Category : Astronomy Books

First Light and Beyond Astronomy Book Review

First Light and Beyond by D A Jenkins – Making a success of astronomical observing.

‘First Light and Beyond’ is for the visual observers, it covers all aspects of how to get you equipped and prepared for the observing night ahead. A large section of the book is then given to the constellations and where to find the main astronomical objects to view.

The beginning of ‘First Light and Beyond’ starts off by covering all the basics of the night sky including the motion of the sky, how to measure distance, which constellations appear in certain seasons etc. There is more information on such things as how to find the object you are looking for whether it’s via an App or a planisphere. The beginning of the book also covers magnification and the use of various eyepieces. It then goes onto discuss collimation, cleaning your telescope and polar alignment of your mount.

The next chapter covers where it’s best to observe from, as well as about universal time. It tells you when is the best time to view the planets and meteor showers as well as about observing conditions.

Chapter 3 is about your equipment, this chapter covers binoculars, finderscopes, star charts, eyepieces, dew prevention, filters, GOTO telescopes as well as many other things. It actually has a section about useful household items you don’t want to forget about using such as carrying cases, observing chairs, notebook, spare batteries, extra clothing and using mosquito repellent.

This chapter ends with a section on completing observing report forms and how to star hop. Then the next 100 pages are dedicated to constellation maps and images of the night sky and how to see them. This section is split up into 2 sections, one for star clusters and nebulae and the other for galaxies. Each of these sections provides you with many star maps, some images of the object in question as well as written useful information about the objects.

Chapter 6 tells you to treat yourself to dark skies. This chapter introduces you to the international dark sky association and asks why observe under dark skies? Mainly because the next section is given over to a number of objects that are suited to being viewed under dark skies. This chapter ends with some useful information on travelling to dark sky locations and what to expect and of course what to take by the way of packing tips.

Now originally I said ‘First Light and Beyond’ was only for observers, well there actually is a small chapter on getting into astrophotography, when I say little it is only about 12 pages. It covers simple point and shoot cameras, and DSLR cameras. It mentions imaging through the eyepiece, piggyback mounting your camera onto your mount and camera tracking mounts. There is also a brief introduction to a few astronomy software programs like FITS Liberator and ImagesPlus.

The last few chapters cover topics such as astronomy magazines, astronomy books, astronomy websites and about public outreach programs and how you may want to start your own astronomy club etc.

Overall thoughts

Overall I quite liked ‘First Light and Beyond’ because it wasn’t just about star maps and where to find objects in the night sky but it also contained extra information such as travelling to dark skies and about the equipment you need for visual observing and how to plan an observing session.

I would say this was aimed at the beginner to intermediate astronomer. It contains a good number of images, some colour some black and white. I think this is the kind of book that you would read cover to cover as each section is well written and does not go into massive amounts of detail it just gives you the right level of information and allows you to go off and find out more if you are interested in that area of astronomy.

Where can I buy the First Light and Beyond book?

You can buy First Light and Beyond from Amazon UK

Astro Imaging Projects Book Review

Astro Imaging Projects for Amateur Astronomers – A Maker’s Guide by Jim Chung

This book is part of The Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy range of books from Springer. Astro Imaging Projects for Amateur Astronomers has a large range of astronomy projects that you can undertake. I find that as an amateur astronomer whatever you buy or however you setup your observatory (if you are lucky enough to have one) you will still end up performing some DIY on your setup or making a small accessory. This may be making a dew shield or a lightbox for flats etc.

Chapters in Astro Imaging Projects for Amateur Astronomers

Five main chapters can be found within the book, with even one having multiple projects in each.

The first chapter is entitled “DSLR Astro Imaging” this discusses taking a colour DSLR and turning it into a Monochrome camera (astro-modding it), as well as performing planetary imaging with an DSLR. There is also information on how to make a fine focuser for a DSLR lens. The chapter finishes by showing you how to make a thermally cooled true monochrome DSLR for less than $300.

