Authors: George Robert Kepple & Glen W. Sanner
Hardcover: 506 pages
Amateur astronomers today are exceptionally fortunate to be living in an era when high quality, and very large, optics are so affordable. In the first half of the 20th century the telescope deluxe for the amateur was the 6-inch refractor. However, such telescopes were so expensive that very few amateurs could afford them: the majority of stargazers had to content themselves with instruments in the 60mm range. Consequently, most observing guides published during that time emphasized double and multiple stars, with honorable mention for variable stars and planetary nebulae, objects which do well in long focal length refractors. Webb's 1858 Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes and Olcott's 1936 Field Book of the Skies were not superceded for so many decades simply because the average amateur instrument did not dramatically improve during the century after Webb. By the 1950s the mass-produced or homemade 6-inch parabolic mirror brought medium-sized optics into the price range of the average amateur, and with it the emission nebulae, open clusters, and galaxies that had been seen only as amorphous blobs-if seen at all-in small refractors. The 1948 Skalnate Pleso Atlas of the Heavens had already displaced the classic Norton's Star Atlas as the frontline sky-chart for amateurs, but the observing guides badly needed rewriting. However, not until the 1970s and Burnham's Celestial Handbook was there an observing guide worthy of the 6-inch Newtonian reflector or of the more expensive, but increasingly popular, 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
By the early 80s another revolution in amateur optics was underway thanks to the inexpensive and easily-constructed mounting for large aperture Newtonian reflectors invented by John Dobson. With these big "light buckets" one can see scores of emission nebulae, hundreds of star clusters, and thousands of galaxies, and with details visible in virtually all of them.
But once again observing literature has failed to keep pace with the optics. The purpose of The Night Sky Observer's Guide is to close this rewidened gap by providing the owner of a medium or large aperture telescope with some idea of what to look for in such instruments-both what objects can be seen, and what details may be seen within these objects. The Night Sky Observer's Guide endeavors to assist the observer in the act of observing-in truly seeing what there is to see in each of the objects described in these pages-because the first step in astronomy is to actually look with attention at what is in the night sky. It began in 1987 when George Kepple and Glen Sanner, founded the Observers Guide, a bi-monthly magazine that set out to describe, with their readers as active participants, what could be seen with telescopes 8-inches and larger from mid-northern latitudes. Unlike an ordinary magazine it would have a finite life because each issue was devoted to one-or occasionally several smaller constellations. When completed in the early 1990s 64 constellations had been covered.
The object descriptions in The Night Sky Observer's Guide derive from those in the original Observer's Guide, but the editors have reviewed and edited each so it will conform to a set style. In those instances where inconsistencies arose the editors re-observed the object and rewrote the original Observer's Guide description. The Night Sky Observer's Guide also includes many photographs and maps that did not appear in the magazine. Though both the Observer's Guide and now The Night Sky Observer's Guide were aimed at amateurs especially interested in observing galaxies, nebulae and clusters, neither the magazine nor these volumes have neglected double and variable stars. Data tables for doubles and variables within a constellation are provided near its beginning, and these stars are labelled on maps and finder charts. Moreover, the most famous or visually impressive doubles and variables are given written descriptions similar to those for other deep-sky objects. Splitting doubles and plotting variable star light curves are not nearly as popular with amateurs today as they were thirty or forty years ago, so doubles and variables are not emphasized in these volumes. Nevertheless, double stars in particular offer the observer many fine, and even spectacular, sights in the eyepiece.
Each chapter is devoted to a constellation. The first page is devoted to general comments about the constellation. The second page is a map of the constellation which faces a stellar data table which usually fills the entire page. The remaining pages of each chapter contain photographs, sketches and finding charts - and all of these pages include writen descriptions of objects as seen through different sized instruments.