First Magnitude

Starry Night
Image Credit: Nathan Anderson

When you’re new to stargazing, the amount of objects that you can see with a telescope even on its lowest settings is truly astounding. Novices often end up simply staring in awe, unable to identify precisely what they’re seeing, but still feeling captivated by all those bright celestial bodies. As the need to understand more about what one is seeing develops, however, newcomers to astronomy then feel compelled to purchase exhaustive guides that go into exacting detail about these night sky sights. While many of these books are often too much to digest at once, “First Magnitude: A Book of the Bright Sky” by James B. Kaler, on the other hand, is a nice alternative to those comprehensive guides, as well as a great resource for beginners.

Only The Brightest Objects Listed

“First Magnitude” is a different sort of star guide, with the name of the book coming from the term used to measure and describe the brightest objects in the night sky. According to the magnitude scale, the brighter an object appears, the lower the value assigned to it, with the full Moon reaching a negative value of -13, the brightest planet Venus -5, and the brightest star Sirius -1.44.

Focusing on these objects alone sets “First Magnitude” apart from other astronomy books and gives those new to astronomy an in-depth look at the objects that will be the easiest for them to see with their telescopes. The book is divided into chapters, with many of the sections devoted to one type of first magnitude object, including the Sun, the Moon, and the planets. In addition, it discusses the 23 brightest stars that are present in the night sky, and provides information about meteors and comets.

Beginners will find that “First Magnitude” provides precisely the right amount of information about each topic. The book assumes that readers have no previous knowledge about astronomy, so it fully describes scientific phenomena that other books leave to the reader to research on their own. As a result, the book not only allows readers to learn how to find and identify certain stars, but it also gives them a fuller appreciation for what a star is with discussions about the star life cycle.


With the help of “First Magnitude,” amateur star-gazers can examine the night sky and find more objects to view more quickly. They’ll also be able to better appreciate just what they’re seeing. The book is very easy to read. While it is 230 pages long, it could be read from cover to cover in just a few hours. Many readers will want to go through the book slowly, though, reading a chapter and then using their telescopes to observe the objects before going on to discover more.

Overall, “First Magnitude” is a helpful, fascinating book that makes a great addition to any beginner’s astronomy library. It could easily be the only book that a novice requires to begin using their telescopes.

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