Category Archives: Review

Cruising

Publish Date: 29-November-2016

I, Steven, have recently completed one of my bucket list items… capturing stars and astro landscapes aboard a cruise ship. My interest in the idea is based on several observations:

  1. Night photography can be about movement – like star trails, for example – and cruise ships move.
  2. Cruise ships go to and through some of the darkest spots on earth – far away from any land producing artificial light
  3. Being aboard a ship means NOT having to drive anywhere or fly anywhere. Bed, food, drink and entertainment are never farther away than the length of a football field.
  4. I can still spend time with my family rather than alone in the wilderness because… we are all in the same “wilderness” at the same time.

brillianceoftheseas

My particular cruise was aboard the Brilliance of the Seas by Royal Carribbean. The ship departed from Tampa, Florida to Key West, then to Cozumel and back to Tampa. The good news is the things I feared most did not happen: I only gained 1.5 pounds and none of my equipment fell into the sea. I also had no motion sickness – though some I traveled with were uncomfortable in what were relatively light seas.

Sunrises, Sunsets and TimeStacks

It does not have to be all about night photography, right?  My travel from the West Coast to the East Coast for the cruise made it a lot easier for me to be awake at sunset and near impossible to greet a sunrise.
Sunset Reversal

Location Is Important

These two trails were taken on different days (one when the ship was cruising south, another two nights later when cruising north). Both were taken from Deck 5 with no moon. The first trail was from near the bow (front of the ship), the other from off the stern (back).

South Bound

South bound star trails from near the bow of the ship** Please read below for how I got here… it is an important detail.

Stern Seas

Looking south from the stern of a north bound cruise – with unfortunate clouds – but look at all the motion!  That bright  streak (and the cloud illuminated above it) are another passing cruise ship.

The ship was steadier when southbound – thus the first star trail looks pretty normal. The second one from the stern of the ship looks like a seismograph! Want to get a feel for the motion from the stern? Watch the video.

Tips and Insights

I did not meet any resistance or complaints from the crew or passengers using my tripod on deck. That is in part because I was mostly using it at night and had already scouted out areas to place it. My first recommendation is to …

Scout!

First scout your vessel thoroughly… do this before embarking (using deck plans available on the internet), then during the first day, and at night.  I discovered that a passageway open during the day, was gated at night. Unfortunately, that passage led to the darkest part of the ship. More about this in a minute.

Too Little Darkness on Board

Cruise ships are floating cities, and like cities, lights are everywhere and unavoidable. Onboard the Brilliance there were 2 darkish places to go and one dark place where I could not go*. One darkish spot was the top deck toward the bow. There are lights everywhere, but if you shield your eyes and moved deck chairs to cover over some of the bulkhead lights you could make out stars. What I could see, however, was nowhere near the glory that I’ve seen in even moderately rural areas. A darkish spot – mentioned by guest relations, was the starboard (right hand) side of deck 5 near the stern (back of the boat). Again, lots of lights everywhere, but that area was dark enough that with some eye shielding I could easily make out Orion.

See the next photo to see just how much light a ship casts about… the moon illuminated the sky as well – but you wouldn’t be able to see even this many stars by eye in a dark clear sky in any normal area of the ship.

Over the Railing

The light from the ship illuminates the water around it, while the moon illuminates the sky (Cuba is glowing in the distance). Notice how the ship’s pitching and rolling turned stars into squiggles.

Getting Where it Is Really Dark

You may be wondering how I pulled off the photography on the bow given that the passageway was barred at night. It happened innocently. I took advantage of a quirk on the Brilliance of the Seas. In the theater on the ship on the upper level there are what are best described as “box” seats adjacent to the wings of the stage. That area has nearby doors, one marked “Exit” the others are marked crew only. I took the “Exit” and it put me out by the passage to the Helicopter landing pad on the bow of the ship.  There was then another “gate” barring access to the helicopter landing area itself – but it was plenty dark up front. I swung my tripod up on the helopad area and controlled it with my intervalometer being careful to create as little light as possible. That’s how I got images for the first of two star trails above. I then stood at the outer rail of the helipad and took a panorama of the bridge area. Straight up and forward were MUCH darker.

