A Review of The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos

First impressions are everything, even for the first few pages in a non-fiction book. When The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos arrived in the mail and I took an introductory scan through its pages, I knew a lot of time was put into the production of its contents. While I was already well aware of the authors before this book was published, I was still impressed with the depth of knowledge this book provided.

There are lists of reference materials for each topic anchored by beautiful images and additional supporting material. Since the book is about getting started in becoming an amateur astronomer, most of the material is technical in nature, but it does an excellent job of introducing each topic, highlighting keywords, and even adding a bit of historical context into discoveries that are just waiting for you to view through your telescope.

The greatest benefit of the book is its easy bite-sized readability of a range of resources. Need advice on selecting a telescope? There’s a section for that. Curious to learn what celestial objects are the best to view on a particular date? There’s a section for that. Want to better understand night time lighting conditions? The Bartle Sky Scale helps here. Is it your first time exploring astronomical… anything? There is even a section on how to build your own telescope, or simply what to look for when purchasing one. The entire book eases you into each concept, but doesn’t linger to bore those who are already knowledgeable about the concepts.

The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos is not a casual novel, it’s a long-term resource.

“As comets start to break naked eye magnitude (+6) they start to become bright enough to image with foreground objects. The good news is this type of photography is relatively easy and straightforward, similar to shooting star trails: A simple wide-field 10- to 15-second exposure with a DSLR camera on a sturdy tripod should reveal the fuzz ball of a bright comet against the starry background. You’ll need to track longer exposures of a minute or more to avoid star Trails. You can easily track a comet using a computerized mount or our low-tech barn door tracker (see Chapter 9: Astrophotography 101, page 150).”

One thing I hoped to find in the book was the date for the next total solar eclipse over North America. I conveniently found it on Page 65 along with dozens of dates for not just solar eclipses but lunar ones as well, all that will occur around the world over the next several years. Succeeding pages also gave me handy eclipse resources to prepare for my future viewing experience. All of the topics in the book had a similar presentation.

I regularly have fun in identifying the solar system’s planets in the night sky. The great part about viewing these objects is you sometimes can get away with viewing them using a simple pair of binoculars. The book briefly talks about each planet, where it is in the night sky, and how (and when) to best view them. Comets, asteroids, planetary moons, and other objects are of coursed included.

As you flip through the pages of local astronomical objects, it transitions to interstellar objects like other stars, the Milky Way’s globular clusters, the (relatively) nearby Andromeda Galaxy, and the many galaxies beyond. Catalogs of these objects are referenced with a bit of history talking about how the whole enterprise of astronomy got started hundreds of years ago. I was intrigued to learn that the first catalog, the Messier Catalog, was created by Charles Messier (born 1730, died 1817) from frustration in continually coming across “fixed fuzzy patches in the sky” that he thought were comets, but now we understand that they are entire galaxies.

“What are meteors? First, let’s clear up a common misconception. Many folks see giant space rocks in a museum and assume that’s what all meteors are. Some folks even think that meteors and meteor showers are dangerous. Truth is, a majority of what you’re seeing during a meteor shower are tiny grains of dust. Comets lay these dust trails down, and meteor showers occur where these ancient paths intersect the Earth’s orbit. Occasionally, a really bright fireball might result from a pea-size rock. To date, no one has recovered a meteorite related to an annual meteor shower.”

Truly a great guide on how to get started in observational astronomy. Whether you are already an amateur astronomer looking for more viewing material and an updated telescope, or starting from scratch and need advice on everything, this guide is your perfect resource in peering across the cosmos.

Use the book to find a nearby viewing party, bring your new telescope, this book of course, and have fun!

This book review written by Mathew Anderson