A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Bob Goethe
Date: 2017 Mar 1, 10:04 -0800
When I lived in Japan, I learned to read the weather forecasts in the newspaper. I had a 13 foot sailing dinghy, and did not want to be caught out on the sea in a thunderstorm if I could avoid it. There were virtually zero mnemonic aids for learning the Japanese characters that represented "wind out of the north", "increasing cloud in the afternoon" or "scattered thundershowers in the evening", for instance. What I had to do was simply write one character, or more typically one phrase, on a piece of paper 100 or 200 times, and then review it (by writing it down 50 or 60 times) occasionally thereafter.
Japanese weather forecasts, as with English weather forecasts,
use a limited vocabulary. Learn 100 or so Kanji idiographs, plus
an alphabet with 46 characters that provides word-suffixes,
and you have all you need to read that section of the paper. It
is a lot of work, but a surmountable task.
In much the same way, I have reproduced the stars colored as black circles, in the attached document, some dozens of times on blank pieces of paper. Do it once. Compare it to the star sheet. Throw away the page I just drew on, and do it again on a blank sheet. Repeat.
Being able to draw specific asterisms, including named stars, is one of the requirements of Sail Canada's celestial navigation exam. I produced the attached document as an aid to students, to get them ready to write the Sail Canada exam. This is a 10 page document, but pages 1-3 are the most important ones.
I was out last night after coming back from supper, and found Orion in our south sky. So I made a point of standing at the end of the driveway, and "seeing" the large arc that contains Aldebaran, Capella, Pollux, Procyon, and Sirius...and reviewed their names in my mind.
By the same token, if it is a time of night, during a time of year, when Orion is not visible, then the triangle made of Altair, Deneb and Vega will likely be visible. I recite those star names to myself as I find them in the sky.
If I take 3 months off of star finding/naming, then I do tend to forget which names go with which stars.
Clearly, nobody during the last 500 years of celestial navigation has come up with any good mnemonic aids for remembering star names. If they had, then NavList would know about them. If we today can come up with a set of mnemonic aids, we will be doing a good thing that has never been done before.
Now, other than Orion, Big Dipper, and Cassiopea, I don't worry much about constellations. Altair, Deneb and Vega are each in a different constellation. I don't recall which constellations, and I don't much care. My only priority is to find the three stars.
Perseus is the one exception. I include it on my star finder page...as he is one of my favorite constellations. I included him on page 1 for fun. In 2014, I had 19 days in a row in a setting with zero light pollution. I set myself a goal to learn one new constellation per night, comparing what I could see in the sky with some star charts I had brought along.
When I found Persius, he looked to me like a happy Brazilian World Cup soccer player kicking his ball (the Pleiades Cluster) across the sky. Since I first "saw" him as that, I have always sought out Persius and the Pleiades in the sky.
I live in Edmonton, and we have lots of light pollution, particularly to the north of our house. So I am much better at identifying stars that appear in the southern sky than in the north. But generally speaking, I have discovered that moderate light pollution is not a terrible thing when learning navigational stars...since navigational stars are usually the brighter ones. Light pollution wipes out the dimmer stars, and makes the few that remain really stand out.
When I was on the 19 day trip, with zero light pollution, there were so MANY stars in the sky that identifying the navigational stars I wanted to use was challenging. It helps to have stared at those stars while you were in the city, to get a feel for their relative locations.
Good luck to us both, as we try to identify stars and remember their names.