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Field Guide Series – Arizona Night Sky

by | Apr 10, 2024

Gain fundamental, practical knowledge of your surroundings.

Arizona Night Sky Field Guide“Small but Mighty” may be the best way to describe our Easy Field Guides, reviewed by our own Yvonne Prater, Director of Operations. Each book is fully illustrated, and filled with a plethora of interesting facts that are easy to understand to help answer the thoughtful question, “What is that?”  This is the twelfth and final guide in the series, and is titled “Arizona Night Sky.”

If you missed them, you can read Yvonne’s first eleven Field Guide reviews here.

Your Tour Map to the Arizona Night Sky

This Easy Field Guide is your map for a personal stargazing tour through the Southwestern night sky. The sky charts included are accurate for observers not only in Arizona, but also New Mexico, Southern California, and Texas. With this guide you can learn to recognize, by name and position, all the prominent stars and constellations.

Only the brightest celestial objects are included in this guide to ensure your immediate success. No special equipment is required, but binoculars may be used to obtain a better view of the several star clusters and nebulae shown on the charts.

Throughout this guide you will find, in italics, Southwestern native skylore related to the visible stars and constellations. The written record of this vanishing mythology is sparse and often disputed. Still, skylore provides fascinating insights into regional culture and will enhance your overall experience of the Southwestern night sky.

Where to Use This Guide?

Since only prominent stars and constellations are included in the charts, they should be easily seen from any moderately dark location on a clear night. In fact, under perfect conditions (a high-altitude, dry air, moonless, wilderness environment) you can become disoriented by the sheer number of stars visible – about 6,000 for the average observer.

If possible, eliminate all bright artificial lighting in the area; light pollution is a problem for stargazers. Viewing from an open site with a clear panorama of the sky and horizon further improves your chances of finding the charted objects.

In any case, give your eyes a chance to adjust to the darkness (about 15 minutes) and you will see more stars. Use only a dim light when consulting the sky maps in this guide. For best results, use a red cellophane filter taped over the lens of a small flashlight. Red-colored light preserves your night vision, and provides all the illumination you need to read the charts and notes.

When to Use This Guide?

The sky charts in this guide are designed to show the night sky as you will see it from 1 to 3 hours after sunset. They will exactly match the sky 2 hours after sunset. In the Southwest, the sun can set as early as 5:30 p.m. (Winter Solstice, December 22) or as late as 7:30 p.m. (Summer Solstice, June 21). The sky charts allow for this shift.

During the course of an evening all stars drift slowly from east to west, taking 6 hours to cross the width of the charts in this guide. On the North maps only, their drift is counterclockwise around Polaris. If you allow for this motion, the maps may be used at other times.

How to Use This Guide?

The maps are designed as if the night sky were projected on four large, curved movie screens (North, South, East and West) with a flat circular cap. Objects near the border of a screen are sometimes shown on more than one chart.

Any map of the sky involves some distortion, since the sky is really a hemisphere, and maps are necessarily flat. However, this will not affect your ability to locate and identify objects.

Each 3-month season of the year is captured in a set of five charts. Select the chart that matches your current season and direction of view, and imagine you are front and center of the chart. The chart will show the sky in that direction from the horizon halfway up to the zenith.

For objects higher than 45 degrees, use the “UP” charts. On those charts the directions of east and west are reversed so that, when you hold the chart overhead, it matches what you see in the sky.

The charts in the back of the guide provide checkboxes to record your observations. Also included is an index of the constellations.

Visit Riverbanks Gift Shop

There is great pleasure to be had from gaining fundamental, practical knowledge of your surroundings. I hope you have enjoyed each month the selected topics in this series. You can find much more information regarding the Arizona Night Sky in this Easy Field Guide, as well as larger Star Guides and hardbound Night Sky Books found in the River of Time gift shop, Riverbanks. We are open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.