Encompassing both binocular and small to medium aperture telescope observing, Phil Harrington’s latest book appeals to a wide spectrum of the amateur astronomy community and provides a firm grounding in all aspects of observational astronomy. At some point, most amateur astronomers come to appreciate that one or more facets appeal most and beginners too must discover in which direction their interests lie.
Your journey starts close to home with our nearest neighbour, the Moon. Here, the author splits the lunar month into partial phases with the most prominent features described and accompanied by labeled photographs taken by the author. Virtually all budding astronomers are also interested in the planets. Many years ago, my first views of Saturn and Jupiter knocked me out and whoever was lucky enough to see mars on its closest approach last autumn through a good telescope will not easily forget the brilliant detail visible on the Red Planet. Phil Harrington seems to have pitched the level of information just right for those taking their first views of the planets and also provides useful tips on observing asteroids, comets and the Sun.
The latter two-thirds of Star Watch is devoted to deep sky, a term referring to objects lying outside our solar system. Most of the deep sky objects comprise those within the Messier Catalogue accompanied by a fair sprinkling of some of the most attractive double stars and NGC objects. It is an eclectic mix of clusters, galaxies, nebulae and stars that is sure to please all observers. The list is divided over the four seasons and further sub-divided into Sky Windows, each Sky Window with its own map showing the location of the objects within. I could not find any reference to the limiting star magnitude of the Sky Windows but it seems to be magnitude of the Sky Windows but it seems to be magnitude 7. Serving up the night sky in bite-size chunks is an excellent way keeping the reader focused on a particular area instead of wandering all over the sky. Again, the level of information in the text on where and what to look for is spot on for inexperienced observers and the inclusion of a “WOW!” FACTOR rating indicates how impressive each object is through binoculars, small telescopes and medium telescopes.
I tested some of the summer Sky Windows using my 15 x 50 binoculars and a 90mm telescope and found the objects relatively easily using the principal maps. The all-sky insets are too small to be of any real practical use but do help to correlate the celestial location of a particular Sky Window with the larger seasonal and key maps at the beginning of each chapter.
So, is Star Watch the ideal companion for people starting out in this wonderful hobby, or indeed those with limited observing experience? Yes, it most certainly is! By the time a beginner completes the lunar, planetary and deep sky explorations using this book as a guide, he or she will be an accomplished amateur astronomer ready to delve even deeper into the universe around us and, with a certificate to prove it. Complete the four seasonal lists, record your observations and submit these to the author to obtain your very own numbered and signed Star Watcher certificate!¾Reviewed by Gordon Nason (Astronomy & Space, August 2004)
“…has infectious enthusiasm that makes people want to buy a telescope