First Light Guides: Find your sky

This page is designed to help you determine what objects are best for viewing from the First Light Guides themselves.  Compare your sky overhead to the charts listed below, then click on the guide that most closely matches your sky. To understand why east is left and west is right, see bottom of page.

More information after charts, too.


Does your sky look like this? Click for the 0 Hours Right Ascension First Light Guides list of objects you can see in the night sky tonight.

The Summer Triangle is prominent to the west, the Great Square of Pegasus will be on or near the meridian (and near the zenith for those within 5 degrees of 35 degrees north), and Cassiopeia is just east of the meridian towards the north. Note that when facing north, Cassiopeia will look like an "M" not the "W" as displayed here. (If you faced south and tilted your head all the way up and over towards the north, the Cassiopeia would appear like a "W" then.) The bright star Fomalhaut is one of the few bright objects to the south. 




Does your sky look like this? Click for the 3 Hours Right Ascension First Light Guides list of objects you can see in the night sky tonight.

The Great Square of Pegasus is prominent towards the west, about halfway up the sky from the horizon to the zenith from most locations. Cassiopeia will be on or near the meridian towards the north, and look more like an "M" shape when facing that direction. Orion will be unmistakable towards the southeastern sky, with the bright stars of winter's constellations surrounding the Hunter. Sirus, the brightest star in the sky after the Sun, will be between Orion and the horizon. 




Does your sky look like this? Click for the 6 Hours Right Ascension First Light Guides list of objects you can see in the night sky tonight.

Orion will be the most obvious constellation visible in the south, with the three "belt" stars in the middle of the hunter shape. The next brightest star in the sky after the Sun, Sirius, will be below and east of Orion. Bright stars and constellation shapes are somewhat lacking to the west and east. To the north, Cassiopeia, appearing more "M" shaped, is to the northwest. The Big Dipper or Plough stars - particularly the "bowl" or "blade" - are rising in the northeast. 




Does your sky look like this? Click for the 9 Hours Right Ascension First Light Guides list of objects you can see in the night sky tonight.

Orion the Hunter is still visible but moving towards setting in the southwest, with the bright star Sirius following it slightly more towards the south. Leo the Lion will be the most prominent constellation towards the east, more towards the meridian than not. The Big Dipper will be about halfway up the sky, perhaps a bit more towards the meridian, and when facing north, will appear "upside down" rather than in the orientation seen here. 




Does your sky look like this? Click for the 12 Hours Right Ascension First Light Guides list of objects you can see in the night sky tonight.

When the sky looks like this, we are largely looking up and out of the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. So there are fewer stars visible. To the north, the obvious shape is the Big Dipper, which will appear upside-down to observers facing north and looking up at it. A few bright stars run a bit west-to-east here - Procyon to the west, Regulus in Leo somewhat overhead, and bright Arcturus towards the east. The giveaway however, is the Big Dipper crossing the meridian. 




Does your sky look like this? Click for the 15 Hours Right Ascension First Light Guides list of objects you can see in the night sky tonight.

When the sky appears like this, the Big Dipper is to the west of the meridian, with the "handle" of the shape pointing generally towards bright Arcturus, which will be on or near the meridian. The stars of the Summer Triangle are rising in the east and northeast, with the brighest of the three, Vega, leading the way as it is highest in the sky - approximately halfway up between the horizon and zenith.  




Does your sky look like this? Click for the 18 Hours Right Ascension First Light Guides list of objects you can see in the night sky tonight.

When the sky appears this way, the Big Dipper is moving downwards in the northwest, with the "handle" pointing somewhat up, and the "bowl" pointing generally down to the horizon and the bright star Arcturus about halfway up the horizon to the west. To the east, the Summer Triangle dominates, with its brightest member, Vega, somewhat close to the meridian (and for many observers, the zenith too). Next brightest Altair is to the south, and the dimmest of the three, Deneb, is to the northeast. Some of the best objects in Sagittarius and Scorpius to the south are visible when the sky looks this way.   




Does your sky look like this? Click for the 21 Hours Right Ascension First Light Guides list of objects you can see in the night sky tonight.

Two shapes stand out towards overhead: The Summer Triangle along the meridian, and slightly west, and the Great Square of Pegasus to the east. The "W" shape of Cassiopeia is also visible about halfway up from the horizon to the northeast.  


IMPORTANT: These guides are centered for those living at latitude 35 degrees north, in the northern hemisphere.  For those living between 30 and 40 degrees north latitude, no substantial changes are necessary to determine which sky is overhead.

If you live >5 degrees north of 35 degrees latitude:  The stars will all be shifted towards the south, and stars shown overhead on these charts will be slightly further south for you.  Some objects or stars may not be visible if you are substantially north (60 degrees north or more).  Wait for the southernmost objects to be at or near the meridian when attempting to observe.

If you live >5 degrees south of 35 degrees latitude: The stars will all be shifted towards the north, and stars shown overhead on these charts will be slightly further north for you.  If you live at 20 or 25 degrees north latitude or further south, you should wait for the objects furthest north to be on the meridian when attempting to view them.

One other note: These are intended for you to be facing south.  You can face east / west / north, but if you do, TURN THE CHARTS so that the direction you are facing is at the bottom of the chart. This will ensure that when you look up, the stars will match what you see, and what the chart shows.

Frequently Asked Question

Why is East to the left, and West to the right on the charts? Isn't east to the right when facing north, and west to the left?

Here's the way to think about this: When we look at a map of Earth, we are looking as if from a bird's eye view, or from the top down. When we look at the sky, we need to face up, but when we look at a sky chart, we often think of it as the same orientation, a bird's eye view, or top-down.

But a sky chart isn't like that because the sky is UP, not down. 

So imagine the sky chart another way. Imagine holding the sky chart up over your head - you can do this if you're looking at these on a tablet or smartphone. Face south, then hold the phone up over your head, bringing your head to a "facing up" position. 

You will now have the directions in the correct orientation: North will be behind you, south in front of you, and east left and west right. 

Pretty amazing, huh?

Because that can be hard on the next, there's an easier way, as most of the time we are not looking at the entire sky at once. Whatever direction you are facing, hold that direction at the bottom of the chart. So if you're facing north, spin your phone (hopefully you can lock the screen) so north is at the bottom. Then Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper will "look correct" then. Do the same if facing east or west. South is easy, as it is already at the bottom.