The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide

Books 2
Image Credit: Susan Q Yin

Terence Dickinson is considered to be one of the leading writer of astronomy books for amateurs. His first book, NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe is amongst the best beginners guides to astronomy ever written, and is still considered a must-have book for anyone interested in pursuing astronomy as a hobby. Still, the book is very basic and covers only a small number of topics. To provide a more in-depth look at astronomy, Dickinson subsequently partnered with co-author Alan Dyer to write a follow-up to Nightwatch entitled The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide. Like its predecessor, this book is a valuable guide to those who don’t just want to look at the night sky, but long to understand more about what they see.

Although The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide is often thought of as the sequel to Nightwatch, this book actually stands alone and could serve as the sole astronomy guide that an amateur needs when beginning the hobby. Written in an interesting, straightforward way, concepts are explained clearly in plain language, making the book the kind of guide a person would be glad to read during their leisure time.

Backyard Astronomer is divided into two parts that can be read straight through or digested on separate occasions. The first half of the book serves as a general introduction to astronomy. First, it explains just what an amateur stargazer is seeing when he or she looks up at the sky. It also explains how environmental conditions can affect how the sky looks.

After briefly discussing the broad topic of amateur astronomy, Backyard Astronomer delves into the process of selecting an optical device for stargazing. Here, Dickinson and Dyer explain the differences between using binoculars and telescopes for night sky viewing, outlining the benefits and drawbacks of each optical gadget. Then, the book goes into detail describing some of the best binoculars and telescopes for beginners that are currently available for sale on the market. At the present time, this section is very helpful for those in the market for a new telescope, but with the lightning fast pace in which the technology is developing, it’s natural that this section will become out of date in a very short amount of time. This section also provides information about how to set up, maintain and clean a telescope or pair of binoculars.

Part Two of The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide shifts focuses entirely and begins a discussion on the types of objects that the amateur astronomer is likely to see in the night sky. The book provides information about the Moon, the planets, the Sun, meteors, comets, eclipses and iridium flares, explaining what they are, how to see to them and where to look. In addition, charts provide information about which astronomical phenomena are present in the sky at various times of the year through to the year 2020.

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