Chapter 2 is all about advanced imaging and here the author covers taking a basic high frame rate camera and modifying it for long exposure deep sky imaging which is in the section called ‘how to image like the pro’s for under $1000’. Projects exist on how to create your own on-axis guider.

Chapter 3 covers projects that could help you in public outreach evenings. The first of these is taking a standard PST and supersizing it, as well as making it possible to image in CaK. There are also projects on making a digital schmidt camera and how to make an eyepiece turret. Finally there is a project on how to make a real time narrowband visual viewer with image intensifiers.

Chapter 4 is called Amateur Telescope Making, in this chapter the author makes a collapsible 8.5” refractor. He also takes a Skywatcher 12” Dobsonian telescope and makes it a tracking telescope by using a Meade Handset and some gears and motors from a Meade DS telescope. There are also lots of other small projects including finding some old telescopes at garage sales and then re-conditioning them. There are also details on making an Ha solar scope and re-conditioning bolts and telescope parts and nickel plating them.

Chapter 5 contains a number of projects, these include making an affordable atmospheric dispersion corrector and making an electrically powered variable height pier. The author also creates an observing tent out of PVC piping. There is also a project about building your own CT laser collimator like the Hotech advanced laser collimator.

Overall thoughts…

Overall there are lots of astronomy projects covered in Astro Imaging Projects for Amateur Astronomers. You can either reproduce them or they may just give you inspiration to start your own astronomical project. It was good to see lots of colour images throughout the book, with some nice detailed images. It was also nice to see that the book was up to date as the use of modern technology was discussed and covered.

I don’t know if there is enough detail in the book to allow you to easily follow what exactly was done in each project, but hopefully there is more information online about each project. This book is for the DIY astronomer, give it a look if that’s you.

Where can I buy Astro Imaging Projects for Amateur Astronomers?

You can buy Astro Imaging Projects for Amateur Astronomers from Amazon UK

Viewing and Imaging the Solar System Book Review

viewing and imaging the solar system

Viewing and Imaging the Solar System from Jane Clark is an easy to read beginners guide to viewing and imaging the Solar system. It explains in some detail the principles of the telescopes and the in’s and out of star maps, which are best to use in the garden on a cold dark night and which are best used indoors. One item I found interesting was the explanation of what to wear and why, which you don’t often see in Astronomy books.

‘Viewing and Imaging the Solar System’ goes on to explain telescope mounts, the different types and the advantages of Altitude – Azimuth such as a Dobsonian and Equatorial Mounts. There’s an explanation of how to carry out alignment of the Equatorial mount using polar scope.

The next chapter titled ‘Telescopes Binoculars and Light’ explains the principles of light. It covers the different types of lenses, convex and concave and it covers Eyepieces, Barlow Lenses, Binoculars and filters. The different types of telescope are described and the advantages of each type. The next chapter introduces the reader to photographing the solar system, explaining the hardware, the importance of focusing using a Hartmann and Bahtinov masks.

Photographing the Moon and planet is explained by outlining the different types of cameras such as a DSLR and Web cams. The pros and cons of each type are discussed as well. Then comes the processing of the images with the help of computer screen shots of software K3CCD and RegiStax. There is a great section on using Dark frames to remove the thermal noise on the CCD chip during processing.

The next few chapters’ deal with what you can realistically expect to see with the naked eye and a camera. The superior planets are covered in detail with the aid of the author images and explanations. Jupiter sections outlines how best to view the four moons through a telescope and observe the moons rotation of the planet with a number of detailed drawings. I will say that some of the accompanying photos were a little dark which made the surface detail hard to see clearly.

Chapter 8 completes the solar system with observing the Sun using different types of solar scope at the different wavelengths of the light. This section included white light, hydrogen alpha and details on solar spectra. The book finishes its tour of the solar system with Asteroids and Comets and observing the solar system from your armchair.

This book is quite strange as it covers a lot of different areas of astronomy. I do feel that this book is very much for the beginner. A beginner will get a lot out of reading this book, but I would prefer books that deal with specific in-depth topics.

The book an interesting read for the beginner but I feel its let down by the authors photographs.

