Over the years, many people have asked me to recommend books to help them in their study of the stars and constellations.
In this column, I will provide reviews of three books that I consulted during my formative years.
All three proved to be most valuable to me because of my growing interest in astronomy, and I’m sure the same holds true for most of those who spend time using them today.
The Gold Guide from St. Publishing. Martin, 2001
This was my first astronomy book, which I received at the age of 8 and is still in my opinion one of the best as an introduction not only to stars and constellations, but also astronomy. “The Stars”, first published in 1951, is one of a series of Pocket Gold Guides to the Nature and Physical Sciences, which have been updated over the years, most recently in 2001.
The book was written by naturalist Herbert S. Zim (1909-1994) and astronomer Robert H. Baker (1883-1964). The latter served as dean of the University of Illinois Department of Astronomy and is also the author of a book that is still considered a classic among college textbooks on astronomy (“Introduction to Astronomy“Van Nostrand Press. Baker is also the author of two other excellent books,”When the stars come out” and “Introducing the Constellations“, both published by Viking Press.
Complementing Zim and Baker’s text are 150 beautiful color paintings by James Gordon Irving (1913-2012), paintings on display at the American Museum of Natural History and the National Audubon Society in New York. New York City.
This book helped me a lot in identifying the brightest stars and constellations at a very young age. There are 23 maps showing constellations as lines connecting the major stars to the naked eye, captured in symbolic images of what each stellar pattern is supposed to represent.
Additional charts and diagrams help, although the four seasonal star maps used to identify these stars are a bit confusing.
However, the book contains a lot of valuable information and observation tips regarding the sun, moon, planets and stars, as well as explanations for unusual atmospheric phenomena such as the red color of the sun at sunrise and sunset, rainbows, lunar and solar halos and the aurora borealis or northern lights.
If you are just getting started with astronomy as a hobby, this little handbook is the perfect choice for those who want to enjoy the magic of the night sky. Written in easy-to-read language, it’s ideal for use at home, as well as taking on a vacation or a camping trip.
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2008
As I noted for the “Stars” of the Golden Guide, there are symbolic images of the person, creature, or object that a constellation represents. But 70 years ago, Hans Augusto Rey (1898-1977) devised another method of determining constellations using his own rod-shaped patterns and introduced them in a published guidebook. 1952. and revised many times since then. Indeed, this book was immensely popular, going through several prints and selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Many people swear by Rey’s patterns, claiming that they are easier to learn and easier to see.
I first saw Rey’s copy of the book when I was 10 years old and was immediately captivated by some of his clever creations, such as Gemini Twins fist (often used in book advertising).
However, there are many legends and myths dating back thousands of years that explain the formation of constellations. But for his book, Rey largely ignored these ancient legends and performed radical surgery on virtually all constellations, apparently just to fit his idea of a What a particular star looks like.
It makes one wonder who has the richer imagination: the cultures that actually invented the constellations centuries ago, or Rey herself?
For Ursa Major, Rey is over Big lipsIts handle – long considered in mythology to be the tail of the Great Bear – to its nose!
In case Cetus, the whale, he turned the tail of the mammal into its face, despite the star Deneb Kaitos lying there; Arabic for the southern tail of Cetus.
Hercules Always regarded as the kneeling giant with its brightest star, Rasalgethi marks “the head of the kneeling.” But Rey turns Hercules into a man holding a cane with Rasalgethi marking his left foot.
For Virgo, her brightest star, Spica, is said to mark a wheat flower held in her hand. But according to Rey, Spica was the Virgin’s “brightest jewel”, according to the position he wrote, “in an unusual place” (her derrière).
And then in cases where some constellations come reasonably close to describing what they represent, Rey cannot be left alone. In some cases, as with Pegasus, the flying horse and Taurus, the bullhis representation of the stick figure was forced and not really so obvious, looking more like abstract art – something like Pablo Picasso’s sketches.
Despite these drawbacks, I still enjoyed “The Stars: A New Way to See Them” for an easy-to-understand piece of work that, among other things, explains to newbies how not to mistake a planet for a planet. one star and state why. for planetary motions. The speed of light and light year explained on a completely non-technical level, and overall, this book does an admirable job at explaining some of the more complex concepts about the night sky and what it contains.
And I would even consider Rey’s abstract patterns a challenge for those looking to hone their star-finding skills.
Harper and Row, New York, 1970
Occasionally I mention Henry M. Neely (1877-1963), who, after a distinguished career in radio, pursued astronomy relatively late in life. He was a longtime lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium and became one of the nation’s leading popularizers of astronomy. Sadly, he passed away before I had a chance to hear any of his lectures, but Neely wanted everyone to share in the beauty and splendor of paradise. His 1946 book “Charts for Stargazers” was last updated in 1970 and remains a powerful yet simple tool in the study of stars and constellations.
Unfortunately, the modified distances for many stellar and deep sky objects dating back to the first edition of the book were never updated. So on page 195, Andromeda Galaxy listed as 750,000 light-years away, while current figures are more than three times larger. But the author’s purpose in this book is to help you find the stars, not to fill you with facts and figures. Imagine his readers simply wanting to recognize the main stars and constellations without doing a real study of astronomy.
“A Primer” follows this philosophy from start to finish. It contains 96 sky maps, all drawn by Neely, with all navigation stars so designated, and with a unique calendar indicating which map to use for featured objects. This book proves itself to be a complex yet easy to use star finder. Follow the instructions in Chapter 5 (“How to Use This Book”), then go out, choose the appropriate map for the evening, rotate the book as directed, look at the page, then look up at the sky, and there will be desired things. Constellation. The phonetic spellings of star and constellation names are placed next to the usual spellings. The Big and Little Dippers and Cassiopeia“W”‘s were chosen as the first group to recognize, for later use in locating others. The book provides excellent descriptions of how to find each constellation and the remarkable objects within it.
Neely has a tendency to turn some classical stellar patterns into geometric shapes. So we’ve been introduced to “The Kite of Auriga”, “The Long Wedge of Gemini”, “The Great Virgo Triangle” and portray Hercules as another kite… but also with a tail.
He might be the first to come back Sagittarius from an archer into a teapot (Chapter XXIV) and on page 187 he combines the stars of Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila into a baseball game in the sky. Deneb is home disk; Epsilon Cygni, first facility; Eta, second base; Delta, third base; and Sadr, the pitcher’s mound. Midfielder Vega and central midfielder Albireo are running to catch the ball in the center left area, while Altair, the right winger, watches. Such imaginative variations of the constellations are quite effective in teaching the sky, especially for young people.
The only negative for this book that I subscribe to is in Chapter 16, where Neely makes the constellations Andromeda, Perseus, Aries, and Triangulum her own work: The Yacht.
I must tell you that in all my years of watching the sky, I could never have envisioned it, although Neely claims that, “…it doesn’t require as much imagination as it does. Many traditional figures are said to have been seen by ancient stargazers.”
With all due respect to Neely, I disagree!
Like some of Rey’s creations, The Yacht is a very abstract star pattern. Good luck with that!
Overall, however, this fine book should make the task of a beginner of locating all the stars and constellations noted in this text fairly easy and, as Henry himself was, Neely wanted it to be the most enjoyable.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History Magazinethe Farmer ‘Almanac and other publications. Follow them on Twitter @Spacedotcom and more Facebook.
https://www.space.com/stars-constellations-book-reviews Book review for three guides to the stars and constellations