Lights in the Sky: Identifying and Understanding Astronomical and Meteorological Phenomena / Edition 1

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Many lights and other objects in the sky go unrecognised, or at least are little understood by those observing them. Such things range from the commonplace like rainbows and meteors, to the distinctly unusual like the green flash and ball lightning. And there is still a residuum of objects that remain unidentified by the watcher – classed generally as ‘UFOs’, a description which today has connotations of the mysterious, even of extraterrestrial visitors.

The first part of this book is an identification guide, very much like the "plant identifier" sections found in a good gardening or botany book. It allows quick (and structured) identification of known aerial phenomena, whether at night or during the day. The objects thus found are referenced to the second part of the book…

The second part gives a full description, physical explanation, and where relevant notes on observing and photographing the various phenomena. Some will need optical aids such as binoculars or telescopes, but the main thrust of the book is identification and explanation rather than imaging.

The final chapter approaches UFOs from a scientific standpoint, particularly the way in which human perception and often preconception affects the outcome. It does however finish with a short section on "extraterrestrial UFOs", emphasising the burden of proof aspect and touching on the scientific theories of life on other worlds and the improbability of visitors.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
From the reviews:

"Most astronomy books focus on one particular area of observing. Michael Maunder’s book covers virtually everything. Subtitled Identifying and Understanding Astronomical and Meteorological Phenomena, it not only covers the usual suspects like galaxies, comets, meteors and satellites, but also a whole range of weather-related phenomena such as aurorae, noctilucent clouds and solar effects. … We did find the book useful-and it certainly makes you pay mare attention to the sky in the hope of spotting something different." (Paul Money, BBC Sky at Night, March, 2008)

"A book … about things one sees in the sky. Amateur astronomers and others who scan the night sky with regularity will find the book very useful and instructive … . deserves to be one of the books on practical astronomy included in the series recommended by eminent English astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, and it would be an asset to any library. Filled with illustrations, mostly in color, it should be educational for any inexperienced stargazer. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through researchers/faculty." (A. R. Upgren, CHOICE, Vol. 45 (9), 2008)

"The author has made a sincere attempt to cover every possible facet of the subject. With a systematic approach, all aspects are listed – atmospheric, meteorological, optical illusions, aircraft, you name it. … In fact, the pictures are uniformly good and nearly all in colour … . the illustrations alone will qualify it for a place on my bookshelf." (A J Mullay, Astronomy Now, July, 2008)

"Lights in the Sky is essentially a field guide to natural sky light – 14 chapters of the whys and wherefores of everything from auroras to zodiacal lights. … People who look at the sky are big-picture people anyway. If you’re one of those types, this book is for you." (Jeff Kanipe, Sky and Telescope, October, 2008)

"The book describes the myriad glows, bows, halos, and glories that grace the daytime and night sky. For convenience these are divided up into the dawn glows, daytime glows, dusk glows, and night lights. … This book provides a useful and practical guide to observing a wide range of atmospheric and astronomical phenomena — and understanding what produces them." (Chris Lloyd, The Observatory, Vol. 129 (1209), April, 2009)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781846285622
  • Publisher: Springer London
  • Publication date: 11/28/2007
  • Series: The Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series
  • Edition description: 2007
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 227
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents



Diffuse phenomena

Point Sources

Dawn and Dusk

Diffuse phenomena

Point Sources


Diffuse phenomena

Point Sources


Dawn: Zodiacal light Season for pre-dawn sighting

Red sky, Shepherd's warning

Crepuscular rays

Other dawn phenomena

Daylight: Haloes and coronas also detached arcs

Sundogs and mock suns (a special case of a halo)




Rainbows & fogbows

Dusk: Zodiacal light Season for twilight sightings

Red sky Shepherd's delight

Solar pillars

Green flash

Spectre of the Brocken

Mother of pearl clouds

Volcanic dust ( Krakatoa 1888, via El Chicon 1981 to Pinatubo 1990)

Other dust:

Bishop's ring, green & blue suns

Night: Light pollution

Milky Way

Messier objects

Caldwell objects


Lunar haloes

Lunar rainbows


Nacreous clouds

Noctilucent clouds


Other phenomena: marsh gas, fireflies &c

Anytime: Lightning,

Ball lightning

UFOs: Human perception

Mistaken identities

Astronomical and meteorological


Extraterrestrial visitors?

Burden of proof

The Fermi paradox

Further Reading

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