Much of the crew area and the wheel house spanning the entire front of the ship is kept dark with little extra light.

Much of the crew area and the wheel house spanning the entire front of the ship is kept dark with minimal extra light. Note how much light there is on the top deck where you can see silhouettes of passengers through the glass. This is a stitched 4-shot panorama.

Packing for the Cruise

For a 5 day cruise, I took one camera, two smaller lenses batteries and a tripod. I packed almost all of my clothing for the trip inside a single large (carry-on size) bag with some extras in a small carry on “personal item”. That packing arrangement works great for short trips. To accommodate “Formal Night” I stole some space in my wife’s luggage for dress shoes and a suit.

Would You Like To See Celestial Delights On a Cruise?

Knowing that many travelers have never seen a properly dark night sky, I contacted Royal Caribbean and let them know I thought a potentially great ship resource was untapped. If you had a chance to view incredibly dark skies on board your cruise ship, would you relish that opportunity?  Please let us know in a comment below or on our Facebook Page. Perhaps the cruise line will contract SCA to teach night photography in addition to the many other courses on board. I, for one, would love to get on a dark deck and stare up into the Geminid meteor shower – or view the Milky Way at its finest.!

We Are Always Tweaking

Original Publish Date: 12-November-2015
Last Revision: 12-November-2015

When we get questions on our older columns, we often answer them directly and update the articles to reflect new information. For example, when we originally published our three part series on Finding and Photographing the Milky Way we had no clue they would be our most read articles. Over time we added more charts, and tables, including a table listing when the best time is to spot the Milky Way – alas, not October through February.

The Milky Way Series

Pointy Land
The articles in the Milky Way series are:


Meteors and Meteor Showers

Celestial Slasher [C_224-9234]

We have also made periodic updates to our articles on photographing meteors and meteor showers.  We point this out because the best shower of the year is the Geminids and that shower occurs December 12-14.  Start planning right now!

To help you out, we have begun adding “Original Publish Dates” and “Last Revised” dates to our articles.  Of course most of the principles we have written about are timeless.

Adobe Customer Dis-service

Recently, a customer reported a problem installing Advanced Stacker PLUS.  The customer indicated that there was no “Place” in the menu so the ASP did not work with their Photoshop. The Place option is used by the action almost exclusively for adding a watermark, and we have observed the issue with some Mac installations and have a published workaround.

We thought perhaps the absence in this case was due to the new CC 2015 release, which by default REMOVES content when upgrading – specifically all ACTIONS will need to be reinstalled unless the customer does NOT follow the default upgrade process. While looking into the customer problem, I, Steven, decided that I did not need to keep paying the $50/month for the full suite on Creative Cloud when in fact I only use Photoshop and Lightroom.  So…Angry

I went to my account on the Adobe site to downgrade my license.  Not possible. The options are to Cancel or to UPGRADE to an even more expensive plan.  So I clicked “Cancel” which took me to a FAQ where I had to search for Cancel again.  Then I selected “Cancel product” and typed “I’m disappointed, I wanted to DOWNGRADE to the Photography license, but can’t find the option on my account page. I am not using the full suite, so I want to switch to the Photography Package“. After 3 minutes Ankan came on to the chat and typed “Welcome to customer service”. Ten seconds later “Hi Steven”, how can I help you”.

You can probably guess where this is going… downhill, fast. Wait, downhill very slowly.  40 days prior my “Full CC” had automatically renewed for another year, and now Adobe insisted that I was on the hook for an early termination fee should I change plans. And there is still no way to indicate you “DO NOT WANT AN AUTORENEWAL”.  How very convenient for Adobe!

