University Lowbrow Astronomers

More Rainy-Day Musings.

by Lorna Simmons
Printed in Reflections:  November, 1998.

Here we are again--inclement weather and no break in sight.  Before you decide to end it all for the umpteenth time, I would suggest that you continue to learn to find your way around the sky in order to whet your appetite for clear skies, wherever they are.  In Arizona?  New Mexico?

First, get yourself comfortable.  Turn off your computer (for now).  Settle into a cushy chair/sofa next to a bright light.  Oh, dear I forgot the books!  Gotta get up!  Go to the bookshelf.  Pick out books.  Details, details.

There are several books which will show you some of the celestial objects which (if the weather were willing) could be located through your telescope(s).  Since this is Michigan, and the weather is not often willing, you are forced to adjust.  Do not stick your head underneath a pillow; take second best.

Summer Stargazing, by Terrence Dickinson, is a thin book which is divided into sections:  “Introducing the Night Sky,” “The Main Charts,” “Close-Up Charts,” and “Celestial Phenomena.”

“Introducing the Night Sky” includes brief discussions concerning observing, in addition to information intended to help you get started in your skywatching (if only the weather would oblige).  After a section, entitled “How to Find Stars and Constellations,” there are “Key Charts” of the constellations for “Late Spring and Early Summer” and “Summer and Early Autumn.”  Each of these “Key Charts” includes four smaller charts, “facing north,” “facing west,” “facing south,” and “facing east.”

Now, we get into the beautiful part:  There are “Main Charts,” each of which contains color photographs on the left and right-hand pages.  The left-hand page consists of full-page photographs (without identifying notations) of the portion of the sky in the headings.  This left-hand page is intended to show what you would actually see at a dark site through binoculars.  Consider this to be applicable for naked-eye viewing (if your vision is keen).  Your eyes do not need to become dark-adapted for this armchair/couch virtual-viewing session!  If you do not recognize the celestial objects, fret no more.  The right-hand page, in each instance, shows the same photograph of the same portion of the sky as the left-hand page (which has no identifying markings).  However, on the right-hand page, notations identify the constellations, important stars, and important celestial objects.  The right-hand page also is divided into sections labeling a close-up which is to be found on a later page; the right-hand page also has markings to help you find your way around the left-hand page which has no markings.  These seven “Main Charts” are entitled:

  1. “The Dippers and the Northern Sky.”
  2. “Late Spring/Early Summer:  Facing West.”
  3. “Late Spring/Early Summer:  Facing South.”
  4. “Late Spring/Early Summer:  Facing East.”
  5. “Mid-to Late Summer:  Facing West.”
  6. “Mid-to Late Summer:  Facing South.”
  7. “Mid-to Late Summer:  Facing East.”

Following all of these charts are pages with a mixture of color photographs with aids for finding consequential objects; some of the color photographs include markings identifying pertinent constellations.  There are color photographs of important celestial objects (perhaps to whet your appetite) and/or further diagrams with finding aids.  These pages are entitled:

These sections are followed by charts of “The Sky in other Seasons”:  “Early Autumn,” “Late Autumn,” “Winter,” and “Early Spring,” and pages of gorgeous photographs and explanations concerning “Meteors,” “Auroras,” “Lunar Eclipses,” “The Sun and Solar Eclipses,” and “Comets.”  It ends up with a section about “Planet Visibility 1996-2010,” complete with aids for finding the various planets.  I, myself, most certainly intend to be around for these!

The pictures are beautiful.  They are very helpful in those sections which permit you to find the sky objects without aids before you sneak a peek for confirmation.  (No cheating is permitted!  That’s the law.  Hear?)

Now comes the pièce de résistance of virtual observing!  The Photographic Atlas of the Stars, by H. J. P. Arnold, P. Doherty, and P. Moore, with a foreword by Sir Arnold Wolfendale (Institute of Physics Publishing) is a book which is similar to Summer Stargazing, but even more gorgeous.  Be careful about deciding to read this book.  You will never want to return to the chilly night sky, but forever will be content to sit in that comfortable cushy chair viewing pictures of celestial pleasures way beyond anything we can get naked-eye at Peach Mountain (because of the light pollution from Ann Arbor and beyond).  Of course, to be truthful, at Peach Mountain you are viewing the real deal!

The main body of this book is divided into 45 full-page, glossy, color photographs of groups of constellations (Northern and Southern Hemispheres), each page showing the view that one would get at a dark site with naked-eye observing.  With each of the full-page photographs (on the right-hand page) there is (on the left-hand page) a carefully-drawn, full-page star chart of that particular section of the night sky.  This book of photographs is intended by the authors to be an aid for those who wish to learn the night sky.

There is one problem with this book:  It is so beautiful that you will not want to get it all messed up by actually turning the pages.  For those people, I suggest buying two books one book to read and the other book to treasure!  The book is rather expensive; therefore, to do that, you ought to begin forgoing lunch for awhile in order to refill your piggy bank.

While you are holed up and unable to view the celestial sphere, you might try looking at the photographs in an atlas, such as the classic, black-and-white photographs of The Hubble Atlas of Galaxies, by Allan Sandage, Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar Observatories, Carnegie Institute of Washington, and California University of Technology (1961).  You will be viewing some of the first photographs taken of galaxies during the 20th Century astronomy.

On the other hand, the stunningly-beautiful photographs of The Color Atlas of Galaxies, by James D. Wray (Cambridge University Press, 1988), should also help keep you out of the doldrums on one of those nights of inclement weather.  This volume omits the galaxy, Andromeda, which easily can be found in many other astronomical books.  You will get an idea of the great variety of shapes and orientations (in reference to Earth) of these magnificent celestial giants.

Most of these books are perfect for beginners who live around bright lights where viewing anything other than the full moon is a challenge.  You “amateur” astronomers can get some enjoyment also.  At worst, you can always vent your rage by using (illegal) copies of pages from these books for target practice and making points by hitting important stars in the various constellations.  Of course, you would not want to dirty the originals.

A closing note (somewhat on topic):  Years ago I learned from a Native American dancer what was purported to be an “authentic American Indian rain dance.”  I promise never to perform it at least not on Peach Mountain nights.  Promise.  I mean it.  (Crossing fingers.)


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