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Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System, Vol. 3
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About the Author
Robert Burnham works at "Astronomy" magazine and is a member of the American Astronomical Society and the American Geophysical Union. He is the author of "Advanced Skywatching,"" Exploring the Starry Sky," and "The Reader's Digest Children's Atlas of the Universe," He lives in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. Alan Dyer is the author of "The Backyard Astronomer's Guide," Jeff Kanipe is the author of "A Skywatcher's Year,"
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Top Customer Reviews
There are plenty of astronomy books for amatuers with fantastic photos. And sometimes it can be intimidating to know what to buy. Burnham's book is worth every penny (and it doesnt cost much either). It does not contain colorful photos (though contains plenty of b&w photos taken from Lowell/Palomar and other observatories). All 88 constellations are dealt with in detail. First a list of double stars are given in each constellation followed by details of each bright star (including spectrum analysis for some). The book is set in "type-writer" font, so it gives a special feeling of reading some research paper.
A unique feature of this book, which is probably not found in any other astronomy book I have come sofar, is that, it also contains a perspective of a given constellation or star by several different cultures. Most astronomy books stop with Greek and Roman myths - giving a feeling that no other culture was knowledgeable in astronomy. Coming from Indian background, I found it very intriguing that Burnham mentions several stories and myths from Indian folklore (including those that I heard from my granny!). For eg, Varahamihira (c 100 AD?) in his "Brihat Samhita" compares Ursa Major (aka called "Seven Sages") to string of pearls. I was surprised to see Burnham mention this.
One other way I use the book is to first locate some star in the telescope (by lazily moving it around), notice the color, constellation and other characteristics, then look into the book about the details and compare with what you saw. Thats a fun way of learning.
Though more experienced astronomers would observe that some Burnham's values are of older epoch, this should not really bother a beginner. Burnham has certainly packed a wealth of information into three volumes. Again this is a book that will accompany for life on observing the wonders that are up above the sky.
These books examine the major constellations and the objects that define them. As you read the data on stars, etc., you'll also learn some of their history through the ages. The reader will need to realize that the astronomical facts listed were current when the books were researched and written, but may not be exactly accurate all these years later. They're still pretty close in most cases. Some mythology involved in star naming history is also included.
The books are written in old typewriter style and the pictures are all black and while. Some may not like this format, but I liked seeing more time put into the research and history instead of fancy graphics. In the age of Hubble it's also nice to see some old photos taken with early refractors and the 200 inch Palomar telescope when it was THE best available. Makes an interesting contrast to what we can easily find on the internet today. Those old plates are really intersting to compare to what's available today. Makes you appreciate the Hubble's fantastic photos and how easy we have it today to simply log on and get regularly updated astronomical data and photos in seconds.
Plus - the books look cool sitting on your bookshelf. Each volume is about three inches thick (and a bit heavy), with a lot of information in one place. And you don't need power or batteries to carry them outside or enjoy them in your favorite easy chair.
Overall I'm still reading through these books and do use them regularly for quick reference before and after observing. The diagrams and photos may not be fancy, but are organized by constellation for easy research. The charts are easy to read and just look plain cool to dig into when planning what to observe. For me it's just easier to quickly look through the books than powering up the iPad or laptop and surfing the web to find something. They may not be for everyone, but for me it's really fun to use a bit of history.
As an added comment - Just received the March 2012 Sky and Telescope magazine. It contains an article on the eclipsing star Epsilon Auriga in the Auriga constellation. The article details current (2012) thinking that a dark disk "cloud" (with a possible central star) is causing the eclipse. The Burnham books (Volume 1) lists this same idea as one of three possible theories being considered at the book's copyright date of 1966 (and revised in 1978 with an intro by Burnham). Interesting that they were considering an idea then that seems to be correct today.