Part 3: Advanced Observers
by Richard Rosenberg
Here we discuss materials useful for the advanced observer, by which we mean a large telescope user (8-inches or more). No longer satisfied with the “top 40” well-known objects, the advanced observer hunts out the “faint fuzzies” — those clusters, nebulae, and galaxies at the limit of vision.
Many resources mentioned previously are still quite useful here. I mention especially Guy Ottewell’s yearly ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR, Phil Harrington’s STAR WARE and his web site, and some of the more advanced guides and atlases that appeared in the previous article.
This is a good place to mention a resource I’ve neglected up to now — newsgroups on the web. These are collections of individuals with a common interest who send e-mails to each other. YAHOO! GROUPS has hundreds of astronomy-related newsgroups. These groups may be made of general observers, owners of particular scopes, people who like to sketch astronomical objects at the eyepiece. You’ll probably find a group of interest.
A list of books for the advanced observer must begin with BURNHAM’S CELESTIAL HANDBOOK by Robert Burnham, Jr. (3 volumes, Dover; $19.95 each). Organized in alphabetical order by constellation, a large number of deep-sky objects are listed by category (double stars, variable stars, clusters, nebulae, galaxies). What makes the book famous is its often-expansive commentary on objects of special interest to the author.
Another book I enjoy is STAR-HOPPING, by Robert Garfinkle (Cambridge University Press; $32.99). After general observing tips and a description of how to star-hop at an advanced level, 1 – 3 tours are described for each month. These are very extensive and objects vary from bright stars to obscure deep-sky objects. This book is to observing what the “Hubble Deep Field” is to astrophotography — an area of the sky is examined in minute detail.
The SKY WATCHER’S HANDBOOK (James Muirden, editor; W. H. Freeman; $35), covers all aspects of observing at an advanced level. Planets, meteors, comets, deep-sky objects, novae/supernovae, photography, photometry and astrometry are covered.
An atlas to suit the advanced observer is URANOMETRIA 2000 (2 volumes, plus a field guide; Willmann-Bell; $49.95 each volume; $59.95 for the field guide), which displays stars to magnitude 9.5 and over 30,000 deep-sky objects. The field guide serves as an extensive index.
Even more complete is the MILLENNIUM STAR ATLAS (3 volumes; Sky Publishing; now $149.95 in softcover) with stars to magnitude 11 and up-to-date star positions and magnitudes taken from the Hipparcos satellite. There are over 10,000 deep-sky objects displayed.
THE NGC-IC PROJECT is a wonderful web site for info on the New General Catalogue and Index Catalogue. These are compendiums of deep-sky objects somewhat fainter than the Messier objects. The original catalogues are on-line in their entirety. Or enter an item (say NGC 1234) and get a photo (if available), its coordinates, magnitude, description and so forth. Check out the best set of advanced astronomy links I know of.
CapellaSoft (the maker of SkyTools software) maintains the SKYHOUND website. Updated monthly, there is an Observer’s Page, describing the faint fuzzies best seen this month, currently-visible comets, and there’s a feature article, as well as links to other “heavy-duty” observer web pages. (More resources on comets will be found in Part 4.)
The HAWAIIAN ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY web site has a lot of great stuff for anyone interested in astronomy. For the advanced observer in particular, there is an on-line DeepSky Atlas. For nearly every constellation, you have maps suitable for both the naked-eye and a large-telescope. The latter maps are complete to magnitude 10, with deep-sky objects to magnitude 12. In addition, there are photos, descriptions, and finder charts for selected objects.
Regrettably, one area of observing I have not covered is astrophotography, as I have little knowledge in this area. Perhaps someone better suited than I can provide information in a subsequent article. Look here for Sky & Telescope articles on the subject.
In the final installment, we’ll cover some miscellaneous areas — reference works, astronomy magazines, virtual “observing” on your computer, and how to keep track of what’s up.