Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters - Review

Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters by Wolfgang Steinicke
Cambridge University Press (19 August, 2010)

I know what you think: 107€ for a book? I too tried not to think about it when I pressed the order-button in the net store. If you can get this for anything less than or borrow it the local library - I urge you to do so. This book is not a novel and can be quite exhausting to read in certain times. The first question in my mind is (and probably always will be) the price. The book has 648 numbered pages. Yes, if you add in the blank pages and the covers you might just get to the 660 pages as promised by the Cambridge website. Then again, by removing the impressive 65 pages of references and different indexes nets you with 583 "true" pages. That comes up with nearly 20 cents per page. Now that's impressive and/or expensive! This means you probably don't want to read the book in the bathroom or look stuff up in the rain. I barely dare to open the book up myself!

As stated above, unless you're a huge astronomy history buff, the book cannot be read in a way like a regular book but only a few pages or chapters at a time. It is an excellent book as a reference and especially for those who are interested in the history of visual observing, discovery of deep sky objects and the NGC and all the observers who made it. This book must have required a huge amount of work from several different people just as the original NGC and IC catalogs did. Kudos to Wolfgang for his immense work in this topic as well as all the other people involved in making of this book.

The old pictures and several sketches of deep sky objects are very good and add in some good flavor to the book. Without a good illustration, the book would have simply failed under too many pages of plain text. Steinicke's detailed sections on NGC 1555 and NGC 1435 are excellent and a very good read. The book is well written and I could not find any grammar typos with a quick look.

Some "typos" were found though - as can be suspected in a book as big as this. Wolfgang Steinicke mentions on page 475 that the first sketch of a star cluster was done by Gottfried Kirch in 1682. However, several sketches made by Giovanni Hodierna (1597-1660) arguably show drawings of clusters (Double Cluster, M34 and Alpha Persei group) made over 30 years prior to Kirch. Later on, in the NGC 1555 chapter Steinicke states, often I might add, his doubts that it is unlikely that Wilhelm Tempel managed to see a magnitude 15 star with an 11 inch telescope. Poor quality coatings will surely play a large part here but seeing a magnitude 15 star even in a modern day 4 to 6 inch telescope is far from impossible or even surprising. I'm sure these issues will be addressed in the 2nd edition.

All in all, the book is a sturdy, hardcore package for an observer who loves the history of astronomy. I personally rate this book as one of the very best in my fairly large astronomy library and trust me when I say I'm not an easy guy to please. Recommended for history enthusiasts, worth browsing for regular observers. 8/10.