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How to Star Hop [Beginner Astrophotography]

Navigating the night sky can be challenging for beginners. The Star Hop technique is the best way to find night sky objects for the beginner. And there are a few ways to go about successfully learning and using this technique.

What is a Star Hop?

Star hopping has been used since the first time human eyes began looking up at the night sky. It is a technique where you follow with your eyes the bright stars that comprise a constellation towards the object you seek to view or photograph. This requires knowledge of the constellations in the night sky. So how to go about learning the night sky? Let’s discuss some options in detail.

Get a Map

Skywatching by David H. Levy

How to you get around to places you’ve never been? You can buy a road map, get directions from a friend or use Google Maps on your smartphone. A great place to start is the book Skywatching by David H Levy. It gives great detail of everything in the night sky. Keep it next to the telescope for when you need it. Try to match up the bright stars you see in the book with the ones in the sky.

Another option is the sky map or star chart. You can print one each month for your part of the world. does a great job in this area and you may see them handed out at your nearest star party.

Following the book or map can be difficult, so let’s discuss using electronics to assist.

How the Smartphone can help

It’s no secret that smartphones are everywhere. They have GPS capability that allows them to pinpoint your location anywhere in the world. Well knowing that information, smartphone apps can also show you what you’re looking at in the night sky. Below are a short list of apps available for your smartphone.

  • SkyView Free (Android, iOS)
  • Night Sky (iOS)
  • Sky Map (Android)
  • SkySafari (iOS)
  • Pocket Universe (iOS)
  • Stellarium (Android, iOS)

And the list goes on. I started with Sky Map and quickly learned that accuracy can be a problem. The size of the view on the smartphone has to closely match your view of the sky. At my beginning, this app was very helpful navigating the night sky.

Learn from Others

Go to a Star Party. I’ve said this before and it bears repeating. Star parties are great for viewing, but even better for learning. The astronomers there can show you what the constellations look like. This give you a view of the star groupings to memorize. Seek out the astronomers that use a green laser to point out the objects. Then you can see directly above the constellation that is being discussed or shown. For added help you can purchase a green laser online (provided it’s legal in your country to own). Just don’t point at planes.

Example Star Hop

Camera: Pixel 3 Astrophotography Mode

I utilize the green laser to star hop and then plate solve to frame the object in my camera. In this example, I use a photo of the Orion Constellation to locate the Great Orion Nebula.

  1. First identify the constellation. On one side are the bright stars Betelgeuse and Bellatrix. The other side has the bright stars Siaph and Rigel.
  2. Next identify the belt of Orion. It’s the 3 stars in the middle. They are Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. Hop to the middle star, Alnilam.
  3. Next hop down the sword. It hangs off of Alnilam towards the ground.
  4. Finally identifying the Great Orion Nebula as the bright fuzzy object at the base of the sword.

Having done this, I can point my telescope the Great Orion Nebula and begin to photograph.

Kevin Francis

Kevin Francis is a Mechanical Engineer by day, amateur Astrophotographer by night who is taking his Google Pixel smartphone camera to new limits.