Astronomy book reviews


Star-Hopping, Your Visa to Viewing the Universe
By Robert Garfinkle
© Cambridge University Press 1994
Cambridge, United Kingdom
ISBN 0-521-59889-3 paperback
ISBN 0-521-41590-X hardback

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In various astronomy newsgroups and forums every now and then you will find lengthy and lively debates which seem to split the amateur astronomers community into two camps. On one side you will find the star-hoppers, on the other side those using go-to telescopes. My personal opinion is that both techniques of locating deep sky objects have their pros and cons.

As a star-hopper you will gradually gain understanding and familiarity with the night sky by hopping from one deep sky object to another, using stars or star patterns to guide you. To learn star hopping, you need patience and perseverance, but once you've mastered it, this skill will allow you to use whichever telescope, wherever, whenever. Once learned, you will never forget how to use this technique. You just need a sky atlas and a red LED flashlight and you will be able to locate any given deep sky object.

As a go-to user you can, assuming that the telescope is properly calibrated and aligned, locate every object above the horizon without even knowing where it is situated. You can visit the same objects again and again without having to look for them. This can come in very handy if you want to monitor a specific group of objects, during a longer period of time, like supernova hunters do. You also can visit many objects in a relatively short period of time if, for some reason or another, your observing time is limited.

Anyway, while buying my new telescope I seriously considered a go-to system, but my budget was limited. I chose to spend my money on aperture instead of ease of use, and thus I had to become a star hopper. There are many astronomy books, both for the novice and the more seasoned deep sky-observer. They usually dedicate only a few lines or a paragraph on star hopping. Sometimes they don't even mention it. There is however one book which deals with this subject in great detail, Robert Garfinkle's "Star-Hopping".

The book

The book can roughly be divided into three major sections.

  • Two introductory chapters.
  • Chapters three through fifteen, the star-hopping chapters, containing 25 different star-hops and a separate chapter about star-hopping the Messier marathon.
  • The appendixes.

The introductory chapters

In chapter one Bob Garfinkle gives you an idea of all the objects you might encounter while star-hopping through the night sky. For every type of object, a brief description is given. The classification systems for all the different objects are given in the Appendixes.

Chapter two contains a lot of basic information for the observer. There are four main paragraphs:

  • How the sky works.
  • How to determine your field of view.
  • Observing tips.
  • How to navigate in the night sky.

These two introductory chapters hold many tips for both the beginner as the more advanced observer.

The star hopping chapters

In each of the twelve monthly star-hop chapters you will find one or more star-hops, all based on the same principle. You will be taken along on a journey through a particular constellation, using the brightest stars to guide you. While hopping from one star to another you will encounter a great variety of deep sky objects.

This section of the book is crammed with background information on all the objects. You will find astronomical data, information about the classification, historical discoveries and observations, mythological stories, etc. Because of all the data, to some people these chapters might seem a bit dry to read, but I love all the facts and figures. When I have observed an object I always like to know what I have been looking at. I try to gather as much background information as I can get. It helps me to understand and appreciate what I have seen.

The maps in this section are good, though sometimes they are small. What also can be a confusing is that on every map the scale of the circles (representing the field of view) is different, but I can live with these minor disadvantages. I use the SkyAtlas 2000 to accompany the book.
Comments of R. Garfinkle

The final chapter of the star-hopping section, chapter fifteen, will guide you through a sundown-to-sunup star-hop, the Messier Marathon.

The Appendixes

Appendix A, Classification Tables

In this section you will find the following Tables:

  • The Henry Draper spectral classification of stars.
  • The MK system of stellar luminosity.
  • The classification of variable stars.
  • The classification of double stars by separation (angular, in arc seconds).
  • The classification of planetary nebulae.
  • The Trumpler classification system for open clusters.
  • The classification of galaxies.

The chapter concludes with a table, listing all the catalogues mentioned in the book.

Appendix B, a list of all the 88 constellations

Appendix C, the Greek alphabet

Appendix D, a table listing the decimal equivalent for each ten minute period during the day. (can be used to calculate time-intervals during the day.


I bought this book to learn the technique of star-hopping. Now that I've used it for a few months, I am convinced that I will succeed. At the moment I not only use the book at the telescope, I also use it indoors for preparing as well as for evaluating my observing sessions.

Apart from being a book about star-hopping, it is a great source of information about hundreds of deep sky objects. It will be used for a long time. If you want to become a star-hopper, or if you just are interested in tons of facts about deepsky objects, I can recommend this book.

I would like to thank Cambridge University Press and R. Garfinkle for granting me permission to add a few sample-pages to my website.

Copyright © 2003