One of the nice things about writing an astronomy blog is I get copies of astronomy books from various publishers sent to me to review. Just before Christmas I received a copy of the eighth edition of Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion's 'The Monthly Sky Guide'.
This book is a classic beginner level guide to the night sky that includes a great introductory text on finding your way around the heavens, tips on observing the four brightest naked eye planets, a very nice guide to observing the Moon, complete with detailed lunar maps with features labeled, and star charts for each month of the year.
The attention to detail and practicality are notable. For example, the Moon maps are made large enough to show quite a bit of detail. This necessitates them being printed as roughly half a hemisphere per page. Instead of losing detail in the margins of some of the most interesting features on the lunar surface, the maps overlap quite a bit. This is a handy feature that could easily have been overlooked by less experienced or detail oriented authors or publishers.
Everyone you show the Moon to wants to know where the astronauts landed. In answer to this, the sky guide Moon maps show the locations of the landings of Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16 (remember Apollo 13 never made it to the surface, "Houston, we have a problem!")
The real meat and potatoes of the book are the monthly sky charts, depicting the stars, constellations, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies that are visible to the observer with the unaided eye, binoculars or a small telescope. Thee is also a description of the location and brightness of Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn each month from 2010 to 2014, so this book will serve readers well for the next five years. Also listed are lunar and solar eclipses, and meteor showers visible for each month for the next five years.
The star maps are first quality and should make the beginner or intermediate observer anxious to go check out what can be seen each month. I've been observing the sky for nearly forty years and I find them to be a pleasure to look at and use. Wil Tirion is widely considered the leading celestial cartographer of our time. This night sky guide is just another example of why.
Featured each month are star maps and text highlighting a particular constellation or region of the sky. January features Orion and all the wonderful nebulae and clusters visible to binoculars and small telescopes. The text is well written and scientifically accurate in every aspect. I expected nothing less from the editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Astronomy and Norton's Star Atlas.
If you have a young person or friend you would like to share your love of astronomy with, get them a pair of binoculars and this book and you'll have a star gazing friend for life.