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The Backyard Astronomer's Guide
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The Backyard Astronomer's Guide

4.4 5
by Terence Dickinson, Alan Dyer

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The modern classic, completely updated.

The newest edition of The Backyard Astronomer's Guide includes the latest data and answers the questions most often asked by home astronomers, from beginners to experienced stargazers. Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer provide expert guidance on the right types of telescopes and other equipment; photographing


The modern classic, completely updated.

The newest edition of The Backyard Astronomer's Guide includes the latest data and answers the questions most often asked by home astronomers, from beginners to experienced stargazers. Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer provide expert guidance on the right types of telescopes and other equipment; photographing the stars through a telescope; and star charts, software and other references. They cover daytime and twilight observing, planetary and deep-sky observing, and much more.

With over 500 color photographs and illustrations, The Backyard Astronomer's Guide is one of the most valuable, beautiful and user-friendly astronomy books ever produced.

New and updated for this edition:

  • A 20-page full-color Atlas of the Milky Way provides location and context for hundreds of celestial objects mentioned throughout the book.
  • A chapter on Astrophotography with Digital Cameras specifies what equipment works best and how to use it to collect a color gallery of celestial portraits.
  • Telescopes for Recreational Astronomy features assessments of a wide range of new telescopes, from models for beginners to those for veteran astronomy enthusiasts, with special emphasis on computerized telescopes and how they work.
  • Accessory Catalog spotlights the best of the accessories and flags the frivolous and irrelevant.
  • Three practical appendices: Polar Aligning Your Telescope; Optics Cleaning and Collimation; Testing Your Telescope Optics.

Any serious home astronomer must have this superb guide as an ongoing reference.

Editorial Reviews

Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin
With over 500 color photographs and illustrations, this book is a valuable, beautiful and user-friendly astronomy reference.
American Reference Book Annual - Denise A. Garofalo
A magnificently illustrated and superb guide to astronomy is contained in the newest edition of The Backyard Astronomer's Guide.... Overall, this title is a beautiful and informative resource for the amateur astronomer, both the beginner and the experienced.
Sky and Telescope - Sean Walker
I fondly remember haunting my favorite bookstore as a college student in the early 1990s, ogling the big, full-color astronomy texts, when I happened upon The Backyard Astronomer's Guide. It wasn't as flashy as the other books, but I was quickly taken by its practical information, covering all the subjects I was interested in as a fledgling amateur. Now in its third edition, Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer have completely rewritten large sections to keep in lockstep with the evolving trends. Like an old friend who has grown wiser over time, this compendium has become better with age. It's good-looking too—though chock-full of useful information, none of the full-color layouts appear cramped or confused. Immediately from the first chapter the authors' fluid writing style draws you in, casually introducing you to the pursuit of the night sky. As in previous editions, the flow comfortably builds with each page, easing you into progressively challenging subjects without missing a step.
The text builds though each successive chapter, describing today's plethora of binoculars, telescopes, mounts, eyepieces, and other accessories. We then move on to delve deeply into everything of interest in the sky, from the planets to deep-sky objects. The detailed yet accessible explanation of celestial mechanics should be required reading for everyone. The third part introduces digital astrophotography. Yes, digital—it starts out by stating that film is dead. This new section covers everything you need to get started taking pictures, including some useful parts of Adobe Photoshop. The Backyard Astronomer's Guide closes with a set of beautifully rendered charts of the Milky Way by Glenn LeDrew. Opposing pages display a color version and a labeled, black-on-white version plotted to magnitude 9. Dickinson and Dyer have brought their excellent guide further into the 21st century. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Simcoe.com - Glenn Perrett
Dickinson and Dyer provide considerable information that amateur astronomers will appreciate... Complementing the informative text are hundreds of colour photographs and illustrations as well as a 20-page, full-colour atlas of the Milky Way that includes 10 charts. This revised and expanded third edition will be of interest to serious amateur astronomers.
Shelf Life
The Backyard Astronomer's Guide continues to impress, offering a little something for everyone. If you have never seen this book before, now is the time to add it to your collection. It is one book you will never tire of opening, always finding something of interest in the world of astronomy.
[Review of earlier edition:] More than any other guide to backyard observing, this excellent book focuses on equipment.
American Reference Books Annual, Volume 35 - Mark Wilson
[Review of earlier edition:] Lively, accessible style; is comprehensive; and is lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photographs, diagrams, and charts... highly recommended for any library.
Science News
[Review of earlier edition:] This all-encompassing reference provides practical advice.
Monday Magazine - Russ Francis
[Review of earlier edition:] If an amateur astronomer could afford one book, this would be the one to get ... one of the most attractive practical astronomy works ever produced.
E-Streams, Vol. 6, No. 4 - Ursula Ellis
[Review of earlier edition:] Excellent introductory text ... completely revised... it is lushly illustrated in color throughout.
American Scientist
[Review of earlier edition:] Few books capture the spirit of the hobby so well — the pleasures and the pitfalls of the equipment you might need, and the simple joy of watching the universe go by.
Choice - A.R. Upgren
[Review of earlier edition:] Recommended for all libraries and for experienced or inexperienced amateur astronomers.
Sky and Telescope - David Aguilar
[Review of earlier edition:] Big colorful user-friendly book ... I recommend this book for anyone who is contemplating buying a telescope, has one but does not quite know how to use it, or wants to learn more about accessories and fun activities to supplement his or her stargazing. If you teach observational astronomy, run a public observatory, or conduct community stargazing classes, put this magazine down and order it right now ... This book is your passport to the stars.
Canadian Camera - Pierre R. Gauthier
[Review of earlier edition:] This book is an indispensable tool for any serious naturalist who wants to understand and experience the full expanse of the world and universe around us.
Astronomy - Craig Tupper
[Review of earlier edition:] Crammed with practical information that should help you become a better observer, and have fun doing it.
Halifax Chronicle-Herald - John McPhee
[Review of earlier edition:] Besides its practical benefits, this book is a real treat for the eyes. It's loaded with colorful photographs, graphics and information boxes.
Science Books and Films - John O. Christensen
[Review of earlier edition:] I highly recommend this volume for most amateur astronomers and all libraries. I wish I had read it before I purchased my first telescope.
Library Journal
Despite the book's title, there is very little about astronomy here, i.e., lists of constellations, star charts, night sky maps, or details about planets, stars, and galaxies. However, there is a wealth of information about the equipment used in astronomy, including prices, consumer-type information, advice on when to use and when not to use binoculars, telescopes, cameras, film, lenses, filters, and other items for the amateur astronomer. Four chapters, though, concern the observation of the solar system and deep space objects. There are also several chapters discussing the photographing of all types of astronomical phenomena. Though cost may deter small-to-medium-sized libraries, there is much information here for the experienced amateur, and some useful information for the beginner as well. (Illustrations and index not seen.)-- Robert Ellis Potter, Dunedin P.L., Fla.
Lunar an Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin
With over 500 color photographs and illustrations, this book is a valuable, beautiful and user-friendly astronomy reference.
Anchorage Daily News - Tracey Pitch
One of the best books to guide amateurs.
One-Minute Astronomer.com
A comprehensive guide for the amateur astronomer on buying and using equipment, including telescopes, mounts, eyepieces, and accessories. If you're bewildered by the choice of astronomy equipment out there, this book will help immensely.
Chronicle-Journal (Thunder Bay) - Linda Turk
Here's the ultimate resource for anyone who's thought of following up on an interest in astronomy.... A valuable addition to the amateur astronomer's bookshelf, "The Backyard Astronomer's Guide" brings distant object to our everyday lives.

