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Observing the Sun with Coronado Telescopes

While it does discuss other brands, this book – as the name suggests – is designed to inform the reader about solar telescopes as made by Coronado (acquired by Meade in the last few years). Overall, it is a nicely presented book, with some detailed information about the telescopes and solar observing in general. The pictures in particular are a wonderful part of the package: there are numerous pictures of the sun itself, taken via Coronado instruments, which demonstrate what it is possible to see, as well as numerous pictures of the instruments themselves. However, this book is not without its flaws.

The thing which frustrated me the most about this book was the poor editing. It’s not so poorly written that it becomes unintelligible, but it is filled with enough silly mistakes to become quite irritating: mistakes which the author ought to have picked up on re-reading, and which an editor certainly ought to have corrected. That aside, the non-technical sections are clearly written and easy to follow. The audience is definitely imagined to be beyond novice at astronomy; unless you are an astronomy novice but an experienced photographer or otherwise have a good working knowledge of lenses, there will be sections of this book that will be difficult to follow. It’s also written in quite an idiosyncratic style. Philip Pugh, the main author, acknowledges this early on; it’s based largely on what he, and the other contributors, have personal experience with. They do mention some accessories and telescopes they haven’t personally used, which is good, but does leave room for the possibility that they’ve missed something. It also has numerous personal anecdotes throughout, which in general I found quite nice, although the mentions of business trips to Brazil got a little wearing.

Fortunately, the flow of the book itself is easy to follow. It opens with an exceptionally detailed contents page, and there are clear headings throughout all of the chapters. The Introduction begins with a little bit of the history of solar observing – but so little that he might as well just have skipped on it. It also includes a smattering of scientific information about the sun, which again was so limited that it felt like it didn’t really fit. Both of these really needed to be quite separate sections to feel warranted. The best part about the Introduction is Pugh’s discussion of the differences between white light and hydrogen alpha (Ha) observing in terms of what the eye can actually see, as well as his recommendations on how to keep records of observations. Reading the introduction is probably a good way to decide if solar observation is really for you: it’s certainly cheaper than buying a telescope and discovering that you hate it.

Chapter 2 focusses on the PST: the Personal Solar Telescope, one of which I own and is the reason why I bought this book. This chapter is excellent if you are considering buying one. It has great detail on what the PST looks like; how to attach it to various types of mounts; accessories (he doesn’t always come down in favour of the official ones); and how to find the sun using its inbuilt finder. There is a great deal of information about eyepieces, and includes an interesting appraisal of the PST overall.

Chapter 3 looks at the PST’s bigger sibling, the MaxScope. The chapter is largely the same as Chapter 2, although it has more information on photography. I am unlikely ever to even consider the MaxScope, so I will admit I did not pay a great deal of attention to the chapter details; it does seem as thorough as that on the PST, however.

Other Coronado products are the focus of Chapter 4. It seems to be a good rundown of the various options, with useful comparisons to other Coronado products throughout. It includes a brief section on accessories and options for mounting.

Imaging the sun is discussed in Chapter 5. This seems to be something a lot of solar observers get into, and while I was unconvinced when I first started using the PST, the appeal is slowly growing on me. The chapter includes very detailed discussion of how to attach and use a webcam (the best option for solar photography it seems), as well as post-processing and the advantage of stacking images. There are some lovely photos, of course, to serve as inspiration. The problem, of course, is that although this book is quite current – written in 2006 – the rate of change in digital imaging and associated software has been so rapid that this chapter is almost certainly hopelessly out of date in terms of its recommendations regarding the best or cheapest options for cameras, and what software to use (additionally he only suggests software for Windows machines). This chapter might give an interested imager somewhere to start, it could by no means be used as a sole guide.

In Chapter 6, the book moves away from Coronado products to give brief reviews and evaluations of solar telescopes and accessories from other brands which the authors have tried, while Chapter 7 discusses products they have not personally experienced. Having no experience with these things I of course cannot evaluate whether they are being completely fair or not, but the book as a whole gives no reason to suspect anything other than honesty.

Finally, Chapter 8 provides a fairly comprehensive summary of the book as a whole, and it concludes with a glossary which, while not being very detailed, is still useful.

Would I buy this book again? Probably not. It’s not the book I was expecting; I had hoped for more on solar observation itself, not what is essentially a buyer’s guide. Since I am unlikely to buy another solar telescope (my PST suits me down to the ground) it isn’t particularly useful. This is the sort of book which ought to be in libraries – particularly astronomical society libraries – where potential buyers can borrow it to read the relevant chapter.

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