to south The Zenith is directly overhead
The ecliptic is the path the Sun takes in the sky, along which the planets large follow
The celestial pole is the spot in the sky around which the stars appear to rotate as
Earth spins The celestial sphere uses similar coordinates
as longitude and latitude, but are called Right Ascension and Declination Not hard at all, right? Okay, right ascension and declination may
take a bit to get used to, but the rest should be pretty straightforward. In the next, I’ll explain how to understand
the difference in brightness between objects in the sky. Thanks for watching; I’m David Fuller. Keep your eyes on the sky and your outdoor
lights aimed down by using dark sky friendly lighting fixtures, so we can all see, what’s

34 thoughts on “Stargazing Basics 1: Learn how get oriented in the night sky for stargazing”


  2. Lower in the summer? Dont you mean the ecliptic is lower in the winter and higher in the summer in the northern hemisphere? The northern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun in the summer so the ecliptic rises

  3. 1:54 It does not really make sense that the Ecliptic line would be lower in the summer and higher in the winter.. Or does it? Isn't summer the consequence of the sun beeing higher in the sky thus warming us up more in the summer months?

  4. 90 Polar bears disliked the video

    This is why –> 2:38
    (btw, you don't need to live in the north pole in order to see Polaris)

  5. Yeah cool video. I just got a free dinky little telescope and finally live in an area without light pollution. No idea what I'm doing so this is great!

  6. That does not explain anything. Zenith is strait up from where I'm at? Or from the North Pole? How do you give coordinates to someone? What's the reference point.

  7. I'm on the west side of my dorm so I catch stars setting it's just I don't have time to wake up any earlier since I wake up at 3 30 for the start of my job I would go outside but my squadron is a bunch of assholes and I would probably get made fun of for the next 3 months

  8. These are 3 totally different coordinate systems that are used together to track the movement. One system is oriented to the viewer, one is oriented to the planet and the other is oriented to the zodiac – or the ecliptic plane. It's too complicated to think of them as one system.

    Here's a 'nuther way to say it:
    Say, you're in a car driving around the block to go to the 7-11. You always go the same way. You pull out of your drive way and turn right (in 'Merka, or left in the U.K.). One system of orienting yourself is to look at what you are passing as you drive by. You see your neighbor's house, the house with the big scary dog, the house on the corner, the real estate office, etc. You pull into the parking lot at the store, buy some gum, then get back in the car and pull out again, turning right and drive the rest of the way around the block, passing the tattoo parlor, the crazy cat lady's house, your other next-door neighbor's house, and then pull back into your own drive way. The coordinates of the stationary or "fixed" things never change – but some people, animals, vehicles, etc. move on their own, so their locations will change.

    Another system of orienting yourself could be a grid system painted on your car windows, oriented to the car. So, there is a vertical line down the center of the front windshield, one vertical down the center of the back windshield, two in between the front and back side windows – maybe on the door frame – and a fixed number of lines between all 4 of those lines primary lines. Then there are horizontal lines going all the way around from the bottom edges of the front windshield, the right side windows, back windshield and left side windows; and several more horizontal lines at fixed intervals above that bottom one with the last one at the top – each all the way around. All this makes a grid pattern that is a bit warped due to the shapes and slants of the windows, and each passenger in the car will have different coordinates on this grid to locate what they see.

    Another system of orienting yourself is a similar grid pattern painted on a pair of goggles on your face. This system is oriented to your individual field of view. Even if everyone else in the car were to be wearing the exact same pair of goggles, they won't see what you see. No one will. And as you turn your head around, or sit in a different seat in the car, this will change the coordinates of what you see.

    Against these grids, you can locate stop signs, people walking and cars passing on the other side of the road, etc. as they move or don't move – but they all move relative to you as you move. Each of these systems has their own language and symbols and number system.

    Now, use all 3 at the same time.

    That is what is going on here.

    It's crazy awesome!!!

  9. If in Australia just reverse all of this oh and noone could ever navigate by stars water dont curve even tilted at 66.6 degrees with. .666 of an inch curve

  10. Question. What happens when you find a new star or planet. Like say you watch 5 rise up out of the south region. At first it started out looking like a comet but as time went on one turned into 3 and three turn in to five and at one point it formed a pentagram or Pentagon shape. Now they sit all around us. They sit in the night skies. Ever wonder why mars has not moved in 6 months or more. News flash it not Mars or any planet or star in our system. Its new . along with four more. P. S . your video didn't impress me none.

  11. I'm sort of late to the party, but I just wanted to take a moment to thank you folks at eyes on the sky for all the helpful information!

  12. Thanks dude, I'm trying. Started stargazing as a kind of therepeutic thing with some binoculars. I do struggle to orient myself, sometimes I can easily spot constellations when I'm lying down, then I move around and look up and it takes me ages to get my bearings again. This should help with that. It's really cool though, feels like I'm reconnecting with my ancient ancestors and the universe again, we are all stardust after all. It feels great to learn the constellations, once you can see them properly it's like your painting the night sky with your imagination.

  13. I don't know why right ascension was so difficult for me to grasp whereas declination seemed relatively simple.

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