How to Find Star Coordinates

You can use online databases to locate your star.
••• Couple and night sky image by Warren Millar from Fotolia.com

Several companies claim to sell stars, which you can name after yourself or a friend. Unfortunately, these personal names are only for entertainment purposes, and aren’t recognized by any astronomical catalogues. The stars “sold” through these offers tend to be dim and hard to find, even with a telescope. Thankfully, star certificates usually come with a finding chart that includes the name of the constellation that includes your star, as well as your star’s coordinate numbers. You can plug these numbers into an online database to locate your star.

    Access the query form on the “Non-Astronomers Page” of Nasa’s SkyView virtual observatory.

    Look at your finding chart to see two coordinate numbers: a right ascension number (sometimes prefaced by RA) and a declination number (sometimes prefaced by DEC).

    Type both of these numbers into the “Coordinates or Source” text box in the query form. Separate them by a comma, and omit any letters that appear in your finding chart’s number string. These letters are often company ID letters, which the SkyView database won’t recognize.

    Locate the “Optical/DSS” box under the “SkyView Surveys” heading. Click on “DSS.”

    Click the “Submit Request” button to view an image of your star. You can ignore all the other search options. Print out a copy of this image.

    Use the Heavens Above service, recommended by astronomers at Cornell University, if you’d like to see your star in the sky.

    Access the Heavens Above home page, and click on “from database” under the “Configuration” heading to enter your town and country. After doing so, you will be automatically redirected to the home page.

    Click on “Whole sky chart” under the “Astronomy” heading to view the constellations and most prominent stars currently visible in your location.

    Check your finding chart to see if any of these constellations includes your star. If not, enter a different month or year in the date/time query box underneath the sky chart. You will notice that it takes a while for the constellations to move.

    Print out a copy of the sky chart that includes your star.

    Take your printouts outside when your star is predicted to appear in the sky. Use these images to help you locate the position of your star.

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