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National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Night Sky Paperback – July 7, 2009
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About the Author
Patricia Daniels has written extensively on history and science, including National Geographic Encyclopedia of Space.
Top Customer Reviews
This book is not a "coffee-table" book as one might sometimes expect with National Geographic, but rather it's published in a convenient field guide size that fits easily into a pack or in your hands, so you can actually use it outside.
One of the most impressive and helpful aspects of this guide is its information on the constellations and how to find deep-space objects within them, like galaxies and clusters. Each constellation is given its own succinct and trenchant treatment, with a heading, map, best times for viewing, associated mythology, and, of course, the location of deep space objects that can be found nearby.
There are only four sky charts given, however (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter), so one may need more specific times for viewing on certain days and hours that can be found in more detailed charts or almanacs. But that's a minor quibble. Indeed, scientists, laymen, kids, and beginners alike, everyone will find this guidebook a useful and joyful addition to their collection.
Overall, as someone fairly new to amateur astronomy who has read and used both, I would suggest skipping this book and getting NightWatch instead.
My goal as a teacher is to try to bring some of that love together with more systematic knowledge, and part of that is getting people to look up in the sky, and to understand what it is they are seeing when they do. To that end, this `Backyard Guide to the Night Sky' is an excellent resource. A question that I ask my students is this - what is the number one instrument for astronomy. Answer: your eyes. Binoculars, telescopes, and all other things come in later, but simply looking up and learning does wonders. This book opens up the sky to those who don't have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on fancy equipment. On the other hand, this book is certainly useful for those who have such equipment - I have found in my experience that telescopes are often like home fitness equipment: there is much excitement and good intention when purchased, but within a very short time, the expensive things are gathering dust in a corner, or relegated to a closet, `for when we have time.'
One needn't plan extensive star parties or buy expensive equipment to enjoy the sky. This book shows how to locate and recognize the planets, the different features and phases of the Moon, aspects of the Sun (don't pull a Galileo by looking directly at the Sun!), and many objects in deeper space, from double- and multiple-star systems (many commonly known stars, like Sirius and Polaris, resolve easily into multiple stars with relatively low-powered magnification) to nebulae and galaxies. For example, the Andromeda Galaxy is visible to the naked eye, and holds several distinctions - it is the most distant object we can see with the naked eye, it is only galaxy outside our own we can see with the naked eye in the northern hemisphere, and we only actually see a portion of it (if we could see the whole thing, it would take up more than half a dozen widths of the Moon across the sky - quite large!).
The book is arranged in a highly readable two-page format for almost every topic, and each topic is sliced thin enough that one can get something useful and yet be left wanting to go to the next topic. Little pop-out boxes of text give insights into history, professional practices, alternate theories, and more. The utility of the book lies in showing what's what, but also in making recommendations for what to purchase (if so inclined), where to view, and what to actually look for in the sky. Those expecting Hubble Telescope-like images in their 3-inch refractor are in for a disappointment, but the real disappointment would be giving in to that kind of false expectation and missing what is really out there.
National Geographic has always been a leader in bringing the natural world accessibly into everyday hands - this book lives up to that tradition admirably.