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Hartung's Astronomical Objects for Southern Telescopes
Submitted: Wednesday, 15th November 2006 by Trevor Hand

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Hartung's Astronomical Objects for Southern Telescopes

Ask any group of southern hemisphere amateur astronomers about what books should be in your astronomical library and a number of titles will be bandied about but one will be on almost everyone’s list, “Hartung’s”.  This is one of the few books that I have ever heard of that is normally referred to by the name of the author rather than by title.  Originally printed in 1968 it consists of a compilation of observations made by Ernst Hartung with his 30cm scope during the 1950’s and 60’s at Woodend, north of Melbourne.  A chemist by profession, he began his astronomical quest after his retirement in 1953 and compiled the results of his observations into a book first published in 1968.  The edition I have read has been revised and updated by David Malin and David Frew and published in 1995.  The book is readily available from most astronomical shops and can be difficult to obtain from more run of the mill bookstores, and the prices through these can be quite…well….astronomical in comparison.

As with many astronomical books it begins with an overall description of a number of background subjects beginning with the fundamental principles of how the earth moves and coordinate systems, progressing to light and its properties.  He then takes you on a journey through increasingly larger astronomical objects beginning with stars and progressing through clusters and nebulae to finish with galaxies.  Along the way he describes the principles of magnitude, star colours, variables, binaries and planetary nebulae.  A short description of how the eye works and the principles of telescopes and eyepieces are covered in the final chapter of the first section of the book.  A brief overview of filters and spectroscopes completes the first section of the book.  It would appear that much of the text has been updated when this edition was revised as it includes information about equipment that could only be dreamt about in Hartung’s time (terms like UHC filter, Nagler and Telrad are just some of those described).  This overview takes you through the first 100 pages of a 400-page book.  At the end of each section are a number of references, many of which are not found in the extensive bibliography at the back of the book.

If you are looking for a book to give a solid background to the physics behind astronomy and how the universe works, this is not the book for you.  The descriptions given in this section are very general in nature and would leave you wanting for more.  Fortunately, this is not the reason so many people recommend this book.  It’s strong points are found in the remaining 75% which consists of a list of more than a thousand objects visible in telescopes 30cm or smaller from declination +50 degrees to -90.  Thus the book describes many of the most interesting objects visible to southern hemisphere observers, as the title suggests.  The list has each object organised in order of Right Ascension and consists of location, alternate names, constellation and a brief description of the object.  The table alone contributes nearly 10% of the book and would prove useful for locating objects visible at a particular time.

A number of colour plates are included in the book of some of the more photogenic members of the table.  Whilst many of the pictures would have been spectacular at the time of publication in 1995, many amateurs today would now be capable of much greater things.

The book then starts to get into the serious business of describing the contents of the table.  What follows is a section for each constellation with a brief description of history of the constellation and some major objects to be found in its confines.  A useful fact included with each is its culmination date that gives an idea of what time of year it is best observed.  Each object is listed in RA order with a more detailed description for each one.  Extended objects are given dimensions to aid in location, a description of what to expect and any finer points to look for.  In some cases a history of the object is included and, where known, its distance.  All distances are given in parsecs, which is the only point of contention I have with the book.  You quickly become adept at converting to light years to get it into a scale you understand more easily, but overall this is minor point in what is a very useful book.  Multiple stars have a description of separation, position angle and period.  In some cases they also have indications of future separations.  Often an indication of the aperture required is given; a surprising number of the objects are noted as only needing 75mm to see them.  This is a heartening relief that most of the objects in the book could be easily visible even from the backyards of suburban homes and dark skies are not a requirement to use the book.  A number of the objects also have black and white photographs to give a better indication of the object.  Unlike a lot of other astronomical books, these photos are not just reserved for the normal showpieces (M42 for example), but even some of the more mundane clusters and galaxies warrant a shot.  This descriptive section accounts for more than half of the book.  Due to the layout into constellations and further into individual objects, I found it a very easy book to pick up when I have a spare five minutes or even half an hour.  You could easily finish off an object or constellation and bookmark your position.  Picking up from where you left off becomes a piece of cake.

The final sections at the back of the book include an extensive series of references, almost ten pages of them.  If you wish to follow up with more reading, this bibliography alone would take a lifetime to read.  Next is a list of objects added to the original Hartung list followed by a list of all of the Messier objects.  Another table includes a number of objects that the authors believe Messier himself may have included in his original list had he resided further south, classics like Omega Centauri, 47 Tuc, NGC 253 and the Jewell Box are the most obvious.  The book concludes with a list of the brightest stars, it is interesting to note that only 2 or 3 of those on the list are not visible from the most populous regions of Australia which only goes to prove we got all the good stuff.

The index is quite comprehensive and should allow the reader to find whatever they are looking for.

In conclusion I would thoroughly recommend the book to anyone who is looking for things to observe and is becoming tired of the usual objects or would like a bit of background knowledge about some of their favourite showpieces.  The book is easy to pick up and put down, as mentioned earlier, and can be left next to your favourite chair ready for the next spare minute.  I took more than 6 months to finally complete reading this book, but I liked it so much I entered many of the details into my pocket PC for field use.  If the data in the book could be included in a CD attached to the book or downloaded from the Internet, this would be a godsend and would further extend the usefulness of the book in a way Hartung could never have imagined.  It is gratifying to note that something this man created in his final years after retirement are still of so much value today.  Unlike books published many years ago about most other subjects, astronomy is a subject that, by and large, does not have a “use by” date.  The stars are still in much the same position centuries later, doing much the same thing they were doing when the dinosaurs ruled the Earth.  We may know much more about some of the subject matter, but objects like M42 are just as spectacular today as it was to Hartung and even Messier and the Herschel’s before him.

If there ever were an astronomical bible for the southern hemisphere, it would be hard to go past this one and should be on every budding astronomers book list!

Review by Trevor Hand (OneOfOne). Discuss this review on the IceInSpace Forum.

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