Plan out your observing year

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, February 04, 2008

SpringerPick any date in 2008. Astronomy magazine highlights the coming year’s main celestial events in its December issue. And, each month, we detail what’s happening in the sky. But what if you’re an astronomy buff who wants a night-by-night guide to sky events? Judging by the book on my desk, you’re in luck.

Ohio amateur astronomer Tammy Plotner’s new book, The Night Sky Companion: A Yearly Guide to Sky-Watching 2008-2009 (Springer, 2007), is a 669-page treasure of celestial events, historical astronomy, and tips and techniques. Plotner lists something to observe on every night in 2008 (chronologically), and most entries contain one or more historical tidbits.

As an example, I’ll pick my birthday — August 19. Wow. I share a birthday with England’s first astronomer royal, John Flamsteed (1646), powered-flight pioneer Orville Wright (1871), and American astronomer Milton Humason (1891).

Following the historical reverie, Plotner encourages observers to train their telescopes on Barnard’s Galaxy (NGC 6822) in Sagittarius. Do you think Plotner knew this celestial object is one of my favorites? Probably not.

The author filled The Night Sky Companion with loads of images, mostly black and white, but a few of the best objects get color treatment. And although many of the pictures are from professional observatories like Mount Palomar in California, the scale to which the publisher reproduced them gives a pretty good idea of what you’ll see through amateur-sized telescopes.

Plotner’s book works on two levels: First, it’s a great observing guide. Follow it through the year, and you’ll fill a logbook with great sights. Second, it’s a fun cloudy-night read. With hundreds of fun astronomy facts not directly related to observing, The Night Sky Companion will have you spouting trivia all through 2008.

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