After 50 more minutes of very slow responses from Ankan I had been offered “2 free months”, and the CC suite for $29.99.  I kept reminding him my goal was very simple: downgrade to Photography license: NOT to create a new contract, not be on the hook for another year, and not to pay a fee for an auto-renewal I didn’t see or authorize (my email had been broken).  I finally had enough and told them I was canceling.  Whether I sign up for a Photography CC license again will require a week of thinking about the horrible customer service, and a clear indication that Adobe had STOPPED charging my credit card.  I’m still thinking about whether I want to continue. Indeed… if I did not need to continue to support and develop Advanced Stacker PLUS, I would retreat to my PS CS5/CS6 perpetually licensed products.

My experience with Adobe left me with some clear takeaways for you, our reader:

  1. Chat or call Adobe and tell them you want to cancel (even if you are not planning to!)
  2. Explain your reason for wanting to cancel, is you do NOT want to auto renew for another year and there is no option to disable autorenewal (or that you want to downgrade to another package and there is no option for that).
  3. Stick to your guns until they offer you a better plan.
  4. Remind them that under their “auto renewal, can’t get out” scenario, if you do not take action on exactly the right date, you’ll end up on the hook for $240 in “early termination fees” – or worse.
  5. Also remind them that having to contact customer service to cancel is wasteful of your valuable time.  You can certainly cite my 55 minute ordeal if you like.
  6. Warn them that additional charges will be disputed with your card carrier.

About Advanced Stacker PLUS and CC 2015

The customer was incorrect. The Place option is present in CC 2015.  We are checking further, but we are not finding any issues… HOWEVER you may have to REINSTALL the Advanced Stacker PLUS for the reason we gave earlier… Adobe doesn’t migrate when upgrading – at least not by default and not everything you would expect.

We did notice a problem installing on our Mac (running Yosemite) which has CS5, CS6, CC, CC2014 and CC2015. The problem occurred when installing CC – it said it could not synchronize color. Whatever that means. Seemed fine after reinstall – though we doubt many of you have so many versions of Photoshop installed on your computer.

The Transcript (aka The Shady Underbelly of Adobe)

Below is the unedited transcript of my chat session with Ankan.  I wonder if it is Adobe’s plan to wear down every customer who tries to cancel their plan with 50 minutes of drivel.  And I didn’t start with the intention of cancelling! Make note of the time delays.  That was perhaps the most frustrating part.  Do notice that I had to twice request to Cancel my plan – and that it took 40 minutes for “customer service” to supply the requested service.


 

Your case number: 0215924254
Creative Cloud change
Membership, account, payment change
Cancel your membership change
Hi, we are currently helping other customers in line ahead of you. We’ll be with you as soon as possible.

While you wait, you can try our community forums where experts are online 24/7.

