Navigating the Night Sky

How to Use an Almanac To Explore the Night Sky

Sep 28, 2017
Stargazing
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The wonder of the universe is at your fingertips! Here is how you can use the Almanac to help stargaze and explore the night sky.

A Calendar of the Heavens

Though weather predictions are often the first thing people associate with The Old Farmer’s Almanac, an almanac means “calendar of the heavens” or a sky timetable.

The calendar pages are the heart of the Almanac, and it was an enthusiasm for astronomy which first inspired our founder, Robert B. Thomas, who would pore over “Ferguson’s Astronomy” as a young boy. He studied the heavens—observing the Moon phases, conjunctions, meteor showers, and other celestial events. His fascination with astronomy resulted in this farmer’s almanac being a true “calendar of the heavens.”

Here are the calendar pages from his very first 1793 edition—revealing all of nature’s precision, rhythm, and glory—and giving readers an astronomical view of the year.

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Today, the calendar pages continue to be at the heart of The Old Farmer’s Almanac. They are, in essence, unchanged, and Robert B. Thomas would surely recognize his handiwork here. (Click below to enlarge.)

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  • At the top left, you see the “Sky Watch” with the significant events in the night.
  • This is followed by the month’s Moon phases and, still dominating the page, the columns of numbers that display nature’s rhythm and glory.
  • The columns are read horizontally, starting with the days of the year, month and week.
  • What follows are the Sun rise and set times, length of day, Sun fast, the declination of the Sun, high tides, the Moon rise and set, the Moon’s age in days, the Moon’s place in astrology (yes, some of the earliest almanacs included astrology and, believe in it or not, it has celestial interest), and the Moon’s age.

A Calendar of Astronomical Events

Beyond the calendar are exacting and exquisite details on a broad range of events in an easy-to-read format. Here are a few examples:

This year’s eclipses and full Moons … 

eclipses_full_width.png

Guidance for calculating twilight and viewing principle meteor showers

twilight_full_width.png

The transit and rise/set times of significant stars

Bright Stars 2017

And guidance for viewing the planets

planets-1_half_width.pngplanets-2_half_width.png

Your little yellow book is one of the handiest and most reliable tools for viewing and enjoying the wonders of the universe!

Look inside the brand-new 2018 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

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We hope you enjoy exploring the cosmos with The Old Farmer’s Almanac!

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Reader Comments

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Sun Fast - is it the Equation of Time?

I see in the October 1793 that the Sun Fast column reflects the Equation of Time: it goes from +11 minutes on October 1 to +16 minutes on October 31. But the August 2017 Sun Fast is not the equation of time - it goes from +9 minutes on August 1 to +16 minutes on August 31. According to the Equation of time, that +9 on August 1 should be -6 minutes, and the +16 on August 31 should be 0 minutes.

Why is Sun Fast not the Equation of Time? Is there some additional factor I need to subtract from the OFA's Sun Fast to get the Equation of Time? It looks like Sun Fast is ahead by 16 minutes.

Sun Fast/Slow

There are at least 3 corrections that are needed to convert between watch time and sundial time: equation of time, longitude correction, and daylight saving time (if applicable). Latitude also plays a part in positioning the sundial.

From what I understand, it looks like the 1793 Old Farmer’s Almanac edition used the longitude for the central meridian of the Eastern time zone, 75 degrees west. However, the 2017 Almanac (and our current editions) calculate based on Boston, which is east of the central meridian, at about 71 degrees 3 minutes west. If I’ve done the calculations correctly, that is a +15.8 minute adjustment (since Boston is east of the central meridian, add the minutes). If this is right, then the August data published in the 2017 Almanac is correct, once the correction for longitude is added to the equation of time.

August 1, 2017:
-6 minutes (equation of time, sun slow) + 15.8 minutes (longitude correction) = 9.8 minutes (or roughly 9, as in the Almanac)

August 31, 2017:
0 minutes (equation of time) + 15.8 minutes (longitude correction) = 15.8 minutes (or roughly 16, as in the Almanac)

Hope this helps!

Confused by place

In the 1793 version of the almanac there is a column that reads "Place". Then, vertically it reads belly, reigns, thigh, heart, knee....etc. What does this mean?

moon's place

This column listed the Moon’s astrological place. In astrology, each zodiac sign is associated with a part of the body (Man of Signs). For example, “feet” refers to Pisces, and “heart” refers to Leo. You can find this information in the 2018 Almanac on the left-hand calendar pages under the column furthest to the right with a crescent moon symbol and “ASTROL. PLACE” heading. A full chart is also included in the back, on page 239. Please note that this is different from the Moon’s astronomical place (also a column on the left-hand pages, abbreviated as “ASTRON. PLACE”) which is the Moon’s place in the constellations in the sky at midnight–useful for sky-watchers. For more information about the Man of Signs, see:
https://www.almanac.com/content/man-signs-zodiac-man

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