Star Charts, Star Maps & Atlases
Star charts are an essential item for backyard astronomy - good ones show you different resolutions of the sky - from the entire night sky for a given month, to a constellation, to all the galaxies, star clusters and nebula, to successively fainter stars. Astronomy software can provide this as well but nothing beats a good star char, a star atlas and a red flashlight at an observing site.
Tip: Get star charts that are printed on a white background where stars and objects are shown dark for easy night-time readability under a red light.
Star atlases are rated by their visual magnitude limit - each increase corresponds to a big increase in the amount of detail shown. For those just starting out in backyard astronomy, a 5th-magnitude set of star charts is needed. As you get more experienced in learning the constellations and locating deep-sky objects, a 6th-magnitude star atlas is recommended, which shows more detail.
Every astronomer needs a planisphere, which will quickly tell you which constellations and stars are above your horizon on any given time and day of the year. Planispheres are star charts that consist of 2 rotating disks that contain a star map of all the constellations.
One disk is rotated until it lines up with the applicable time and day, and the cutout window will show which constellations are visible. These types of star charts are printed for various latitudes, so be sure and buy one that is closest to the latitude you plan on viewing at.
Find your inner astronomer. Your guide to amateur astronomy.