12:02:11 PM Ankan: Hello! Welcome to Adobe Customer Service.
12:02:21 PM Ankan: Hi Steven .
12:03:03 PM ME: Do I need to retype my request?
12:03:40 PM ME: Hello?
12:03:45 PM Ankan: No.
12:03:48 PM ME: Are you there?
12:03:53 PM Ankan: Yes.
12:03:59 PM Ankan: I am sorry for the delay.
12:04:13 PM Ankan: I have received your request.
12:05:12 PM ME: Can I assume that you’re switching my plan now?
12:05:51 PM Ankan: I see that you have Creative Cloud membership (one-year) registered with your account.
12:07:33 PM Ankan: I am sorry, we don’t have option to downgrade the current plan to Photoshop. However, I will help you with the link to purchase the subscription and once you place the order, I will cancel the current subscription for you.
12:08:33 PM ME: Wait, are you implying that I will be on the hook for another year by purchasing the Photography plan?
12:09:42 PM ME: Ankan?
12:10:24 PM ME: Hello?
12:10:34 PM Ankan: Yes.
12:10:40 PM Ankan: I am checking your account.
12:11:06 PM Ankan: Once you purchase the subscription, it will be valid for one year.
12:11:15 PM ME: Yes, what? Are you answering my question that I will be on the hook, or are you indicating that you’re partially paying attention?
12:11:35 PM ME: So is there a PENALTY for terminating in less than a year?
12:12:06 PM Ankan: If you cancel the subscription in the mid of the year, there will be an early termination fee.
12:13:00 PM ME: I see. So your policy is to stick the long term customer with ANOTHER penalty.
12:13:44 PM Ankan: It is an annual subscription which offers lower monthly payments and requires a one-year cycle. This plan is ideal for someone with an ongoing need to use Adobe’s Creative software.
12:14:49 PM ME: Nice try. But I have a plan, I’ve fullfilled the contract. And you’re telling me I have to have a NEW plan with a NEW contract. That’s evil. Plain and simple. I suppose you’re going to also tell me that if I UPGRADE my plan, the same hook applies.
12:16:26 PM Ankan: Steven, we don’t have option to change the plan to Photoshop from the current subscription.
12:17:09 PM ME: Oddly, you have options to UPGRADE plans, though.
12:17:33 PM ME: This is another reminder to me of the unpleasant experiences I’ve had with Adobe. So I will just cancel my plan.
12:18:54 PM Ankan: I can understand why you would feel that way.
12:19:28 PM ME: Doubtful. So is my plan cancelled yet? Or do I need to call my credit card company and report fraud?
12:20:02 PM Ankan: I have checked and see there would be an early termination fees if you cancel the subscription now because you are under one year annual commitment.
12:20:32 PM Ankan: I see that subscription was renewed on May 16, 2015 .
12:20:44 PM Ankan: I like to inform you that, all Adobe subscription renew automatically, if you don’t cancel the subscription in 12th month you will be moved to next year cycle.
12:21:16 PM ME: Great, then I will use the 30 day opt out. And you’ll extend me 10 grace days.
12:21:56 PM ME: Or I’ll call and my credit card company and dispute the charges.
12:22:29 PM ME: Since I never received ANY notification that annual plan was going to renew.
12:22:43 PM Ankan: We have sent the notification email regarding the second year commitment for the subscription as we send a notification email for every renewal of the subscription.
12:24:15 PM ME: Just searched my mailbox. Last email from adobe was 11/5/2014.
12:25:33 PM Ankan: I am sorry if you missed out the email. The email will be sent at the 11th month that is one month before the renewal.
12:25:47 PM Ankan: Steven, if you are willing to continue the membership till the end of the commitment, I can help you with two month’s free service so instead of paying for 10 months more , you will pay for the 8 months and cancel the subscription between May 16, 2016 and May 16, 2016 without fee.
12:26:09 PM ME: By the way it says “One year payment” which is incorrect since it’s actually a MONTH’s worth of payment.
12:26:57 PM Ankan: Steven, Creative cloud month to month subscription will cost you $74.99 per month and you can cancel it anytime.
12:27:09 PM ME: I am willing to cancel my account with no penalty. My second choice is to dispute the charge with my card carrier. Your choice.
12:27:29 PM Ankan: Just to confirm, may I know the reason for the subscription cancellation?
