Pocket Sky Atlas

Just buy it.

Seriously. Just buy it. Are you just getting into astronomy? Can’t actually buy a telescope yet but interested in learning about constellations and the various objects you’ll be able to see when you do get one? Just buy this. Been observing for a while but don’t have a nice handy little reference to take with you for short sessions at the telescope? Buy this.

We own two, because we each need one when observing. (And we’re bad at sharing.)

Halfway between A5 and A4 in size, and spiral-bound, this is immediately an appealing book. The blurb describes it as fitting into the glove box, which is a good way of selling it. It’s not quite a genuine pocket-book, but compared to most atlases it’s a treat. It has slightly waxy pages which means they don’t mind a bit of dew, too, which is marvellous when observing in damp conditions.

The book opens with a very brief introduction, explaining the origins of the atlas – in the search for convenience – and what it actually shows – stars down to about mag 7.6; doubles, variables, galaxies brighter than 11.5, globular clusters brighter than 10.5, planetary nebulae brighter than 12. It also explains the labels used, how the charts are arranged, and includes a select bibliography which can be used for those wanting something than goes further (or just a good collection…).

The charts are arranged in order of Right Ascension, in sets of ten. It begins with RA 0-3, and the introductory page (a similar one appears at the head of each ten) explains in which months this part of the sky is high in the evening, at midnight, and in the morning (in this case, Nov and Dec; Oct; Aug and Sept). It also has a map, repeated in many places, of the entire sky, with major constellations and the maps on which they appear; the section under specific consideration is shown in bold. Turn the page and, before getting to the maps themselves, there is a key to understanding the maps: how to identify galaxies, nebulae, clusters, and stellar magnitudes.

The maps themselves are quite detailed, with lines connecting the stars of a constellation in green, galaxies in red and other non-stellar objects mostly in yellow. Each map has arrows and labels showing which other maps it connects to (there is good overlap), and RA and Dec are easy to follow. There are four detailed maps: of the Pleiades, of Orion’s Sword, the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, and the Large Magellanic Cloud.

One of the most useful aspects of this map is that the front cover is not part of the spiral binding, meaning that when the book is laid open the front cover juts out beyond the page. On this jutting-out section there are three things: a ruler indicating angular distance on the charts (up to 15 degrees); the scale for determining star magnitude from -1 to 7 (because as usual this is indicated by relative size on the map); and a red Telrad finder with circles at 2 and 4 degrees. For quick referencing while observing, this inclusion is invaluable.

The book closes with several indices. It has a list of bright stars, by name; a list of galaxies by NGC and IC reference, as well as name; open clusters; globular clusters; bright and dark nebulae; and planetary nebulae. All of these, listed separately, also have a reminder of the legend used to indicate them on the maps. Lastly, the book includes objects in the Caldwell Catalogue and the Messier Catalogue. Excellent for those of us who like lists and/or challenges, or who are feeling lazy when it comes to planning an observing run.

Would I buy it again? I already mentioned that we own two, so: absolutely. It’s invaluable.

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