Astronomy book reviews

The Deep Sky, An Introduction

By Philip S. Harrington
Sky & Telescope Observer's Guides
Series editor: Leif J. Robinson
Sky Publishing Corporation 1997
Cambridge, Massachusetts
ISBN 0-933346-80-8

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In 1977 I got my first telescope, a 4.5-inch reflector. In the first few months I rushed outside on every occasion to observe the moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and some deep sky objects, which I knew to find thanks to a course at the local astronomy club. But after looking at the Double Cluster, the Pleiades, the Orion nebula and a handful of other deep sky objects a few times, I started to wonder what to observe next. I had virtually no Idea what- or where to look for. I didn't know that things like star atlases or observers-guide's even existed. My interest in observing with the telescope started to fade quickly, and within a year the telescope ended up in a shed, and was not used again for a very long time.

A few years ago I picked up my old hobby again, and this time I was determined to make a better start. I decided to do things quite different. Before rushing into the garden with my newly bought telescope, I paid a visit to an observatories bookshop. They had a wide range of astronomy books and atlases for sale. There I bought the field version of Sky Atlas 2000 and a copy of Philip Harrington's "THE DEEP SKY, an introduction". During my two-hour train journey home I leafed through my new acquisitions and I realized that I had just bought my first "road-map" and "travel guide" to the night sky.

The book

I have been using "The Deep Sky" for two years now. This book covers everything a novice deep sky observer needs to know. It can roughly be divided into three parts:

  • Chapters one through five, an introduction to different aspects of deep sky observing, for instance which equipment to use, how to navigate the night sky, and a description of the different types of deep sky-objects etc.
  • Chapters six through nine, detailed descriptions of more than 300 deep sky objects. There is a chapter for every season of the year. In each chapter the objects are arranged by constellation. The constellations are arranged alphabetically per chapter.
  • The Appendixes (see below).

Part 1 (chapters one through five)

In the first chapters the author discusses a wide range of topics, all related to the basics of deepsky observing. They are stuffed with both theoretical and practical information, and are an absolute must for the novice deepsky observer.
Mr. Harrington starts of in chapter one with a detailed description of the different types of deepsky objects. In chapter two several star- and deepsky-catalogues are highlighted. In chapter three an overview is given of all the different type of instruments and accessories on the equipment market. Not only the different types of telescopes, binoculars, eyepieces and filters are discussed, but also the collimation of Newtonian, different mounts, finders and star atlases. In chapter four the problem of locating objects in the sky is tackled. Different solutions like star-hopping, using setting-circles or go-to telescopes, are discussed.
The chapter ends with a section concerning the visibility of deep-sky objects, dark adaptation and light-pollution. The first part of the book ends with chapter five, a chapter about taking notes at the telescope, making drawings and filing your observations. A form, used by the author, for recording observations is included.

Part 2 ( chapters six through nine)

The second part of the book consist of four chapters, one for every season of the year, spring, summer, autumn and winter. In every chapter, the deep-sky objects are discussed in alphabetical order by constellation, and then by right ascension. More than 300 objects are discussed in detail. This part of the book is lavishly illustrated with maps , finder charts and black and white photographs, but what really appeals to me are the forty-two eyepiece-impressions of many different objects. Most are from a 200mm or 333mm Newtonian. They really give you an idea of what to expect at the eyepiece.

Part 3 The Appendixes

The book concludes with the following appendixes:

  • A list of all the constellations containing the name, abbreviation, genitive, and meaning of every constellation; the constellations which have a section devoted to them in the chapters six through nine are printed in bold
  • The Greek alphabet
  • A table that lists the deepsky-objects described in the chapters six through nine; for every object the type, constellation, RA, DEC, magnitude, size, separation and period are given
  • An extensive bibliography with books and software
  • A list with useful addresses from manufacturers of different astronomical equipment and accessories, astronomical equipment dealers, periodicals, and astronomical societies
  • The Messier Catalogue; for every object the Messier- and NGC number are given, as well as the constellation, object type, RA, DEC, magnitude, size and remarks
  • A star-atlas with thirty-six charts; all stars down to magnitude 6.5 are plotted (epoch 2000); all of the objects discussed in the book can be found in the atlas
  • An index.


All things considered I come to the conclusion that this book lives up to its promise: "a perfect reference book for anyone who owns a telescope or a pair of binoculars but doesn't know what to look for amid the stars and constellations". It is written in a very compelling way. I read my copy to pieces in both senses, literally and figuratively, but that is not surprising. The writer of this "travel-guide" is an enthusiastic and very experienced traveller of the night sky. He knows what he's talking about. My advice, get your own copy of this book, before you set out on your first journey.

I would like to thank Phil Harrington for granting me permission to add a few sample-pages from his book to my website


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