NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe / Edition 4

NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe / Edition 4

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Firefly Books, Limited

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NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe / Edition 4

Revised Fourth Edition: updated for use through 2025.

The first three editions of NightWatch sold more than 600,000 copies, making it the top-selling stargazing guide in the world for the last 20 years. The key feature of this classic title is the section of star charts that are cherished by backyard astronomers everywhere. Each new edition has outsold the previous one because of thorough revisions and additional new material.

NightWatch has been acclaimed as the best general interest introduction to astronomy. The fourth edition has improvements over the 3rd edition in every chapter, including:

  • The famous charts, ideal for stargazers using a small telescope or binoculars
  • A complete update of the equipment section, including computerized telescopes
  • An enlarged photography section,
    including how-to instructions for using the new generation of digital cameras for astronomical photography, both with and without a telescope
  • The tables of future solar and lunar eclipses, planetary conjunctions and planet locations, updated through 2025.

This edition includes star charts for use in the southern hemisphere. There are also dozens of new photographs throughout the book that show the latest thrilling discoveries made by current space observatories and probes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781554071470
Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date: 07/21/2013
Edition description: Fourth Edition, Updated for use through 2025
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 181,863
Product dimensions: 11.00(w) x 10.75(h) x 0.88(d)
Age Range: 10 - 17 Years

About the Author

Terence Dickinson is the best-selling author of 14 other astronomy books, including The Backyard Astronomer's Guide and Hubble's Universe. He has received many national and international science awards, including the New York Academy of Science Book of the Year Award.

Read an Excerpt

Sky Measures

Just as road maps have distance indicators between cities, our celestial guide maps denote distances between key stars and star groups -- not the distance from Earth to the stars but, rather, the apparent distance from one star to another. This measure is calibrated in degrees (360 degrees in a circle). Using this calibration on the sky is beautifully simple: just hold up your hand. At arm's length the width of the end of the little finger is almost exactly 1 degree -- wide enough to cover the Sun or the Moon, both about half a degree across. The two pointer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper used to find Polaris are 5 degrees apart, the width of three fingers held boy-scout fashion at arm's length.

For larger sky angles, one fist width is 10 degrees, while 15 degrees is the span between the first and little fingers spread out. An entire hand span, from thumb to little finger, is about 25 degrees, the length of the Big Dipper. Larger dimensions can be measured as multiples of these. For general reference, the distance from the horizon to overhead is 90 degrees. Remember, these hand-reference measurements work only at arm's length.

The system is reasonably accurate for men, women and children, since people with smaller hands tend to have shorter arms. Only the hand-span measure seems to vary from person to person, because some people can extend their thumb and little finger more widely than others can. A quick check against the Big Dipper will indicate whether you have a span closer to 20 degrees than 25. Anyone can become proficient at gauging the distances in degrees from one star or star group to another in just minutes.

It doesn't matter in which season you begin; the Big Dipper diagram on page 34 can be used to locate several prominent stars almost instantly once you have a sense of the dimensions involved. This is the crucial first step toward becoming a backyard astronomer. Orion's seven brightest stars -- three in the belt and four in a surrounding quadrilateral -- are equally efficient as celestial guideposts. Orion's only drawback, compared with the Big Dipper, is that it is prominent in the evening sky only from late November to early April.

Backyard astronomy does not have to be a maze of formulas, calculators, grid lines, nomenclature, mythology and jargon. It can be easy and fun to find your way around the night sky. Most people want to be able to start finding celestial objects from their first night out. That's my goal here in layout out the most straightforward way to do it. In the next chapter, more detailed charts build on the same principles of using distinctive stellar guideposts to lead the observer around the sky. This is a gradual, painless way to come to know the starry sky.