Product Details

Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date:
Edition description:
Revised and expanded
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 11.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION A New Stargazer's Guidebook

There is something deeply compelling about the night sky. Those fragile, flickering points of light in the blackness beckon to the inquisitive mind. So it was in antiquity, and so it remains today. But only in the past decade have large numbers of people decided to delve into stargazing-recreational astronomy-as a leisure activity. Today, more than half a million people in North America call themselves amateur astronomers.

Not surprisingly, manufacturers have kept pace with the growth of the hobby, and there is now a bewildering array of telescopes and accessories to meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of backyard astronomers. This development has produced a gap in the reference material available to stargazers, a gap that this book attempts to bridge.


In our work as astronomy authors and communicators, we have encountered thousands of enthusiasts seeking tips on how to be backyard astronomers -- specifically, how to select the appropriate equipment, how to use it, how to avoid buying unnecessary gadgets and, most important, how to feel comfortable that they are using the equipment they have as well as they can.

The truth is, one can become a competent amateur astronomer with hardware no more sophisticated than binoculars combined with the appropriate reference material: this book, one or two star atlases, an annual astronomical almanac and as subscription to Astronomy or Sky & Telescope magazines. But most enthusiasts yearn to graduate to a telescope. Our main task in the following pages to act as your guides as you select and use the proper equipment and accessories for many enjoyable nights under the stars --in essence, this is a detail practical guide to getting the most out of the experience of night-sky watching.

In many respects, this book is a sequel to co-author Dickinson's NightWatch, which emphasizes preliminary material for the absolute beginner. NightWatch assumed no previous experience on the part of the reader. Here, we provide extensive reference material for enthusiasts who have decided that amateur astronomy is an activity worth pursuing, even though they may not yet own a telescope.

The best plan with any leisure activity is to become knowledgeable about the equipment before buy it. We provide that information with specific references to brands and items available on today's market. It is easy to be romanced by the technology and by glitzy high-tech advertising; we flag the unnecessary and the frivolous.

No single book, obviously, can do it all, and this one is no exception. However, before we started work on this project, we took a close look at the amateur-astronomy guidebooks already available. We saw certain subjects covered over and over again (the same constellation-by-constellation observing lists, for example), while some aspects of the hobby were consistently overlooked. With this in mind, we have concentrated on the areas we feel have been traditionally neglected or have only lately emerged as topics of interest.

