Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Practical Astronomer by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew

The Practical Astronomer is a guide to the night sky for the amateur astronomer. The book features a general overview of the universe and a section on the equipment for watching and recording observations before getting into the meat of the book: the constellations and objects found within them, the planets and their moons, and other items you might see if you look up at sky, such as comets, meteors, atmospheric phenomena, UFOs, the ISS (international space station), satellites, weather balloons and so on. The book also has star charts and a reference section, both of which will aid the avid stargazer.

I loved this book. If I'm outside on a clear night, I always look up at the stars, but with the exception of the Big Dipper and Orion (my favourite constellation because he's just so darn easy to find), I don't really know what I'm looking at. This book has definitely expanded my knowledge of the night sky. My favourite part is the section on starhopping, which is a new-to-me term. Basically, it's "using known stars or group of stars to point the way to other stars or celestial objects". As it turns out, I was already doing it (in a very limited way) and I didn't even know it. You know how you can use the Big Dipper to find the North Star and the Little Dipper, well, that's starhopping. This book has lots of examples.

Beside the large section on stars, there's also a section for planets. There's tons of interesting facts to read about: rings, moons, retrograde motion, Uranus's axial tilt and much more. There's even an explanation for us "old folks" on the demotion of Pluto and why the solar system now only has 8 planets.

Closer to the back of the book there are star charts for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. I've seen these before, but had no idea how to use them. Thankfully, the authors have included a great explanation of how to use them. It'll still going to take me some time to figure out exactly how they work, but at least now I have a chance.

The book also includes a glossary with clear, concise descriptions of the some of the terms used in the book as well as a really good index and table of contents. All of these helped me find items I was interested in.

Highly recommended. Perfect for star-gazing adults, but even a budding teenaged astronomer would love this book.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the DK Canada website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

The Practical Astronomer by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew, Dorling Kindersley Limited (DK), ©2010. ISBN 9780756662103(paperback), 256p.

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