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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 instilled.

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 pleasantries.

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 conditions.

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.









Copyright © 2004
by Duane Dunkerson

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