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The Question

(Submitted May 22, 1997)

I am going to Macchi Picchu (Peru) and want to study & take with me a star chart of the Southern Hemisphere. Where can I get hold of one?

The Answer

Most good star chart books will include charts for the entire sky, both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. A few things to look for are:

1. A book that opens to a page and stays there. When you are out looking at stars, life is much easier if you can rely on your star chart book to stay open at the page you want when you put it down to look with binoculars

2. Large page format. There are a lot of nice books of star charts that small enough to fit in your pocket, but they often resist staying open to the page you want and also tend to have smaller print and charts which are harder to read in the dark.

3. If you are planning to do deep sky observing now or in the future (i.e. you plan to look with a telescope for galaxies, hunt for comets, etc), look for charts that include dimmer stars. Star brightness is usually measured in "stellar magnitudes " with bright stars having small magnitudes (e.g 1.0 for the bright star Vega) and dimmer stars having larger magnitudes. Generally a good dark sky will allow you to see stars down to perhaps 6th magnitude. But there are only a few thousand stars above 6th magnitude, so a telescope view is more likely than not to not include a 6th magnitude guide star.

I have heard general good reviews of Norton's Star Atlas and Peterson's Field Guide to the Stars and planets.

If you are just looking with your eyes or binoculars, you might find a planisphere more useful. These are charts mounted on a disk with a finder that allow you to adjust the charts to local time so you can see what it up at that particular time. These are specific to a latitude, and the more equatorial location of Peru may be a slight problem. Sky Publishing Corporation (the publishers of Sky & Telescope and CCD Astronomy magazines) make a Southern Hemisphere planisphere. You might want to try visiting their WWW site at

http://skyandtelescope.com/

If there is a local telescope store in your area, they can probably answer many more of your questions, point out interesting objects in the southern sky to look for, offer more specific advice, and show you a wider range of products. A good camera store may also have star charts and such, though they are less likely to have staff who are avid amateur astronomers. If these fail, you might also try one of the national telescope suppliers, such as Meade, Celestron, or Orion. They all have toll-free contact numbers, and a quick search on the WWW also turned up URLs for Orion and Meade at

http://www.oriontel.com/

http://www.meade.com/

We hope this helps. Enjoy your southern skies!

Leonard Garcia, Jesse Allen and others
for "Ask an Astrophysicist "

Questions on this topic are no longer responded to by the "Ask an Astrophysicist" service. See http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/ask_an_astronomer.html for help on other astronomy Q&A services.

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