Astronomy Manual: The Practical Guide To The Night Sky by Jane A. Green (book review)

‘Astronomy Manual: The Practical Guide To The Night Sky’ is the second edition of Jane A. Green’s book. As Brian May says in the introduction, astronomy is forever revealing new information about the universe and new editions can only keep up. How different this edition is to the 2010 version, I don’t know, as I never saw it. No doubt I will spot changes in the third another decade down the line. What becomes apparent is that we are still no wiser how the planets are in the order they are in now as we were nearly a century ago other than the fact that they haven’t always been in the orbits we are accustomed to.


I think one of the strongest photos is a picture of the Earth as a blue spot from Saturn on page 30 and it was thought initially to be a blemish on the picture. It really puts things into perspective that if we are observed from aliens at a distance that the Earth would look like a water world. Something that has to be considered when we look in their direction that things aren’t always what they seem.

Much of this book is literally a crash course on the cosmos. I know a lot of it anyway but it’s never a bad idea to have a refresher. Something that did occur to me when Green raised the black matter and how its keep motions in the universe stable was that it couldn’t have been there at the Big Bang or it wasn’t strong enough to resist the scattering of matter that became what we have today. Don’t under-estimate the first third of this book. Apart from a stack of photos, there are various comparison lists to should be an instant aid for knowledge about the planets and stars. With all this information to hand, you are now ready to decide how you can look at it for yourself.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of equipment, Green does not hold back. I didn’t realise until now that binoculars could be so useful to look at the planets and even some of the moons. She documents what to look for and I know some of them from where I live so might get a better look at them when the clouds aren’t so many. With all the telescopes, for the northern hemisphere the Polaris star and the southern hemisphere, Sigma Octantis, are your choice of brightest stars to ensure you’ve got your magnification right.

If you get really serious and want to build a small observatory in your garden, Green runs you through how she built hers with some tipping on planning permission, power supply, heat dissipation and security. With few modifications they can be applied in most countries.

Something that I didn’t know was it was possible to use web-cams and even smartphones to photograph the night sky. Don’t expect for it to be done in…er…flash but left absorbing the light, they can build up their pictures once translated through software.

Green does say, even after a lot of information, about the various camera options that there are available that much of it is a guide and you should dig deeper to find what you actually need. Even so, I still learnt a lot and those enthusiastic to watch the stars at night are going to find this a valuable book to have in your collection.

GF Willmetts

June 2016

(pub: Haynes. 208 page illustrated large softcover. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-85733-850-1)

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