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Recommended Books

Celestron Merges Astronomy and Electronics

The most important part of owning a telescope is simply whether or not you use it. The instruction manual that comes with most scopes does not tell you how or what to observe, and the controller’s guided tour doesn’t account for obstructions, clouds, or personal preferences. The NexStar 6 SE comes with an excellent quick guide to the GoTo hand controller and scope set up, but the manual only tells you the details of the 6SE’s operation. Actually, there are two additional bits of knowledge you need: how to do the observations, and what to observe.

The First Book - A Hacker’s Delight?

The Thompsons’ previously mentioned book, Astronomy Hacks, consists mostly of tips and tricks for observing, especially for any amateur astronomer. It discusses such things as safety and comfort at dark sky observing sessions, how to read star charts, and what type of eyepieces to choose. Though the Thompsons show a predilection for Dobsonians, they also explain how to trick out your car and ‘puter with red filters so as not to reverse your dark adaptation.

Despite the various Web commentary about how the tips aren’t really hacks, or that this book is for Dobsonian owners, neither of these criticisms is at all relevant. The book is well organized by section, such as the chapters “Observing Hacks” and “Accessory Hacks”. In “Observing Hacks”, they describe how to plan an observing session. Here they include such details as figuring out star brightness, the importance of an observing log, and even celestial catalogs. They comment on computer stuff too: they champion an excellent, widely used, free charting program, Cartes du Ciel, at the programmer’s website. How many astronomy books mention how to keep and draw in a notebook? Somewhere, Percival Lowell is smiling...

The Second Book - the How

As far as what to observe, O’Reilly’s newly published book from their Make series, Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders, at O’Reilly is also written by the Thompsons. Though some of the information regarding eyepieces and scopes is repeated and updated from their previous work, most of the book describes what to look at-and why. This book is organized by constellation, but includes clusters, nebulae and galaxies that are visible in the northern hemisphere. For every constellation, the Thompsons illustrate star charts with finder field and 1º circles. They also include tables that describes what might be seen in an urban setting. An introductory section explains DSO (deep sky objects) observing in detail.

In short, this book is a guide of objects to look for, and where to find them, for beginners and advanced observers. Several hundreds of DSOs and multiple stars are described, so the tour could last a year or more. This book is designed to cover the objects required for most list certifications. Completion of this course-the book-would signify that you are an advanced amateur. To my knowledge, no other guide book exists that is so useful for planning and conducting observation sessions.

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