12:28:50 PM ME: Isn’t it obvious? I tried to change to a Photography plan, you told me I cannot without a NEW contract. Then you told me I’m under an annual plan that I didn’t authorize. (Apparently had to opt out last month but never saw a notification).
12:29:46 PM ME: You left me with no choice except to dispute charges.
12:30:33 PM ME: Oh, and this has taken exactly 30 minutes longer than it should have. So you’ve also wasted that much of our time.
12:30:55 PM Ankan: Steven , please allow me a minute . let me check what best can be done regarding the issue.
12:31:10 PM ME: Why didn’t you do that 25 minutes ago?
12:31:41 PM Ankan: I am really sorry to see that you are not happy with the Adobe policy.
12:31:49 PM Ankan: Can you allow me a moment while I walk to my supervisor and check for the exception to cancel the subscription with no fee ?
12:33:43 PM Ankan: Just to confirm, would you be willing to continue with complete Creative cloud membership for next year, if I offer you at $29.99 per month?
12:34:45 PM Ankan: Also, avoid the early termination fee.
12:34:46 PM ME: Really? So I go through this again a year from now? Why didn’t you just try to do what I asked to begin with? Switch me to a Photography plan without extending the contract!
12:38:35 PM ME: FYI: Adobe pulled similar crap over a year ago. I actually HAD a photography plan because adobe said only those who had PS 5/6 would qualify, and the plan would end in December. Guess what. They then opened it up to EVERYONE no qualifications.
12:39:36 PM Ankan: Steven , there is no option to downgrade the plan to Photography plan. However, once you purchase the subscription, it will be for one year contract. Even, if there was a option with me , again the commitment would be for one year only.
12:41:23 PM ME: So let me get this straight… I get smacked for an early termination fee of a plan I didn’t willfully extend. Then get ANOTHER annual contract under a different account? In what world does THAT make sense except to racqueteers and criminals?
12:43:39 PM ME: While I can sign up entirely online, apparently I have to waste 40 minutes to CANCEL a plan I didn’t ask to extend. Another ZERO for Adobe.
12:44:06 PM Ankan: Steven , In that case, I will make an one time exception for you to cancel the subscription without fee.
12:46:04 PM ME: So YOU do have the power to make an exception. How about we do it this way. You make the exception cancel the plan with no penalty and TRUST me to sign up for a Photography plan (which I stated 45 minutes ago was my intention!)
12:47:42 PM Ankan: Thank you for your patience.
12:47:44 PM Ankan: I have successfully cancelled the subscription for the Creative Cloud membership (one-year) . However you will have the access to the subscription till: Jul 16, 2015.
12:47:59 PM ME: And there is NO penalty?
12:48:02 PM Ankan: I will provide you the link to purchase the Photography plan.
12:48:20 PM Ankan: Yes, I will waived off the early termination fee.
12:49:17 PM Ankan: Please click here to purchase
12:51:06 PM ME: Ok. I am going to sit on this for a few days to decide if it is worth trusting Adobe any further, because frankly I have had zero positive experiences with Adobe.
12:51:41 PM Ankan: I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that may have caused to you.
12:52:36 PM ME: It’s not just you, of course, it’s a whole company that seems to care more about $ than customer service.
12:53:04 PM ME: By the way, is it STILL the case that 1 year contracts AUTOMATICALLY renew and the only way to cancel is to go through this nonsense?
12:54:32 PM Ankan: Steven,you can cancel the subscription in the first month and at the last month before the renewal of the commitment.
12:54:32 PM Ankan: Once again we apologize for any disappointment caused and hope to serve you in future.
12:54:46 PM Ankan: Is there anything else I can help you with?
12:55:28 PM ME: But not via the web. Can only cancel by “contacting customer disservice”… sigh.
12:56:06 PM Ankan: I am happy to inform you that you can stop the renewal of the subscription from your Adobe account after the last renewal of the contract.
12:56:15 PM ME: Thank you for canceling the contract. I suppose I’d be much more grateful if it didn’t take nearly an hour.
12:56:44 PM Ankan: I am sorry for taking much of your time.
12:56:56 PM ME: Good bye.
12:57:02 PM Ankan: It’s my pleasure assisting you today.
12:57:06 PM Ankan: Have a nice day!
12:57:06 PM Ankan: Thank you for contacting Adobe. We are available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Goodbye!


