Astronomy Tools

This page is devoted to currently available physical tools for observing the sky. Now, don't get me wrong. I love computers and the Internet. I write software for NASA spacecraft and robotic aircraft. I've got astronomy software and satellite tracking software on my iPhone, iPad, laptop, and desktop computers. But for sheer information density and ease of use, you sometimes need a tangible device. (And they are just plain cool! 8) Please let me know when you find new devices.

Products are listed in no particular order. While I've tried to be accurate, my apologies if any mistakes slipped through. I'm not related to any of these companies or products other than as a customer.

Probably the first thing you should get is a monthly sky guide. If you subscribe to Sky & Telescope or Astronomy magazine, they include a monthly star guide. Both magazines produce a printed yearly guide that will give you a good introduction and, especially important, help you plan particular objects to observe when you go outside. And there are a plethora of web sites to help you.

Planispheres and star finders:

People have different opinions about the next tool you should get. Some would suggest a good star chart. I suggest a planisphere.

A planisphere is a device that lets you predict when celestial objects will be above your horizon. The simplest models have a base plate printed with all the stars visible from your latitude. Above that is a moveable ellipse that represents your local horizon. The dates of the year are printed on the base plate, and the times of day on the moveable horizon dial. By aligning a time with a date you can see the stars that are above your local horizon at that time.

Fancier models will allow you to predict the rise, set, and location amongst the stars of celestial objects.


An Orrery is a device that models our solar system. Simple ones show the movement of the Earth about the Sun and the Moon about the Earth. More complex devices have the nine (or is it eight? 8) planets in the solar system, and some even have many of the planet's satellites.

The Orrery has a long and distinguished history and there are many scholarly books about the subject.


Don't know about astrolabes? The place to go is James Morrison's Astrolabes web site where you can find out about the uses and history of the astrolabe. He also has a page which lists manufacturers who have reproductions for sale.

I've gotten a couple of astrolabes from:

Star Globes and Home Planetaria:


Maintained by Will Marchant, ( Last updated 2013-04-14