How to Read a Star Map

For Global Astronomy Month or anytime. Telescopes have a narrow field of view. Without a map it is hard to find even famous objects in the sky. This 4 minute video overviews the most common star map/atlas legend symbols.

Unlike most of my videos this one focussed on content rather than media. It is intended as a stimulus for a school , club or scout/guide exercize. Star map reading tends not to be part of any curriculum.

Even those sophisticated in Earth maps may not have grasped the true layout of objects fading off into the Milky Way star clouds – Why would they? It took humankind until the 20th Century to work this out. It’s not obvious.

Participants can easily create the standard set of astro-symbols using PowerPoint and make up their own psuedo-starcharts. Instead of drawing the map an alternative could be to take the camera out under the night sky and film then map some bright area of the sky. But my video exercize is more practical for use during the school day as the Web provides countless examples, photos and drawings of the main map features such as globular clusters, galaxies etc. and all that is needed is some black paper. One good way of drawing astronomical images is with spattered white paint from a toothbrush. Some software also draws good star images and foggy nebulae.

Points to look for and discuss:

  • created in a PowerPoint as a slide show
  • NASA and Google animations inserted to give a bit of variety and speed production.
  • The main technique used here was fade-in overlays. These can be done in many ways but PowerPoint animation is easy to control when you want multiple elements entering at different speeds.

Below are still shots of the items needed to do the map drawing exercize. Make sure to use black & white drawings only:


Legend for drawing exercize


sample pseudo-map on which to base drawing


One Response to “How to Read a Star Map”

  1. Gamify any subject, quickly, cheaply and easily, no progamming required | Classroom Aid Says:

    […] Astronomy – clues about constellations such as their myth combine with sky coordinates (declination, right ascension, altitude, azimuth, clock time etc.), history and observation with naked eye, binocular, telescope leading to ‘discovery’ of some asterism not easily found on a map. Students can sketch the asterism as it appears visually and as it would be depicted on a standard star map. refer to movie tom […]

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