Wednesday, October 16, 2019


The author, Andrew Fazekas, is somewhat liberal in his definition of “backyard” astronomy. I live a mile from a major shopping center. I do go out in the backyard and I have seen the Orion Nebula often and more recently just found the Andromeda Galaxy. The author seems to implicitly accept that the “backyard” is somewhat darker than the edge of the suburbs. It is only from there that the backyard astronomer can view all 110 Messier objects (which are nicely arrayed in a 10 x 11 table of pictures). But they are available to the dedicated amateur and that is the audience for this book. 

Astronomical guide books all provide the same basic information. The Moon, the planets, the interesting stars in the constellations, nebulae in our galaxy, and galaxies beyond ours are all out there. All of the star guides start with introductory comments, some basic celestial navigation, and then take you from the Sun and Moon to the planets in order and out into deep space. Of course, you  expect and get four seasonal sky charts to hold overhead. This book does much more for you. 

I found some problems with the arrangement of information in very small spreads of one, two, or three pages. The Table of Contents and Index have proved unhelpful and I resorted to sticky notes to mark some references. Perhaps we will have to wait for information to arrive as VR hypercubes. 

The National Geographic Backyard Guide
to the Night Sky, Second Edition
by Andrew Fazekas,
2019, 288 pages, 22 x 13.5 mm, $24.99.
The typography is another problem: a small sans serif font on colorful glossy pages. You will not be able to read this in the dark with a red light. So, you will not take this in your pocket when you are outdoors. This book is for doing your homework, charting your course, and gaining knowledge before you go out to view and discover. 

Finally, the price was kept down by the binding: the pages are glued in, not perfect bound. If you press the book flat to scan or shoot a spread, you will break the binding and pages will soon fall out. This is a book that must be taken care of; and for all of the useful information it provides, it deserves that.

Those problems aside, this handbook combines a textbook survey of astronomy with instructions on viewing the objects of interest. The facts in the narratives are recent and current to date. Among the topics are sprites (verified in 1989) and Hawking radiation. 

Not everything in the sky existed millions of years before we came along. Artificial satellites (including the ISS) and rocket trails also are addressed. We see a lot of stuff out there when we are observing, and it is all worthy of our attention, if only to differentiate the human artifacts from the others.

You will also find good information on choosing and using telescopes, binoculars, and cameras, including your cell phone. It takes far more patience than equipment to pursue asteroids and minor planets, double stars and star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. 


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