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Lab section:..................................... Name: ....................................................

Making a planisphere and a Full-Moon location map

Aim: In this lab you will regress to your earlier years and have some fun with scissor and paper.
The aim is to make a planisphere, and then learn how to use it. You will also make a map
illustrating the sky locations of the Full Moon over the course of this year and next.

Method of use: A planisphere is an analog


computer of the sky. It consists of a
circular star disk and a holder that
provides a window through which the
stars visible above the local horizon are
shown. The system is set by dialing-up the
day and time. The frame (or holder) has
midnight (12 p.m.) at the top of its circular
arch, with the hours from 7 p.m. to the
right and the hours to 5 a.m. to the left.
The star disk has the month and day
printed on its outer rim. The planisphere is
set by matching the month and day on the star disk to the hour marker on the holder frame.

A careful look at the viewing window cut into the holder frame reveals that north is at the top (as
we look at it on the page from above), with east to the left and west to the right. This designation
comes about because the planisphere has been designed to be held overhead with the top part of
the holder being directed towards the north - in this orientation the stars on the eastern horizon,
as they should, will be rising and those on the western horizon will be setting. The center of the
holder frame cut out corresponds to your zenith – the point directly overhead.

Action item 1: Print out the two pages for the star disk and the holder. Carefully cut out the
viewing window from the holder frame, and fold the gray flaps backwards to make a U-shaped
grove for the star map to sit in and rotate. If you can print the star disk on heavy quality paper
that will help when using the planisphere (or perhaps glue it to some card).

Example use of planisphere: Let us assume that the day is July 5th, and that the time is 9 p.m.
Set your planisphere to this date and time. If all is set correctly than you should see the following
displayed:

1. The constellation of Scorpius and the bright star Antares will be close to the horizon
and due South
2. The Constellation of Leo will be close to the horizon and in the Western sky.
3. The constellation of Andromeda will just be rising above the North-Eastern horizon.
4. The constellation of Draco will be almost directly overhead (the center of the viewing
window).
5. The bright star Vega will be high overhead, but slightly East of due South.

Action items 2: Use your planisphere to answer the following questions.


Note: the lab instructor’s signature must be in place for a mark to be given for this lab.

Lab instructor’s signature:.......................................................

1. What constellations will be rising above the eastern horizon at 8 p.m. on the night of this
particular lab?

2. Where will the following bright stars be located relative to the horizon
Vega (Constellation of Lyra):.......................................................
Arcturus (Constellation of Bootes):..............................................
Capella (Constellation of Auriga):................................................
Formalhaut (Constellation of Pisces Austrinus):......................................................
Lab section:..................................... Name: .................................................... 3

3. Does the star Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus ever set below our horizon? Yes / No

4. On what day (approximately) of the year does Vega reach its closets point to the northern
horizon at midnight?

Day = :.......................................................

5. The Dog Days of Summer are said to begin with the helical rising of Sirius. If the Sun
rises at 5 a.m., then on what day of the year (approximately) do the Dog Days begin?

Day = :.......................................................

6. On approximately which two days of the year will the Guard Stars (Dubhe and Merak) in
the asterism of the Big Dipper be aligned in a north-south orientation at midnight?

Day: :.......................................................

Day::.......................................................

Do you notice anything specific about the two dates? :.......................................................

Full Moon map


The off-center circle shown on the star disk of your planisphere corresponds to the ecliptic,
which is the yearly path traced-out on the celestial sphere by the Sun and planets as they move
around our sky. The Moon also moves along the ecliptic (but see later). The ecliptic map
attached to this lab shows the location of the Full Moon corresponding to September 23rd, 2010.
What you will need to do now is work out where the next 5 Full Moons are going to be.
Map scale: The ecliptic stretches 360 degrees around the sky, but the map shown here indicates
location along the celestial equator (the center line) in units known as right ascension (RA).
Astronomers use RA as a convenience for setting their telescopes (as you will eventually see in
the telescope lab). All we need know for the present is that 1 hour of RA is equal to 15 degrees.
In this manner each of the small boxes shown on the ecliptic map has sides corresponding to 30
degrees on the sky.

Action item 3: Measure in millimeters the side length L of five different boxes and take an
average of your values:
Lab instructor’s signature
required at this stage;
Side length L = ………………………. (mm)
………………………….

We can now construct an image scale such that one degree on the sky corresponds to the distance
L / 30.

Method: We saw in class that the Moon completes one orbit about the Earth every 27.321582
days, but completes one full illumination cycle every 29.530589 days. In this manner the Moon
will shift along the ecliptic by an amount equal to 29.107 degrees (check your class notes to see
where this number comes from) during every complete Full Moon to Full Moon cycle.

Action item 4: The Motion of the Moon along the ecliptic is eastwards, and the distance traveled
along the ecliptic (on the map) will be 29.107 x (L / 30) millimeters. From the given Full Moon
location mark on the ecliptic the next 5 Full Moon positions – use a pair of compasses to mark
off the distances. Now answer the following:

7. In which constellation will the Full Moon of December 21st 2010 be located?

Constellation = :.......................................................
Lab section:..................................... Name: .................................................... 5

8. Use your planisphere to work out the following: The first-quarter phase Moon of January
23rd, 2010 was located in the center of the constellation of Aries. At what approximate
time did it set below our horizon?

Time = :.......................................................

Lab instructor’s signature must be present below for a mark to be given.


.......................................................

Additional Questions
1) Use the Internet or any introductory astronomy textbook to find out why we do not see a lunar
eclipse every full Moon, or a solar eclipse every New Moon. Explain in less than 150 words and
with at least one relevant diagram. Caution: do not just cut and paste an answer from the web…
we shall be checking.

2) Use the Internet or any introductory astronomy textbook to find why it is that Earth
experiences winter and summer seasons on a six-monthly cycle. Also find out when the Earth is
at its closest point to the Sun and at its greatest distance away from the Sun. How does the
Earth’s distance from the Sun fit-in with the summer / winter seasonal cycle?

Make sure that you site your information sources.


Lab section:..................................... Name: .................................................... 7

Cut out this central oval


Ecliptic Map

Each box has sides


corresponds to a sky
angle of 30 degrees

The ecliptic is the


wavy dashed line

The Moon’s location


on September 23rd
2010 is shown by the
symbol €

Eastward
motion