Get a Sky Map Tailored to Your Location

A star chart showing the Big Dipper
Star charts help you navigate around the sky. We offer links to star charts for many locations around the globe. Carolyn Collins Petersen

The night sky is a fascinating place that you can learn to "read" it using a star chart. Not sure what you're looking at? Want to learn more about what's really up there? A star chart or a stargazing app will help you get your bearings using your desktop computer or smartphone. 

Charting the Sky

For a quick reference to the sky, you can check out this handy "Your sky" page. It lets you select your location and get a real-time sky chart.

The page can create charts for areas around the world, so it's also useful if you're planning a trip and need to know what the skies will contain at your destination.

If you don't see your city in the list, simply choose one nearby. Once you choose your area, the site will create an interactive star chart that gives you the brightest stars, constellations, and planets visible from your location. 

For example, let's say you live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Scroll down to "Fort Lauderdale" on the list, and click on it. It will automatically calculate the sky using the latitude and longitude of Fort Lauderdale as well as its time zone. Then, you will see a sky chart. If the background color is blue, it means the chart is showing the daytime sky.  If it's a dark background, then the chart shows you the night sky. 

If you click on any object or area in the chart, it will give you a "telescope view", a magnified view of that region.

It should show you any objects that are in that part of the sky. If you see labels such as "NGC XXXX" (where XXXX is a number) or "Mx" where x is also a number, then those are deep-sky objects. They're probably galaxies or nebulae or star clusters. M numbers are part of Charles Messier's listing of "faint fuzzy objects" in the sky, and are worth checking out with a telescope.

NGC objects are often galaxies. They may be accessible to you in a telescope, although many are fairly faint and hard to spot. So, think of the deep-sky objects as challenges that you can tackle once you learn the sky using a star chart. 

The Ever-changing Sky

It's important to remember that the sky does change night after night. It's a slow change, but eventually, you will notice that what's overhead in January is not visible to you in May or June. Constellations and stars that are high in the sky in the summertime are gone by mid-winter.  This happens throughout the year. Also, the sky you see from the northern hemisphere is not necessarily the same as what you see from the southern hemisphere. There is some overlap, of course, but in general, stars and constellations visible from the northern parts of the planet aren't always going to be seen in the south, and vice-versa. 

The planets slowly move across the sky as they trace their orbits around the Sun. The more distant planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn, stay around the same spot in the sky for a long time. The closer planets such as Venus, Mercury, and Mars, appear to move more quickly. A star chart is very useful for helping you identify them, too.

 

Star Charts and Learning the Sky

A good star chart shows you not only the brightest stars visible at your location and time, but also gives constellation names and will often contain some easy-to-find deep-sky objects. These are usually such things as the Orion Nebula, the Pleiades, the Milky Way, star clusters, and the Andromeda Galaxy. Once you learn to read a chart, you'll be able to navigate the sky with ease. So, check out the "your sky" page and learn more about the skies over your home! 

 

Edited and updated by Carolyn Collins Petersen.