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Understanding the Night Sky: Basic Principles

To gain a basic understanding of the movement of the stars, an introductory course in astronomy would be very valuable. However, here is a very simple explanation of the stars and their apparent movement.

Go outside on a clear night and observe whatever stars you can see. You may or may not know the constellations, so just observe what you see and take note of the various patterns or shapes that you see formed by the stars. Focus on one section of the sky so that you’ll start to see some patterns. Then, take a break. Go back inside, have a coffee, and then go back outside in an hour and look again at the same stars. Hey! Those stars are not in the same location as an hour ago! What happened? Initially, you will think, well, the stars all moved, and yes, from your Earth perspective, they did “move.”

You observed the apparent motion of the stars, due to the fact that Earth is constantly revolving. Earth is moving, rotating around and around, just like the model Earth that sits in every school classroom.


“Constellations of the Northern Sky,” Mechler and Chartrand, National Audubon Society Pocket Guide, Knopf, 1998. This field guide fits in your pocket and includes color photos.

“The Natural Navigator: The Rediscovered Art of Letting Nature be Your Guide,” by Tristan Gooley,

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American Survival Guide January 2020,