Table of Contents

Discovering the Cosmos

  • Naturalists of the Night
  • The Starry Realm
  • The Universe in Eleven Steps
    • The Milky Way Galaxy
    • Hubble Deep Field
  • Backyard Astronomy
    • Sky Motions
    • Sky Measures
    • Big Dipper Signpost
    • Star Brightness
    • Constellations and Star Names
    • Star and Constellation Pronunciation Guide
  • Stars for all Seasons
    • The All-Sky Charts
    • The Spring Sky
    • The Summer Sky
    • Urban Myths of Stargazing
    • The Light-Pollution Factor
    • The Autumn
    • The Winter Sky
    • The Ecliptic and the Zodiac
  • Stargazing Equipment
    • Selecting Binoculars
    • Telescopes
    • Frequently Asked Questions About Telescopes
    • Telescope Types
    • Computer-Age Scopes
    • Accessories
    • Eyepieces
    • Factors to Consider When Selecting a First Telescope
  • Probing the Depths
    • Double Stars
    • Using Your Night Eyes
    • Variable Stars
    • Star Clusters
    • Distances to Stars and Galaxies
    • Nebulas
    • Averted Vision
    • Globular Clusters
    • Galaxies
    • Telescope Experience
    • Designation of Sky Objects
    • Atlas of 20 Star Charts
  • The Planets
    • Astronomy From the City
    • Mercury
    • Venus
    • Mars
    • The Asteroid Belt
    • Jupiter
    • Saturn
    • The Outer Planets
    • Visibility of the Planets 2005-2018
  • Moon and Sun
    • Moon Maps
    • Observing the Sun
    • The Moon Illusion
  • Solar and Lunar Eclipses
    • Observing Eclipses
    • The Eclipse Cult
    • Eclipse Tables

  • Comets, Meteors and Auroras
    • Famous and Infamous Comets
    • Meteors
    • Auroras
  • Photographing the Night Sky
    • Astro-Imaging Revolution
    • Night-Sky Imaging Techniques
    • The Barn-Door Tracker
    • CCD Cameras
  • Southern Hemisphere Night Sky
    • Southern Sky Charts
    • Caribbean Night Sky
  • Resources


  • What People are Saying About This

    Timothy Ferris

    Dickinson is...both a skilled observer and a lucid writer. He knows what's out there and how best to see it, and he shares his expertise in the spare, friendly voice of someone who has enducated not only himself but many others. His deep aesthetic appreciation of astronomy is reflected in the book's splendid charts and illustrations.
    —(from the foreword by Timothy Ferris)


    Exclusive Author Essay
    I remember reading my first astronomy book in my school library at age eight. I had been fascinated by the stars ever since I had seen a bright meteor as a preschooler. But now I could read well enough to begin to discover the wonders of the universe for myself.

    I recall eagerly turning the book's pages and coming upon a section that told me that stars are really suns, just like our sun, but at colossal distances. I found this fact so mind-blowing that I ran around the neighborhood telling everyone this amazing thing I had just learned. My enthusiasm was met with polite disinterest by adults and impolite ridicule by my school chums, who wondered why I was telling them something so boring. But for me it set alight a fire in the mind.

    I pestered my parents for years until they bought me a small telescope for Christmas. I almost wore it out observing the heavens, summer and winter, from our suburban backyard. Later, I bought a better scope, then built an even bigger one. I was thoroughly hooked. There was no doubt in my mind that astronomy was my calling, and I was ready to answer the call!

    The call came in 1966, 15 years after I read that first astronomy book in the school library. I was hired as staff astronomer and lecturer at Toronto's new state-of-the-art McLaughlin Planetarium. It was the perfect job for an astronomy addict. Every day under the planetarium's great projection star dome I extolled the wonder and beauty of the stars and constellations to audiences of up to 350 visitors. In the planetarium classroom I taught courses on astronomy and backyard stargazing to both adults and children. For me it was a dream come true.

    But one thing puzzled me. When I looked around for a stargazing guidebook that I could recommend to beginners, everything I found was either too superficial or else overly technical. I wondered why the authors weren't using plain language and uncluttered illustrations to focus on what those people in my classes, and others like them, really wanted to know. Subjects such as the easiest way to find celestial objects, and how to select and use binoculars and small telescopes to observe them, seemed to be begging for improved treatment. This bothered me to the point that I decided to do something about it.

