Book Review: Practical Astronomy

The first half of the book is a reference source for how to observe. With good sense, it gives credit to the unaided eye and it extols the benefits of quickly and easily orienting yourself amongst the limitless dots and streaks in the black canopy of night. Visual aids are described. Telescope types; refractor, reflector and catadioptric, are compared. Ancillary equipment from red lights, to telescope drives to planispheres are also discussed. There are star charts (white dot on blue background) for the complete sky, that is both northern and southern hemispheres. These charts show stars up to magnitude 5 as well as the constellations and their boundaries. This half of the book also includes a section on how to locate the constellations and many of the most significant stars using the altazimuthal system, celestial coordinates, and/or from starting from other, easy to find sights such as Orion.

The second half of the book categorizes the sources of light from near Earth outwards. It starts with meteors, satellites and auroras, then to the Moon, the Sun, and through each of the planets. The final section looks at star clusters, binary stars and nebulae. There is even a brief discussion of galaxies and some exciting amateur prints of them. Rather than solely stating where to find each object, this half discusses characteristics of interest (e.g. the cusps of Venus), noteworthy events (e.g. occultations) and effects in time (e.g. variable stars). Throughout this half the author emphasizes the benefits of recording observations, such as by sketching. This is both for self-satisfaction and as a means of proving observations of an original event.

I like this book as it explains all the necessary fundamentals for sky watching. Without costing more than the price of this text, a person can occupy themselves for a long time in getting acquainted with the sights and events that occur while most everyone else is safely tucked into bed. Sometimes I did find the text a little difficult to follow especially with some of the explanations. Yet there are many prints and drawings that provide a lot of clarity. Also, there are enough inline references throughout the text to aid in following any particular topic.

In all, Practical Astronomy is a great reference for getting a person started onto the road of understanding the night sky and enjoying a pastime that keeps many night owls happily occupied.

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Review by Mark Mortimer