Atlas of the Southern Night Sky
Submitted: Tuesday, 6th November 2007 by Patrick Kavanagh
“Atlas of the Southern Night Sky” by Steve Massey and Steve Quirk, 2007, published by New Holland Publishers (Australia). RRP $45
I am a newcomer to the fascination of amateur astronomy, having had my own telescope for about 8 months. I am interested in finding the best tools to help me find my way around the sky and to identify what to look for in the vast expanse available up there. I have no connection to the authors or publishers of this book.
“Atlas of the Southern Night Sky” by Steve Massey and Steve Quirk, is a great introduction to the night sky for those of us with limited experience. This is a beautifully presented volume at a very modest price, logically laid out and easy to use. The book is written in a clear and succinct style.
There is a useful introduction, which covers measuring the night sky, the nature of stars and some background to deep sky objects (DSOs) such as nebulae, clusters and galaxies. These clear, brief notes provide a very effective introduction and there are also some useful tips on observing. The authors have left descriptions of the moon and planets to the latter part of the book, presumably as these do not figure in the maps that comprise the bulk of the work.
The first eight maps are wide field views of the night sky, two of the celestial polar regions and six around the celestial equator. Since the maps are laid out according to celestial coordinates, they don’t reflect the orientation of the sky to the horizon, as a seasonally adjusted map or planisphere does. For a beginner like myself, this required a bit of mental gymnastics and the concomitant use of seasonal sky charts until I got the hang of it.
Most of the maps are full-page charts of individual constellations with their neighbours for orientation. I found this to be the most useful section of the atlas, as on the page facing each constellation map is a list of about five to eight interesting deep space objects to look for. These include multiple stars, clusters, nebulae and galaxies and each is accompanied by a brief description and some information about the object. The notes include beautiful images of some of the objects described. The authors point out in the introduction that they have avoided overly complicated charts by focusing on more readily visible objects. In this regard, I think they have succeeded admirably. For many constellations, there is a supplementary listing of a few additional notable objects without further elaboration. The objects listed are clearly marked on the maps with different symbols for each type of object.
The individual constellation charts very easy to use at the telescope under red light and the scale, simplicity and layout of the maps make finding many DSOs fairly easy. The only problem that I have is that the Latin constellation names that form the heading for each map is printed in a red ink which shows up very poorly under a red light.
The Solar System and Other Chapters
After the maps, the authors provide an introduction to the solar system. I have not been much of a moon watcher, basically because I have had little knowledge to help me understand the visible features of the moon. The brief explanations in this book’s section on the moon have piqued my interest significantly. The planets themselves, asteroids, meteor showers, trans-Neptunian objects and comets are covered well. Generally, I found the whole section on the solar system engaging, readable and interesting. I did find however that the sections on the phases of the inner planets and also on retrograde motion took a bit of following and may have benefited from more elaboration.
The book concludes with brief chapters on equipment and also astro-imaging. These are very basic, but useful for someone just dipping their toes into the vast ocean of astronomic interest.
In conclusion, I found this book to be very readable and a useful introduction to the basics of astronomical observing. It includes some beautiful photography and clear graphics. Moreover, I have found it to be a very helpful tool for finding treasures to behold in the night sky and I can recommend it highly for those in the early stages of astronomical obsession.