    In the late 1970s, after working for more than a decade at two planetariums and as editor of Astronomy magazine, I decided to devote myself full time to astronomy writing -- including the development of the definitive beginner's stargazing guidebook. By a stroke of good timing, a publisher who had seen my work in a nature magazine approached me about writing such a book. Thus, NightWatch was born in 1983.

    As I had hoped, NightWatch immediately filled a gap in the literature. It has become my flagship book, and one of the bestselling stargazing guides in the world. For the Third Edition, I updated every page and included more than 100 new photos and illustrations. My other major stargazer's "bible" is The Backyard Astronomer's Guide, a more in-depth treatment than NightWatch that I coauthored with Alan Dyer of the Calgary Planetarium. Another book I am particularly proud of is The Universe and Beyond, which is more an illustrated tour of the universe rather than a stargazing guide, making it a good companion to NightWatch.

    Over the years I have been a professional astronomy communicator, interest in the subject has exploded. A once-obscure hobby interest two generations ago, astronomy today appeals to a broad cross section of the population. It has been an honor to be a part of that revolution. (Terence Dickinson)



    In the decades since the first edition of NightWatch appeared in 1983, more than a half a million copies have found their way into the hands of astronomy enthusiasts. For me, the most gratifying aspect of this successful publishing story is the feed-back I've received from so many backyard astronomers who say that the book was their primary guide during the crucial initial stages of their celestial explorations.

    As in the previous revised editions, the overriding goal in this new expanded version has been to provide a complete first book of amateur astronomy. I wanted to retain the features that readers say they like, so I have not tampered with the basic structure and presentation. But extensive fine-tuning and up-dating have touched many pages. The most visible of the changes is the addition of a new chapter on the southern-hemisphere skies with a new set of charts styled after the northern-hemisphere ones in Chapter 4. This addition to the book is the direct result of requests from readers of previous editions.

    As always with revised editions of my books, I have replaced many photos with either more relevant or simply superior images. Other changes include a major rewrite of the section describing astrophotography, because of the digital-imaging revolution, and a thorough update of amateur-telescope equipment and accessories to reflect many new goodies that have become available since the previous edition in 1998. Where necessary, lists and tables are updated throughout. As before, prices throughout the book are in U.S. dollars.

    Although more people are now dabbling in recreational astronomy and the range and quality of equipment to pursue the hobby have never been better, a persistent foe of amateur astronomers is light pollution — the glare spilled from street lamps, outdoor-sign illumination, parking-lot lights, building security lights and outdoor fixtures around private residences and public buildings. Any one of these sources can ruin your backyard view of the night sky. Even if your observing site is protected from direct interference, outdoor lighting in general produces giant glowing domes over our cities and towns that have beaten back the stars.

    Because the glow is visibly growing every year, those who seek the natural beauty of a dark night sky must flee ever farther into the country. For many aficionados, an evening of stargazing has become an expedition. But all is not gloom and doom. The dark cloud cast by light pollution has turned out to have an intriguing silver lining. Far from diminishing interest in astronomy, urban sky glow seems to have fueled it. When our grandparents were young, a view of the night sky strewn with stars and wrapped in the silky ribbon of the Milky Way could be seen from the front porch. Today, for most people, it is a relatively rare and exotic sight, something to be talked about and cherished as a memory.

    Many family vacations now include plans for dark-site star-gazing. Each year, thousands of astronomy enthusiasts gather at conventions and summer "star parties" far from city lights to share their interest. In previous editions of NightWatch, I predicted that as urban glow inexorably marches deeper into the countryside, the 21st century will see the emergence of dark-skypreserves — areas intentionally set aside in state, provincial and national parks where there are no obtrusive lights and never will be. Well, it's already happening. At least half a dozen of these shrines to the glory of the starry night have been established (see "Astronomy Conventions and Star Parties" in Chapter 13), and many more will surely follow in the decades ahead.

    Terence Dickinson
    Yarker, Ontario
    May 2006

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