 

Planispheres (Star Maps): Paper or Electronic?

Published May 29, 2014
Last Updated April 18, 2016

A topic that comes up a lot is discussion about what makes a good astronomy helper application. Whenever we suggest purchasing a paper Planisphere our critics remind us that they are not necessary because “there is a great app” to do that.

Planisphere

We take exception to the “there is an app for that” assertion… but perhaps not for the obvious reason. In fact we DO use several apps for forecasting and navigating the night sky. But ultimately we find the good old fashioned planisphere to be the most effective for most of what we want to do. We’ll make the case for a paper (or plastic) planisphere in a moment.

Why Do We Want Something Besides our Eyes?

Let’s start with determining why we want something to help us with our night sky navigation. Some scenarios to consider include:

  1. We are a beginner and we really don’t know Canis Major from Major Appliances.
  2. We have some familiarity with some of the constellations, but we want to learn more.
  3. We want to take a shot with a particular sky object behind a particular landmark.
  4. Even though we know the night sky pretty well, we still need to be able to find faint objects, or find objects in less than dark skies – the Milky Way, for example is difficult to see unless conditions are good and the sky is dark.
  5. We are going to go to an unfamiliar place with a latitude that is very different from where we normally gaze at the night sky.
  6. We want to know where to look to observe a particular phenomenon like the Geminid Meteor shower.

Can’t I Do that with an App?

It might seem that and android, iPad or iPhone app is the best tool since you can take it with you.  And that MIGHT be right except for the following significant problems:

  1. Unless you keep the app brightness really low or use it in a “dark sky mode” (usually dim red), you’ll damage your night vision making it difficult or impossible to see dimmer objects in the night sky.
  2. If you’re trying to find the Milky Way (the dense part in Sagittarius) but you try to use the app during a period when the Milky Way is not visible. No matter what time of night you enter, you won’t see the Milky Way (e.g. November through January).
  3. The representation on the app is often NOTHING like what it may look to your eye in your location. Every app suffers from this problem in one way or another. Some apps make the Milky Way in Canis Major appear to be incredulous – actually its very sedate there.
  4. You want an idea when it will be BEST to get the Milky Way aligned over your target. But on an App you will need to determine the time manually.
  5. If you mistakenly trust the app to tell you where it’s pointing you may be surprised how wrong it can be. Due to iPhone, Android, and iPad hardware limitations, a handheld app could be anywhere from close enough to off by 180 degrees!  It will be even worse if for some reason your App is configured for the wrong timezone, or the wrong GPS location.
    True story 1: I happened on a family in Yosemite, California and the dad had out his iPad pointing out to his children: “see … there is Orion”.. and over there…” but he was from Alabama and his iPad was off by 3 hours – and his compass wasn’t calibrated either so he ended up almost 180 degrees off.
  6. Dead battery. If you have to choose between enough battery to make an emergency call or figuring out your night sky… well, we recommend saving the battery.
  7. Most apps show only a fractional portion of the sky which may confuse anyone who is not already familiar with the sky.

While we freely admit that we like and use the following applications, we prefer a paper/plastic Planisphere.

  • Stellarium – FREE runs on Mac, PC and Linux.  We like it because it has excellent sky condition simulations that help give a realistic view of the night sky.  It won’t show you dim stars under bright moonlight unless you ask it to. It can also track comets and satellites. What we don’t like is that it is fidgety to configure.
  • StarMap by Fredd software for the iPhone/iPad. We like this one because it’s quite complete. It is well organized to show you, for example, what meteor showers are visible, what “dimmer” objects you can find, and has a simple interface for adjusting the sky brightness or the time of day. What we don’t like: we like to call the constellations by their scientific (and we believe) more common names.  Herdsman?  That’s Bootes. Big Dog? That’s Canis Major, thank you.  Note there are TWO versions of this App, unless you’re a serious astronomer, the less expensive one will work.
  • GoSkyWatch – admittedly we like it because we got it as a free app through Starbucks app of the week but we think its worth the price anyway! We like that it’s pretty versatile, when you point it at the sky it gives the altitude and azimuth (elevation angle and compass direction) which can come in quite handy – even though as we’ve already noted the compass direction is probably wrong! Zero in on an object and it will give you and idea what it looks like. We like that it’s Milky Way representation – while overly bright is pretty close to what it looks like. You won’t confuse Canis Major with Sagittarius, for example. It also includes a great assortment of dim objects and shows constellations with “good names” not just the “common name”. It also has a night mode to conserve your night vision.  It doesn’t have meteor showers or satellites, however.

What We Don’t Like

We’re not fond of anything we haven’t listed. Not that there aren’t better apps, but every one we’ve tried falls short in some way. Take for example, SkySafari.

