Cumberland Times-News

Columns

October 13, 2012

Book will take you around the night sky

 I recently purchased a fine sky atlas that has much to offer beginners in Astronomy. The book is “Night Sky Atlas – Second Edition” by Robin Scagell and published by Firefly Books in 2012. The ISBN is 13: 978-1-77085-142-9.

In contrast to books with images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope or with giant earth telescopes, “Night Sky Atlas” features images taken by small telescopes and sketches made by observers with modest equipment.

This makes a better match for those with small telescopes. (I can imagine the disappointment of novices who can’t see anything like the spectacles in the coffee table books on Astronomy with their own telescopes.)

 The first chapter, “Getting Started” is an easy to read primer for those beginning to learn the night sky. This includes those observing from the country or within a city.

There are tips on finding your directions and well crafted explanations as to why the sky changes during the night and from season to season. There are helpful list of the constellations (‘real estate lots’ in the sky), the brighter stars and the Greek alphabet (used to denote individual stars within a constellation).

Chapter Two on Equipment deals with: What can you see with the unaided sky and with binoculars? What features of a telescope really make a difference in what you can see? What are the main types of telescopes, their mountings and their performance (their ability to resolve fine detail and their light gathering power)?

Chapter Three is an introduction to Sky Maps (both for northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere locations).

Chapter Four has atlas style star maps, matched with photo visual drawings that show the sky as you would actually see it. The deep southern sky (which we can’t see from Maryland) features two satellite galaxies of our Milky Way as well as the nearest star system to our sun (Alpha Centauri).

Chapter Five is a guide to our Moon, describing its motion, its phases, the main features, detailed charts of each quarter visible from Earth as well as intricate features seen with modest telescopes.

Chapter Six covers solar system sights, from the sun, the nearer planets, the giant planets, comets, lunar eclipses and meteors.

Chapter Seven takes us from the nearer stars to stupendous clouds of gas and dust and beyond to galaxies (other Milky Ways). What does a star look like at high power?

Which stars vary in their light? What causes such variation? What are star clusters ? Why do star clusters look better visually through a telescope than their images taken with cameras? What causes the glowing clouds of gas and dust called ‘nebulae’? What are the main types of galaxies?

This chapter ends with a survey of the best deep sky objects, some with sketches that resemble what you would see in a backyard telescope. Deep South objects are also featured for those planning a trip to Australia or Argentina.

Night sky sights coming up: Tomorrow morning the moon will swing from the morning to the evening side of the sun (New Moon). On, Oct. 18, a slender crescent moon will appear above the planet Mars, low in the 7:15 p.m. western twilight.

The Cumberland Astronomy Club will meet Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the LaVale Public Library. All interested are invited. Weather permitting, telescopes will be set up to view the crescent moon.

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.

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