A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2017 Feb 25, 18:51 -0800
You're almost there. Only about two dozen of the stars are really worth learning by their "common" names. You can add others for fun, but what's really important is learning reognizable little shapes of fainter stars that confirm the identities of the bright ones. These are the bright star names you should definitely learn:
- And one more: either Rigil Kentaurus, the ugly "official" common name, or the euphonic name that science fiction has immortalized, Alpha Centauri.
Skipping the ones you'll never see from your latitude, that's a short list. And really, if you know these, you can find your way around the sky easily, and navigate practically any time. There are star names that I have known about for decades but never learned. For example, among the stars of the Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major, the Great Bear or Большая Медведица, the Big Honey-Eater, as one says in Russian), I can name Mizar and Alcor, but I don't immediately know which star is Megrez or Alioth or Dubhe.
By the way, I remember which of the Gemini twins is Castor and which is Pollux by noting that their nearest bright neighbors match them alphabetically: Castor is on the Capella side and Pollux is on the Procyon side.
There are many ways to learn the stars including planispheres and numerous smartphone apps, like Sky Map (formerly Google Sky Map), which I highly recommend. A technique we haven't discussed much before is to add another hobby to the game: artificial satellite observing. Visit heavens-above.com, e.g., and find out what is passing over your house tonight (the link has a point pre-selected that should be in the general area of your location). Chasing satellites you will rapidly learn the constellations.