SkySafari for example, is mostly a disappointment. Not only are there 12 different versions for iOS that range in price from $1 to $40, but the app doesn’t do a good job simulating the night sky, prefers to show useless images of the mythological constellations (which fortunately can be turned off) and shows a garish orange Milky Way which might be exciting to look at except that it will never look like what the app reveals.  SkySafari also doesn’t adjust for the effects of twilight or moonlight.

SkySafari does have some nice information about each object in its database, but the database is not searchable.  If you’re interested, for example in M101 you’ll have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the Messier Catalog page.  If you want to catch a glimpse of the ISS (Zarya/Space Station) you’ll have to slog through the Satellites page.

Why We Like the Planisphere

In this day and age it’s pretty normal for people to navigate by GPS, not by map or even by written instructions. It’s convenient to rely on devices. But we have driven to places and had NO idea how we got there except that “Mr. Carson” – our pet name for our British Accented “voice” – told us where to turn. In other words, we accomplished the goal of getting somewhere, but not really learning the geography, or even getting a good sense of direction. And we trust our GPS at a potential cost: the instructions could be WRONG, or dangerous, and our device might die. True story 2: we accidentally wiped our handheld GPS track when our goal was to return through a heavily fogged in trail at night – depriving us of the very bit of information that we needed!  We lived, obviously, but took several wrong turns as a result.

First we like the Planisphere because it is indeed a Map.

You can study the Planisphere day or night and observe what constellations are near other constellations.  A planisphere is in fact a rotating map. Unlike directions to grandma’s house, the appearance of the night sky changes minute by minute and season by season because of the earth’s rotation and the earths path around the sun.  While you know you can always turn left to get to grandma’s house, what you want to find in the night sky may in fact be “upside down” from what you remember 3 months or six hours ago.

From a larger map like a Planisphere you’ll discover that lining up Rigel to Betelgeuse (in Orion) and keeping straight will get you to Castor and Pollux in Gemini.  Following Orion’s “belt stars” toward the Rigel side will get you to Taurus and from there if you keeping going you’ll find the Pleiades… and so on. You’ll learn that you can navigate to the stars WITH the stars.

A Planisphere is also a Chart of Dates

A Planisphere also has a very powerful do-it-once approach to aligning things in the night sky. Spin the wheel to the sky configuration you wish and you can read around the edges every time of night over about 5 months in which the sky will appear in the same configuration!  No app we’ve seen does that!  In fact, we use the Planisphere to decide when the Milky Way will appear over our favorite waterfall or when Andromeda will be high in the night sky so we can snap it’s picture with the minimum amount of atmospheric distortion. The planisphere doesn’t tell us about the moon, but it does give us all the dates we have to work with.

Planispheres are Hard to Misconfigure

An app must have the correct location and timezone – which you may have noticed in True Story 1 can easily be quite wrong, a Planisphere is based on your local time. The only parameter you have to get right is to match your latitude with the proper Planisphere chart. If you live in San Francisco, you’ll want a chart that is valid from 30-40 degrees, not one that is 40-50 degrees and thus more suitable to Seattle residents. The most often made mistake on a Planisphere is to not subtract an hour from the time shown on the chart during daylight savings time. Some charts have the daylight savings time equivalent printed on them, but if not, just remember that during the summer if the watch reads 9 PM, you dial the chart to 8 PM.  The universe does not suddenly lurch 15 degrees when we decide to artificially set the time ahead an hour!

The one unfortunate thing about planispheres is that not all are created equal. We prefer DH Chandler’s LARGE charts because they are double sided and have less distortion than the single-sided charts. While it might be counter-intuitive to create a chart of black dots on a white background to represent the stars, it’s actually easier to read at night with a red flashlight than a chart with white stars on a black background.  You can get DH Chandler’s charts from Amazon for about $13 and from many other retailers.  If you join us for any of our events, we always have a supply on hand for our students.

Guardian of Forever