Astronomy Briefly

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A Review of Astronomy, The Definitive Guide by Robert Burnham, Alan Dyer, and Jeff Kanipe, Barnes and Noble Books, 2003.

by Duane Dunkerson

The Guide is for sky-aware people, but mostly for beginners. It covers, entirely in glossy pages, the adventure of knowing more about the Universe in two parts. In the first part of this sensibly sized book is information in easy to understand language about the Earth and beyond in today's astronomy. Advice about acquiring and using binoculars and/or telescopes is also given. In the second part of the affordable book, is a field guide to astronomical observation via the eye or binoculars or telescopes.

In both parts are to be found an excellent integration of text and photos. Many of the photos are quite stunning. There are also drawings that are aptly instructive. Enough text is presented per topic to retain one's interest and enlighten you as needed without running up the word count.

The authors reach back thousands of years to begin to relate to you of what astronomy then was made. Yet today it still has before it the big questions about the origin of the fate of the Universe, and the generations of stars, planets, and galaxies. Other life out there? Intelligent life beyond us? Harboring life or not, the beauty of the objects you can see for yourself remains undiminished and enhanced by the newer equipment available to the amateur astronomer. Some of the new computerized and other electronic equipment aids our eyes in being built especially for backyard use.

Telescopes did not come along until the early 1600's and now, with a computer assist for navigation through the night sky, much can be seen on any given night devoted to astronomy. If you don't want or can't see what is there, you can learn from this Guide much about what you aren't going to see. The level of presentation is such that a degree in astrophysics is not required. What we can't see in radio, ultraviolet, x-rays and infrared is dealt with too.

The activity of lunar astronauts and solar system spacecraft that have gotten up close or on the surface of moons and planets have greatly changed our notions of these worlds. The Guide chronicles these changes. Wondrous moons like Io, Europa, Triton, Ganymede, and Miranda are better known by these changes. The ever-fascinating Mars, awesome Jupiter, the marvelous rings of Saturn, odd Uranus, and cool Neptune have become more distinct characters in the book of the Solar System.

There is so much beyond the Moon to contemplate, glance at, peer for, and hunt avidly. Yet that Moon is far more than scarps, maria, and craters. It is more than a light for harvest or a quiet example of what transpired after cataclysmic periods of bombardment from so long ago. It is a spectacular object having penetrated deeply into all of mankind's collective cultural psyche for all of human history. The Moon can be so very well seen and, for as far as seeing goes, so much more well known to most of us than ever can be those galaxies so very far beyond the Moon.

But, for most with telescopes these days, the galaxies are more It. The Moon is a wretched nuisance - as bad as a neighbor's yard light or the municipal efforts to brighten all our nighttime paths. Thousands upon thousands of galaxies are found, photographed, and commented upon. An entire enormous group, a galaxy, of what may be star clusters, variables, nebulas, doubles, and black holes, is found for a few minutes.

All of these possible features, cosmologically speaking, can be much closer as the Guide informs us, like the Moon to Earth, because they are to be found also in our Galaxy, our Milky Way. The Way is across the sky like a high thin cloud. The evidence for our galaxy's form is less and less seen because crime and terrorism put up blazing barriers to sight. We are blinded by what is an aid in protecting us. The safety features rob us of these galaxies as the stuff of the Universe. The Big Questions involve them. The Universe in earlier moments and its last milliseconds are subjects of active astronomical speculation. The Guide maps out the start of the Universe, the structure it has today and the future it does not yet have.

The second part of the Guide has maps of the heavens. It is termed a field guide. There are monthly star charts to cover both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of the Earth. For each month there is a looking North and a looking South.

Preceding these charts are pages devoted to the Moon and lunar eclipses. More pages are for the Sun and solar eclipses. Back out from the Sun one goes, then, to accounts of what to expect in observing Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the rest of the Solar System including meteors and comets.

Following these star charts are sky tours relying on the skill of starhopping. There are ten tours. These may be done with profit for those adept at celestial maneuvers, but usually the uninitiated will need more aid than the Guide gives for successful journeys to destinations in these tours.

The Guide is not done yet. After the tours come notes and accounts of double stars, variable stars, novas and supernovas plus a page and a photo devoted to each of such as the Double Cluster, the Jewel Box, Hercules' cluster, and nebula : Owl, Lagoon, Crab Ring, and mighty Orion. Lastly are the galaxies, mostly listed by M (for Messier) number. Truly beautiful photos of these objects close this book.

It is a book to remind us of the greater glory we are privileged to witness and learn about. You can learn the patterns in the sky. You recognize these patterns and along come increases in light; be it comet, nova, variable, a rising planet, the Moon increasing in phase… and your own pattern of recognition of the unique or timeless is what you make known to yourself. You find a beauty that is inseparable from you. And so a dependency has been set up for you and the patterns. You may find a pattern that is nothing less than yourself.









Copyright © 2004
by Duane Dunkerson

All Rights Reserved








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