The Messier Observer's Planisphere is the ultimate guide to the night sky! Dial in the date and time, then hold the beautifully drawn sky map up in front of you to see what stars and constellations are currently visible overhead. Galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, and asterisms are clearly shown on the map, making them easy to locate in a telescope or binoculars.
What is a planisphere?
A planisphere is a type of mechanical computer, like a slide rule. This kind of computer allows you to select a date and time, then shows you what stars will be visible in the sky at that moment. The face of a planisphere is a map of the night sky. You can use it to identify stars and constellations, and to make your way around the sky when using a telescope or binoculars to view the heavens.
What is special about this planisphere?
I'm glad you asked! I have been an amateur astronomer observing the heavens for over a decade, and I have purchased and used a lot of planispheres. I have large ones, small ones, paper ones, plastic ones... I have tried just about every planisphere on the market. This planisphere is different. Here's how:
- It is large, 18 inches in diameter. You will not have any problem seeing the star chart or reading the text.
- It is easy to read, even when using a red flashlight. Astronomers use dim red light to preserve their night vision so they can see faint galaxies and nebulae in a telescope. Some star charts and planispheres are printed with colors that are unreadable under a red light. The colors used on the Messier Observer's Planisphere show up equally well in daylight, or under a red astronomy flashlight.
- It includes all the Messier objects. You're familiar with the concept of a "Top Ten List". Well, the Messier list is a "Top 110 List" of beautiful objects in the night sky. The Messier Observer's Planisphere includes all 110 Messier objects, making it the only reference guide you need when you go outside with your telescope.
- Locator charts for difficult objects. I remember the first time I tried to observe galaxies in Virgo... there are so many of galaxies in one small area of the sky! I was hopelessly lost and confused. The problem was that I couldn't figure out which was the one I was specifically looking for. I eventually gave up in frustration and had to try again on another night armed with additional charts and books. The Messier Observer's Planisphere includes detailed locator charts for the Virgo galaxies and for several other difficult objects, so you can easily identify the object you are looking for.
- It is packed with reference material. The back of the Messier Observer's Planisphere includes reference data for: the sun, moon, and planets; the Messier objects and selected NGC objects; a table showing the correct order for observing objects during a Messier Marathon; and a meteor shower reference.
What are Messier Objects?
Charles Messier was an 18th century astronomer who spent his career hunting for comets. He discovered a total of 13 comets during his lifetime. During his quest, Messier frequently ran across dim fuzzy objects that looked very much like comets in his telescope, but he found that when he observed them again on a subsequent night they had not changed their position on the sky as a comet does. As any good scientist would do, Messier cataloged his observations of these celestial imposters to avoid confusing them with his real quarry again in the future. Messier first published his catalog in the journal of the French Academy of Sciences in 1774. Ironically, over two centuries later Messier's list of objects not to look at is widely considered to be a list of the most beautiful showpieces in the night sky.
Many amateur astronomers get their start observing objects from Messier's list through their telescopes. In fact, the Astronomical League offers pins and certificates of accomplishment for astronomers who submit a written record of their observations after viewing all the Messier objects. There is even an annual tradition called the "Messier Marathon" held every March, when conditions make it possible for amateur astronomers to view all 110 Messier objects over the course of a single night!
With computers and smart phones, is there really a need for printed star charts?
That's a really good question! And an important one.
You would think that with all the technology available, a mechanical slide wheel might seem a bit quaint as an astronomical reference. After all, there are apps available for your tablet and smart phone that will allow you to hold your device up to the sky and get a digital map right on the screen. So why use a planisphere?
Well, that digital technology is great, except for one important fact... Celestial objects are exceedingly dim! Good luck seeing that face-on spiral galaxy in your telescope eyepiece after you just looked at the bright screen on your phone. It may take up to an hour for you to regain your dark adapted vision. For serious astronomical observing, a dim red flashlight on a printed star chart is the only way to go. So, you need a good chart.
When I was observing the Messier list for my Astronomical League certificate, I used a variety of books and star charts to help me find and identify the Messier objects. But, it was difficult to sit and observe through the telescope with a table full of books, papers and charts that I had to keep track of. In the dark. With the wind blowing. And the dew getting everything wet. Sometimes less really is more! And when it comes to fumbling around in the dark looking for star charts, that is doubly true. Over time, I added stickers to the commercially available planisphere I was using so I could easily see the location of Messier objects on something that I had with me every time I went out with a telescope. I later taped printed tables with descriptions, distances and other information to the back of my planisphere for quick and easy reference. After my first failed experience observing galaxies in Virgo, I added a detailed locator chart for that area of the sky. My poor planisphere looked like a Frankenstein with all the modifications I made! But it met my needs perfectly. I frequently go out with my telescope and observe the Messier objects with no other reference than my planisphere.
Eventually, I realized something interesting. People in my astronomy club were asking me for copies of my stickers and reference charts so they could modify their own planispheres! For years I toyed with the idea of printing my own planisphere from scratch. It would be easier to read and more durable than my Frankenstein version with stickers and papers stuck all over it with clear packing tape. Well, it took a lot of time and dedication. I had to learn how to write the computer code to project the spherical sky onto a flat chart. I had to learn the graphic layout software to produce the printable artwork. I spent hours in a darkened room with a red flashlight comparing charts printed with subtly different colors to determine which were most easily visible. I spent time spraying sample materials with water to see how they would stand up to the dew. The project was not nearly as simple as I imagined it would be. But the result was worth the effort! The final product is everything I hoped it would be. I'm sure you will agree that the Messier Observer's Planisphere is a great reference for any amateur astronomer.
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Risks and challenges
The idea for this product has been developing for many years and is the result of my own desire for a simple reference item that is easy to use in the field while observing the heavens. The product design is complete and artwork is ready for printing. But there are a few risks and challenges that we are prepared for as we move forward:
1) Unknown demand
Printing is expensive, especially for a large media format like this planisphere. So, not knowing how many customers will be as excited about the product as we are presents a challenge. Kickstarter helps us address this challenge. We set our goal to cover half the cost of our first printing run, we are prepared to invest the difference ourselves if we do not exceed our goal. But, the level of support that you give our project will help us identify the market demand so we do not under/over estimate the quantity for printing.
2) Possible Design Issues
No matter how many times you review your own work, it always helps to get a second set of eyes to identify mistakes and shortcomings. We definitely don't want to make a large investment in bringing this product to market only to find out that it is difficult to use or that it contains errors. We are currently working with the printer to produce a limited quantity of pre-production samples for beta testing. We have a select group of seasoned amateur astronomers that have been reviewing the product and giving us critical feedback on any improvements that we need to make before we commit to a large print run. These are expert observers, some who have published astronomy books themselves, who are not afraid to point out any flaws we may have overlooked. We are confident that the final product will be the best planisphere available anywhere.
3) Printing Delays & Complications
This is the hardest one to plan for, as we are not printing experts and don't have any experience publishing a printed product like this. That is why we have chosen a printing company that specializes in slide wheels and similar products, as opposed to books and magazines or marketing materials. We have been busy testing sample materials and are currently in the process of having the pre-production samples printed. We have included lots of extra time in our production schedule to address any complications that may arise. And of course, if problems do arise, we will keep you updated on any potential delay in delivery of the product. But we think we have done a good job planning and minimizing the risk of any potential problems.
This is our first experience packaging and shipping a commercial product. To keep things simple, we will only be delivering products within the United States during the KickStarter campaign. We may add distribution options for global customers at a later date.
Our goal is to produce the best planisphere on the market, one that you will enjoy using for years to come. We think we have succeeded!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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