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NightWatch and The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide

Posted by Timm Bottoni   12/14/2005 12:00AM

NightWatch and The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide
[ARTICLEIMGR="1"]I have been interested in Astronomy for a long time, but truly got interested enough in it about 3 years ago, to buy a telescope and start learning enough to find my way around the sky. I think a normal part of a hobby like Astronomy is to seek out information, and while the Internet is a valuable resource, nothing beats a good book to learn the fundamentals.

I am fortunate to have a good public library, with a large selection of books in the Astronomy section, many of which I have checked out, and read parts of. But sooner or later everyone is going to want some good books of their own, to have as reference books, and read when it’s cloudy out.


When it comes to learning the basics, especially for beginners, the single best book I have read is “NightWatch – A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe”, by Terence Dickinson. This book has an amazing way of introducing readers to the Universe, by taking 11 steps, each one larger than the previous, expanding rapidly outward. The book includes sections on all the basics including stargazing equipment, and basic night sky photography. Additional sections include straight forward sections on the planets, the moon, the sun, eclipses, auroras, meteors, and auroras. A good part of the book is devoted to actually learning how to observe the night sky, what to look for, how to find it, and how to learn how to see at night. Good basic explanations of the seasons, light pollution, urban myths, and all of the basic deep sky objects are covered. The book is rich with a variety of high quality color pictures, and charts, and has a very high degree of repeat reading value.

An added bonus to this hardcover book of 176 pages is the spiral binding that allows the book to open flat for night time use of the basic star charts that are included. The charts have enough detail to get anyone started, but are not so overwhelming, as to be intimidating. It’s about all the basic education every beginning amateur astronomer needs. It even includes things like how to pronounce stars and the Greek alphabet, so that if you venture out to a star party you will not be lost when someone points to that brightest star and you correctly pronounce Sirius (and it’s not because it’s also a Harry Potter character).

The Backyard Astronomer's Guide

In “The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide”, authors Terence Dickerson, and Alan Dyer take the same approach as “NightWatch” but go several steps further. Every topic is covered in greater detail, and this hardcover book of 336 pages has a great deal of lasting value. The sections in part 1 include a great deal of valuable information about buying binoculars, telescopes, and accessories, and even though the models may be outdated, the advice is solid and time enduring. From eyepieces to mounts, to filters and telescope designs, the sections include excellent color photos, easy to read charts, and detailed instructions, written in a way that a beginner to intermediate backyard astronomer can understand. If anything can be said about these sections, its that they really do cover all the details, that got only mentioned in “NightWatch”

The second part of the book is all about the night sky, from naked-eye views, to observing conditions, and how to progress your ability to see at night. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge wrapped up in one package here, from which nearly every night time observer will benefit. Nothing is left out from lessons, including all of the Solar System objects, how to navigate your way around the sky, and all of the various deep sky objects. Each section is rich with content, and if nothing else, this book is worth having just for the fantastic high quality color photos. Again, each chapter, and section dives much further into the details that were mentioned in “NightWatch”, with the ability to pick and choose what to read about, based on what interests you most.

Finally, the third part goes into depth about photography, including film, digital cameras, and dedicated astrophotography gear. With about 50 pages of information, it’s enough to give the reader a taste for what is really required to get results from simple time exposure shots to guided long exposures.

The book also contains a number of references to other sources of information, including its own website, where updates are posted, and Internet websites and resources are directly linked for easy access by the reader. This provides the reader with a nearly endless array of resources to search out for further reading.

Both books combined, create an encyclopedia of expert knowledge that I find myself reading over and over again. The authors of the books are experienced astronomers, and writers and are well known in the amateur astronomy community.

So if you are looking to get started, or just want to learn more, these are two books you should feel confident that you will keep and read for a long time.

Click here for more about Nightwatch. -Ed.

Click here for more about The Backyard Astronomer's Guide. -Ed.