Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno and Dan M. Davis,
Third Edition, Cambridge University Press.
reviewed by Duane Dunkerson
In the US in the 1960s there then flared a national
discussion filled with concern that Americans were
becoming spectators as opposed to participants. They
were not participating in sports, that was the
touchstone of the matter. Huge football stadiums would
fill on Saturdays for the watchers of the collegiate
struggles. There were thousands and thousands across the
land who only watched and did not do more. The poor
devils could only idly observe and see what was before
them. It wasn't as real as the doing of the sport; the
leisure activity was commended for the values it
In Turn Left at Orion, Guy Consolmagno and Dan M. Davis
are of the opinion that amateur astronomy is not made up
of GOTO telescopes and CCD apparatus. With GOTO scopes,
a computer finds the celestial object for you by knowing
where the object is and by how much to move the
telescope until the object is seen in the eyepiece of
the scope. You are a low-level operator, you sit in the
stands, and the computer plays the game. No virtues are
instilled. A CCD (charged coupled device) digitizes an
image of the astronomical beauty and you, again as an
operator, see what it sees for you. A machine in each
case is doing it for you.
There is no CCD in Turn Left at Orion. The telescope
you own, up to four inches in aperture, is guided by
your hands and you see your way about the marvels of the
night sky via the finderscope attached to your telescope
proper. In this book the authors show you how to know
where to find and where to look for whatever you can
find within the range of the light gathering
capabilities of your scope as you direct it to your eye.
There are lots of astronomical objects to see, say, two
thousand readily available out there per night but 1,900
could very well be boring. So what's to see as you go
for doubles, galaxies, variables, nebulae, clusters, the
Moon, and the planets? Follow their directions for the
sky, finderscope, and in your eyepiece. There is also
timely information about each class of objects and many
single objects have extended accounts of their history
and appearance. Current astronomical knowledge is
brought in as appropriate.
You see the Moon, planets, and others as they appear in
a small telescope of 50-70 mm or 2 to 3 inches in
diameter. In its Contents - How Do You Get To Albireo?,
Moon, Planets, Seasonal Stellar Objects, The Southern
Hemisphere, How to Run a Telescope, Where Do You Go From
Here?- are to be found certainly most of what you need
to know to get started and to keep going in amateur
astronomy as a hobby.
Realize, at the outset, that the big glossies of
featured astronomical goodies are not pinned up in the
night sky. The authors of this book attempt to convince
you of the reality of what you will see. Within the
range of your scope are visual pleasures best
appreciated as you learn your way around the nightly
heavens. The key to unlocking what is above is in the
finding them to see them. To find, to see, to
experience, and to know what you sense is not a
representation but the real thing. The seeing is in the
finding, to find it is to see it.
You don't need an ideal sky to engage in this love of
the night sky. The perfect night with the star-crammed
firmament is usually only read about. The authors mostly
observed with a three-inch scope 15 miles from
Manhattan. You will be outdoors observing in an
environment not scripted or canned for you. It is a
hobby, don't forget. Don't torture yourself; don't
burden yourself with the seriousness of your intent. It
isn't necessary to find useful work to do with your
telescope. If it is work, is someone going to pay you?
You can on this job, if you insist in getting into such
a state, be as emotional as you want. "No detector
matches the human eye in capturing subtlety and emotion.
No computer guider can give you the serendipity of the
things seen on the way to the things sought."
Once seen, whatever it is, are you done? How about a
different filter? A different altitude or attitude?
Different eyepieces, different magnification,
collimation, new seasons, new hours of the night,
differing temperature, the mud of spring or the frost of
autumn, and a differing time of your life? You
ultimately see with your mind. How have you changed?
What you see will then change. The secrets of the starry
night change too.
The change will not be beyond all recognition. It is,
after all, still you. And your scope. Especially that
finderscope attached to the main scope. The authors
relate a matter concerning aligning that finderscope - "
A telescope with a misaligned finderscope is a creation
of the devil, designed to infuriate and humiliate and
drive stargazers back indoors to watch re-runs on TV."
For you, as an amateur astronomer, there are no reruns
in what you do.
But there is the Moon, aren't lunar reruns a dime a
dozen? Always there, well sometimes not for long, it is
absent from the sky occasionally. It can be high or low.
You see different regions of it at differing times.
Well, yes, not similar enough of a view until about 20
years have past. It was once the most tempting object in
the sky. Now we have been there. What's the point of
seeing the fascinating detail in and around the crater
named Clavius? Most of us see the waxing, not the waning
Moon. You will see lunar features that are three miles
across. Easily seen are the highlands, giant mountains,
basins, "seas", rays, and magma oceans. Once amateurs in
the thousands knew the names and appearance of hundreds,
if not thousands, of the characteristic Moon, the lunar
museum. Stars go behind the Moon and the Moon's
mountains can alternately hide and reveal the star as it
appears to graze the edge of the Moon. Large parts of
the Moon, in a smaller scope, will be seen to have a
smooth, flat look. This is a more pleasant appearance
than that found in large telescopes, which give you a
grainy, grating and smeary view.
