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Book Review: Objects in the Heavens

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Book Review: Objects in the Heavens

After most of our astronomy club meetings, we head out as group to a local eating establishment to enjoy a late dinner or desert or even a few drinks. This is also a great opportunity to socialize with other amateur astronomers, compare notes and even share stories of new purchases/acquisitions. That is exactly what I did after a recent meeting, I showed off a new observing book I recently purchased, Objects in the Heavens, 5th edition by Peter Birren.

Objects in the Heavens is a great observer’s reference as it very logically lays out all the deep sky targets down to magnitude 10 that are visible from the Northern Hemisphere. It makes for an excellent reference out in the field as well as a good source for planning observing sessions. It is a great companion for a star atlas like Sky and Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas. The book is printed on 5.5” x 8.5” paper and is spiral bound so the book sits flat on your observing table and can also be folded back on itself for easy reference at the eyepiece.

I used this book out in the field for almost 2 years now and have been quite pleased with it.  There have been quite a few nights that I have not prepared much of an observing plan and this book always comes to the rescue and provides targets for an evening full of observing.  The real benefit of this book is it’s layout and amount of very useful information it’s provides in a compact form.

Objects in the Heavens is broken out into 4 major sections:

  1. An Introduction & Reference Material
  2. Observing the Moon
  3. Seasonal Maps
  4. Constellations and their Objects

Introduction and Reference Material

The author starts out with his introduction and an explanation of how the data is arranged, symbols uses and an explanation of magnitudes. Then there is a listing of the 88 constellations with a very short description of their names and just a little bit of folklore and stories. The author then provides several pages of general reference information and then we get into specific observational reference:

  • Major Stars
  • Double Stars
  • Variable Carbon Stars
  • Deep Sky Object Types
  • Messier Catalog Index and Messier Marathon Order
  • NGC and Other Catalogs Cross-Reference Index
  • Common Names of Stars and Deep Sky Objects
  • Major Meteor Showers

Observing the Moon

The Moon section provides a listing of lunar targets to observe and the day of the lunar cycle in which the best observation can be made. Also included are small thumbnail maps of the moon with the general area of the objects marked. If you are going to use this for observing objects on the moon, I would recommend getting a moon atlas to use in conjunction with the material in this section of Objects in the Heavens.

Picture from author’s web site

Seasonal Maps

In this section the author highlights the constellations that are best viewed in each season as well as providing a listing of binocular targets and bright objects that can be seen from “city” venues. This section should be quite helpful determining what objects (other than planets) might be good to showcase at public observing session as these are definitely the brightest of objects. Also for those amateurs that are still learning the night sky, this section should help narrow down what constellations to focus on depending upon the time of year.

Constellations and their Objects

This section is really the heart of the book and the section I think most observers will find most valuable. Each constellation that is visible from the Northern hemisphere is listed here, with all the magnitude 10 or brighter objects that are located in the constellation. Each set of pages is laid out in a similar fashion with object information list on the left page and a map of the constellation(s) on the right. For each of the objects, the author provides quite a bit of information, such as

  • A symbol as to the type of object
  • The object’s catalog number
  • A description of the object
  • The object’s common name (if applicable) in italics
  • The number of stars in the object (if applicable)
  • The object’s size
  • The object’s coordinates
  • The object’s magnitude
  • What I really like is the author also includes exclamation points (!) to highlight some of the best objects.
Picture from author’s web site

The maps are pretty good but here is where using a true star atlas compliments this book well. As mentioned previously, Sky and Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas compliments Objects in the Heavens quite well. In fact the author the references each of his maps with the corresponding Pocket Sky Atlas chart.
Other Reviews

As I mentioned previously, Objects in the Heavens has been reviewed favorably on various sites. Below are links to a few of those reviews:

Purchasing the Book

The current edition of Objects in the Heavens is available a printed, sprial bound version while 2 PDF eBook versions of the previous 4th edition as available from Amazone. The spiral bound print version can be purchased directly from the author via PayPal at http://www.birrendesign.com/astro.html.

Summary

Objects in the Heavens is very well laid out field guide that will greatly assist observers at the telescope. You’ll want to use this book in conjunction with a good atlas. Being spiral bound makes this book easy to use in the field but since the pages are regular paper and not laminated, you’ll want to take care not to let them get soaked with dew.

Clear & Steady Skies!

-Mike