A short history of the birth and death of stars

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, December 25, 2006

You can cram a lot of data in a 156-page book. For example, we just received Steve Coe's Nebulae and How to Observe Them (Springer, London, 2006). If you're a beginning or intermediate observer, and if you're interested in observing nebulae, this is a book you should check out.

I like the book for many reasons. Coe writes in a conversational tone. You can sample many of Coe's stories in the pages of Astronomy. As I write this blog, his most recent story ("Explore winter's 12 best star clusters") appeared in the February 2007 issue.

As with most observing guides, beginners should approach this book slightly differently than intermediate or advanced observers. For example, if you're just starting your lifelong love of observing, read Nebulae's first 40 pages carefully. You don't have to understand everything written there as well as the author, but you should at least be familiar with the terms and concepts.

Pages 41 to 121 represent the "meat" of this book. Here, Coe shares his observations of specific objects. Again, I suggest new observers take a different approach to this section than more seasoned skywatchers. Beginners should read the descriptions carefully. Pay close attention to the size of the telescope Coe used for specific observations. Often, he describes separate observations of the same object through different telescopes. (NOTE: The type of scope doesn't matter, just its size.) Then, use the descriptions as a guide when you're at the eyepiece. Try to see the specific details Coe saw when he made his observations.

Intermediate and advanced observers can attack Coe's list of objects and later compare their observations with his. In this way, Coe's book works as an advanced checklist, but with lots of highly valuable notes.

I have one more suggestion: If your observing site lies under a moderately light-polluted sky, carefully read and understand Coe's section on filters (page 38). Image contrast will improve, and you'll detect more detail using filters.

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