The new issue of The Sky At Night magazine comes with a free planisphere, shown above being checked-out by Peggy (who regular readers will be aware is always the first to any astro books or equipment that comes through my door) and it’s really nice.
As you can see, it’s not as big as the largest most popular Philip’s planisphere, but it’s larger than the smallest, and still easy to read. Its “star disc” is detailed, crowded with all the bright stars and their constellations labelled, as well as the best-known asterisms and deep sky objects – but it avoids being too crowded. It’s well made too, light and colourful but not garish.
They’ve done a great job, so congratulations to Pete Lawrence for putting it together.
But is there any use for a planisphere – which doesn’t even show the positions of the Moon and planets – in this digital age, when you can tour the night sky in all its glory with Stellarium on your laptop and zoom in on the wonders of the night sky with just a pinch of your fingers, using one of the countless astronomy apps available for your phone or tablet?
I think so, yes, because a) they’re just fun to use, b) they’re easy to slip into an observing bag, c) they won’t run out of power just when you need them, and d) they really do help you learn the whole sky, by seeing how everything “fits together”.
So it might be thought of by some as doing astronomy “the old fashioned way” but personally I think that’s a good thing. As much as I love all my digital gear, and recommend astro apps to beginners who come to my talks, there’s still joy for the absolute beginner to be had from simply standing in a field with a planisphere and a torch and spotting stars and their constellations by turning that plastic disc, lining up the date and time, looking at the window and having a light-bulb come on above your head with a DING! as, for the first time, you match some of the little dots on the planisphere with some of the twinkly dots in the actual sky… and in that magical only-happens-once moment your life changes, and just as surely as if you’d stepped through that wardrobe door into Narnia a new world opens up for you.
I’ll definitely be recommending this planisphere to beginners while this issue of the mag is available. So, go get one: They’ll fly off the shelves, I’m sure!
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