In recent years, for instance, the Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope has become the most popular type of instrument for amateur astronomy, yet many references offer only one or two pages on the subject. In this book, we devote half of one chapter and parts of others to the Schmidt-Cassegrain. We detected a need for candor in discussions of commercial astronomy equipment, so we have tried to be as specific as possible about brand names, reporting what we do and don't like and why.

Prices of telescopes and other equipment quoted throughout are in 1993 U.S. dollars and are intended to serve as rough guides only. Prices in Canadian dollars are 25 to 40 percent higher, depending on current exchange rates and sales taxes.

With this book, we also wanted to dispel the misperception that one must be a computer whiz with a degree in astrophysics to use a telescope properly or to appreciate fully the wonders of the universe. Physics and computers are unnecessary baggage for personal exploration of the cosmos, and we have deliberately avoided extensive discussions of any such subjects. However, we do offer suggestions and Appendixes for anyone interested in topics that we chose not to include, such as telescope making.

Finally, a few words about the illustrations. All the celestial photographs reproduced in this book were taken by amateur astronomers. Most of the images have never been published before. Some of the photographs rival those taken with much larger telescopes at professional observatories, attesting to the skill and dedication of modern amateur astrophotographers. But beyond the technical achievements is the astonishing beauty that modern cameras, films and telescopes can capture. Many readers undoubtedly will be stirred by these pictures to attempt celestial photography for themselves. We devote three chapters to astrophotography, the major sub-hobby within recreational astronomy. We specifically attempted to display new pictures of familiar objects as well as state-of-the-art astrophotography. Other illustrations are intended to complement the main text. In most instances, the caption material is not contained within the main text and should be considered supplementary information.


For many enthusiasts, the canopy of stars is almost tranquilizing. One member of a husband-and-wife team described it thus: "Astronomy is one of the few hobbies that lets you get completely away from it all. It opens your mind, everyday problems fade, and you don't even notice the time -- or the cold. One night, we tape-recorded our viewing session, then replayed it the next day and heard ourselves saying over and over, 'Oh, wow! Look at that,' as we took turns at the telescope. It was really beautiful."

Whatever their passion, all amateur astronomers agree that a major threshold in the hobby is the magical night when the sky ceases to be a trackless maze of glittering points and begins to transform itself in the mind of the observer into the real universe of planets, stars, galaxies and nebulas with names, distances, dimensions and a powerful aura of mystery. Once that happens, there is no turning back. The night sky becomes an infinite wonderland waiting to be explored.

Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer

What People are Saying About This

The Best Skygazer's Guide You Can Buy

Meet the Author

Terence Dickinson is the author of Night Watch and 13 other astronomy books, among them The Universe and Beyond, Summer Stargazing and Exploring the Night Sky. He is also editor of SkyNews.

Alan Dyer is program producer at the Calgary Science Centre Planetarium and a contributing editor to Sky and Telescope magazine. An authority on commercial telescopes, his reviews of astronomical equipment appear regularly in major astronomy magazines.

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The Backyard Astronomer's Guide 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone interested in what goes on 'out there' -- and that includes most of us -- should read 'Backyard Astronomer's Guide' before plunking down any money on binoculars, telescopes, eyepieces, or surplus Saturn V rockets. The proud papa of a new telescope, I had about 50 questions that were apparently unanswerable, such as, How much magnification can I get with my 'scope, and how do I increase the optical power without degrading the image quality; Why do stars look twinkly and fuzzy, instead of the prescribed pinpoint of light; How do you decide on a good set of binoculars; and, how do I test and fine-tune the optics of my telescope? And then I found this book. 'Backyard' answers all those questions and more. Messieurs Dickinson and Dyer apparently felt that there were enough star guides and atlases; what was needed was something that would tell people in practical terms how to choose, use and care for the equipment necessary to see all that stuff out there. That's a huge order, and it would have been easy to become bogged down in details that would have rendered the book obsolete before it even went to press. Astro-technology is like everything else, moving at almost the speed of light. But by focusing on the core principles and basics, while periodically revising and updating hardware specs and models, the authors have dodged the technology trap and created a book that will remain a valuable guide for many years to come. The book immediately saved me a wad of cash: I had been thinking about buying a good zoom eyepiece. 'Backyard' states emphatically that the words 'good' and 'zoom eyepiece' don't go together. 'Nuff said. With its comparative tables on everything from magnitude scale to eyepieces and filters, its richly detailed explanations of how equipment works and how to work it, and its huge number of photos, charts and drawings, 'The Backyard Astronomer's Guide' is truly the Boy Scout Handbook of amateur astronomy. It is one of my most prized books on astronomy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great for all types of observing of the night sky. A much more advanced version of nightwatch. I use it when I am out with my 8 inch telescope.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I learned a lot from this book! It's full of info that's written in an easily understood fashion. I benefitted greatly from the section on setting circles, R.A. and declination and other confusing topics novice astronomers face. It's worth the dough, folks.