Categories: Book Reviews

Backyard Guide to the Night Sky


The National Geographic Society publishes popular accounts of a vast quantity of information related to the natural sciences. The society has a new space themed book by Howard Schneider entitled ‘Backyard Guide to the Night Sky‘. And, true to form, in it is a large quantity of information just ready for consumption by the average reader.

This smaller format soft cover book touches on just about everything above the Earth’s surface. Within it are details from the Earth’s troposphere to its exosphere, the planet Mercury to the Ort clouds and the constellations Andromeda to Virgo. With each description, the reader can understand a bit more of the subject and often view an excellently chosen, vibrant, adjoining illustration. The book’s closing pages discuss the big bang and deep sky astronomy to complete this book’s exposé on the night sky.

With a simple yet effective table of contents and a useful index, this well entitled guide serves as a handy reference to the amateur enthusiast. It’s perfect for an evening’s entertainment at a cottage, some reflective pondering while sitting in a back yard or even for daytime studying to broadening one’s knowledge of our existence.

The downside to trying to be such an exhaustive reference is that the book’s content lacks any sort of depth. For example, it mentions that analysts use spectroscopy to determine the chemical composition of stars. And, that is the complete notation of spectroscopy. Or, it mentions that the eye has rods and cones that effect visibility but not how. As well, the book targets the readers living in the northern hemisphere, as some southern constellations are not included. But, shortcomings are expected when a book aims to satisfy a large audience by choosing breadth over depth.

Yet, true to form with other National Geographic Society publications, this book has a rich presentation. Diagrams, photographs and tables vividly embellish the paragraphs. Four somewhat small sky charts show the position of some of the brightest stars. As well, star tables introduce the reader to each constellation’s main components. With this book, there’s no need to go searching elsewhere for many of the facts and figures regarding our night sky.

For some light entertainment, Howard Schneider’s book ‘Backyard Guide to Night Sky‘ provides the reader with a pleasant, enjoyable and fact-filled reference. It will be a useful guide that may even point the direction to a long, fun-filled and rewarding past time.

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Mark Mortimer

Mark gets amazed at science. Awed with technology. And bemused by society. For example, people have stepped on the Moon, traveled faster than sound in the Concorde, and taken showers in the A380. All these are examples of the strengths of people's intellect. Yet, all these capabilities haven fallen to the wayside while online poker continually garners greater favour. As a counterbalance, Mark presents book reviews in the hope of nurturing young minds with the belief that mankind is more than shear dumb luck.

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Mark Mortimer

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