The first views you will have of the planets,
conditioned as we are to the necessities of NASA's
photos as fulfilling a need to impress the taxpayers,
are going to be disappointing. You will need patience,
perceptive skill, your highest magnification at the
scope, and a night conductive to good seeing. Be
prepared to at first see a tiny trembling blob of light.
Any expectation of awesome fine detail to be seen on a
planet's surface is greatly diminished. It is there,
some important features can be see. It takes training,
training takes time. Venus - its phases. Mars - tiny
with dark patches and polar caps. Jupiter - zones,
belts, festoons, the Great Red Spot, and Jup's moons.
Saturn - its rings, Cassini's division in those rings,
and Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
The moons of either Jupiter or Saturn look like stars
and stars aplenty you can see. The finest stellar
objects for smaller scopes are groups of stars. The
group may be no more than a double - two stars in orbit
about one another or it may be a cluster of stars from a
dozen to a few hundred stars or it may be hundreds of
thousands of stars in a compact sphere. Here and there a
galaxy can be found but they are no more than wisps of
lines except for the great galaxy in Andromeda. Most of
these occupants of the sunless sky require finding.
The authors' directions are not difficult to
understand, for example, to find a triple star named
Beta Monocerotis in the constellation called Monoceros -
"Find Orion, high above the southern horizon, and find
the very bright red star, Betelgeuse...Then, from Orion,
turn left and follow the stars in Orion's belt which
point to the southeast towards a dazzling blue star,
Sirius...A little less than halfway between Sirius and
Betelgeuse you'll find two faint stars, lying in an
east-west line. Aim for the one to the east, the one
away from Orion. That's Beta Monocerotis."
Getting to Beta is not difficult. Other celestial
objects that the authors have selected for you are
somewhat more difficult to locate and some are easier to
find. Currently in amateur astronomy, there is a divide
that is getting larger with every new computer-driven
scope that comes on the market. They do the finding for
you. These scopes are usually referred to as GOTOs. To
GO-TO or not to GO-TO? This matter was mentioned earlier
but it does bear amplification as the entire nature of
amateur astronomy is changing.
The authors state that small telescopes and amateur
astronomy are not for GOTOs. Use of GOTOs is placing you
in the power of the machine. It is a machine doing it
for you or there is little for you to do. Little for you
to learn about the night sky. Where's the fun if you are
caught in the quick fix of celestial positions, a
repetitious whirring of motors takes the scope wherever
and then you look. You didn't move the scope. You didn't
go with it. You didn't find your way. No challenge, no
accomplishment, and no knowledge gained. It is more a
game. How many can you take a glance at tonight?
So you are at a remove from the stars. Less patient are
you to wait for the stars to reveal themselves to you,to
see faintly what you had not seen before. Once it was
that the lumpy patch of light becomes pretty, pleasing,
charming. Tiny, grainy clouds of stars or hazy fields of
light can become an awesome immensity of grandeur and
delicacy. Superb powdery clusters of stars can be seen
in bold sweeps across rich star zones. The colors of the
stars can be red, yellow, blue, cream, gray, bronze,
gold, tawny, lilac, green, and white. The glittering
remote glorious regions contain a lifetime of visual
Don't despair, slow down. Be calm. Learn what is your
best and do it. Amateur astronomy can also teach you
something about yourself. It is something no machine can
so inform you. And you have it. This "it" will be a
composite of many observations, of many observing
Someday the scopes can be talked to and they will go
where wanted to find what can be seen. But, by then, why
bother to look? Let the scope tell you what can be seen
and push out a super DVD, color corrected, blown up to
gigantic screen size as you sit and impatiently for the
scope to get on with it, there are those other 55
tonight and you have only 19 minutes more. The scope
knows the sky conditions, the temp, does autofocus,
knows what you had for dinner, and it knows if your
toenails need to be trimmed.
A small telescope, no toenails involved, can show one
million stars. There are thousands of double stars for a
small telescope. Some people never go much further than
the Moon. The Cosmos sparks wonder and some feel the
need for powerful gadgets as an equalizer, as a hurry-up
offense. The Cosmos need not put you on the defensive,
you need not run at it. Why does it need to be a
contest, a game like football? Into the stands you go or
can you realize how important you are with the small
telescope? Spectator or in the field of endeavors?
The authors of this book provide an entry for you into
amateur astronomy. They counsel you to not forget that
it is to be fun. You can explore without knowledge
beforehand over one hundred objects that they have
selected. What you do is to find them. Finding them
informs you and sustains you for a long time. Mostly, it
can be fun. Heed their counsel.