Cumberland Times-News

January 26, 2013

New celestial atlas is an excellent reference

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— Last year, several new sky atlases were published, all aimed at beginning sky gazers.

The first to appear was Firefly’s “Night Sky Atlas” by Robin Scagell with maps by Wil Tiron. This is the second edition with ISBN 13:978-1-7708-5142-9 (paperback) with a list price of $29.95.

I previously reviewed this book in my Oct. 14, 2012, column. “Night Sky Atlas” is aimed at beginners who want to explore the night sky with their eyes, binoculars or small telescope.

A quite different book is National Geographic”s “Space Atlas” by Dr. James Trefil, a Physics faculty member at George Mason University in Virginia. Trefil has written nearly 50 books.

Some Trefil books that I have used include “Science Matters” and “The Sciences” an integrated Natural Science college text.

“Space Atlas” has ISBN 978-1-4262-0971-0 and its hardcover price is $50. The Introduction focuses on three “spearmen,” scientists who greatly enlarged our perspective of the universe.

First was Nicolaus Copernicus, whose ideas moved the center of the universe from the Earth to the Sun. Second was Friedrich Bessel, the first scientist to accurately measure the distance to a star in the night sky. Third was Edwin Hubble, who discovered that there were other galaxies (besides our own), measured their distance and concluded that the universe was expanding.

There follows a stunning array of full colored seasonal sky maps, showing the bright stars, their constellations and the sun’s positions along its path.

The next section of “Space Atlas” is “The Solar System” showing the planet’s orbits in two cartographic diagrams of the inner planets and the outer planets, which includes Pluto.

“Space Atlas” starts with the formation of our solar system, explaining the differences between the small inner planets and the giant planets.

The treatment of Mercury features cartographic maps of Mercury’s entire surface from NASA’s Messenger which is now orbiting Mercury. Many of Mercury’s features are named after classical composers and famous painters.

There is a similar treatment of Venus, whose prominent features are named after deities from world mythology and noted women from literature.

Key Earth features on the cartographic maps include Iceland, the Andes Mountains, Challenger Deep (the lowest point on Earth, nearly 36,000 feet below the ocean’s surface) and the Himalaya Mountains.

Our Moon also has its own sets of cartographic maps, including the hidden side of the moon, whose features bear the names of European scientists.

Mars features on its cartographical map include Vastitas Borealis, a low land region covered with water ice. There is a brief treatment of the Asteroid Belt.

Jupiter’s atmospheric map shows one side of the giant planet where the Great Red Spot dwells, formed by high pressure gases spinning downward. Jupiter’s inner two giant moons are given a full set of cartographic maps.

We know that Io, the innermost big moon has 400 active volcanoes. Another revelation is that the next big moon, Europa has an ocean under its icy crust.

There is detailed map of Saturn’s cloud belts plus a full set of maps of seven notable moons of Saturn. Uranus and Neptune, called twins for their size, rotation speed and encircling rings, feature detailed maps of four moons of Uranus and Neptune’s Triton.

Moving out of the solar system, there is two-page spread of our galaxy, showing our sun’s position within. There follows a look at our star, the sun. We can take the sun’s pulse through neutrinos, ghost like particles that fly from the sun’s center to its visible surface in 2.5 seconds.

Next to be covered are exoplanets, planetary systems about other stars.

The last section of “Space Atlas” treats a number of popular topics including aged stars, exploding stars, the smallest stars, black holes, dark matter, the distribution of galaxies across the known universe and the beginning of the universe.

I recommend that “Space Atlas” be purchased for middle school and high school libraries as well as public libraries.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: The moon was full late yesterday evening. Tomorrow evening the moon will appear near the star Regulus of Leo. By early February, the moon will have moved into the morning sky, rising after midnight.

The planet Jupiter is that bright, steady point high in the evening sky, brighter than any night star.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.