Reviewed by Mick Jenkins

Buy from Amazon UK

Lessons from the Masters Book Review

Lessons from the masters bookLessons from the Masters is an astrophotography book from Springer. Each chapter is written by different well known astrophotographers. It is good to have individual chapters, as it makes it nice to pick up the book and just read one chapter at a time.

There really is something for everyone in this book, whether you are into solar imaging, lunar photography, widefield SLR imaging, planetary imaging or deep sky imaging.

It took me a while to read the book cover to cover, but I did begin reading the chapters I found most interesting first. I then seemed to randomly pick chapters one at a time and read them.

I began with Damian Peach’s chapter about planetary imaging. Now I think his images are amazing, and I am sure there is something he does, that he is not telling us. Unfortunately I thought he could have told us some more about what he does exactly when he images. I felt the chapter was a little bit too much of an overview.

‘Lessons from the Masters’ begins with a great chapter on the theory of astronomical imaging which includes lots of equations and graphs discussing signal to noise ratio, full width at half maximum, quantum efficiency, sampling and calibration etc.

Then there are a number of chapters covering different areas of astro imaging from authors that include Tony Hallas, Don Goldman, Ken Crawford, Damian Peach and Robert Gendler.

Lessons from the masters chapters:

  • High Dynamic Range Processing
  • Intensifying Colour
  • Revealing small scale details
  • Bringing out faint large scale structure
  • Narrowband imaging
  • Widefield imaging
  • Noise reduction techniques
  • Deep Sky Imaging workflow
  • High resolution lunar and planetary imaging
  • Secrets to successful earth and sky photography
  • Imaging and processing images of the solar corona
  • Catching sunlight
  • Aesthetics and composition in deep sky imaging
  • Hybrid images: A strategy for optimising impact in astronomical images

It’s nice to see colour images throughout the book. Some of the chapters you can just read through and others are chapters that you will need to sit at your computer and work through in programs like Photoshop.

There are some great tips throughout ‘Lessons from the Masters’, I think everybody will get something out of it. It is nice that ‘Lessons from the Masters’ is a new book (published in 2013), and not an imaging book that is 10 years old. I think your astro imaging will improve after reading this book.

Buy from Amazon UK

Observer’s Guide to Star Clusters Book Review

Observer’s Guide to Star Clusters by Mike Inglis

Observers Guide to Star ClustersThis book is part of the Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series, and it is a book which is organised by constellation. This is actually a good way to organise a book as it allows you to locate the positions of important star clusters in the 88 constellations from anywhere on Earth.

The constellation maps in the book are in black and white, this may not sound so great, but it does allow you to read the maps by the light of a red LED torch or reading light. The clusters themselves and their names or numbers are printed in bold black, against a ‘greyed-out’ background of stars and constellation figures.

The Observer’s Guide to Star Clusters book begins with an introduction to star clusters, which includes how they star clusters are classified, how to record your observations, a full list of the constellations and which constellations will be on show at certain times of the year.

A typical page of the Observer’s Guide to Star Clusters gives you fast facts about the constellation such as its abbreviation, genitive name, it’s translation e.g. Andromedae means Princess of Ethiopia, its visible latitudes, and it’s culmination date.

Then within that constellation the book lists the star clusters in turn providing the reader with the catalogue name that the star cluster is listed in, RA and Dec co-ordinates, the visual magnitude, the approximate number of stars in the cluster, the concentration class and finally the level of difficulty to finding it. There is then a small description about the cluster by the author.

The index at the rear of the book lists each star cluster by its catalogue name, so for example by its NGC or Messier number.

When I first flicked through the book, I felt a bit let down by the endless lists and black and white constellation map drawings, but I can see how this book will help out the astronomer who wants to locate both easy and hard to find star clusters – a lot of which are NGC numbers. It is very handy to have the book ordered by constellation – that I love, the only thing that could be improved here are the star maps. Overall, the Observer’s Guide to Star Clusters is a useful astronomy title.

Buy Observer’s Guide to Star Clusters from Amazon UK

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