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Double star field guide.

The Cambridge Double Star Atlas James Mullaney and Wil Tirion (Cambridge University Press, 2009). 148 pages. $35, paperbound. ISBN-13 978-0-521-49343-7

Great breakthroughs often stem from simple ideas. On reading The Origin of Species, Thomas Huxley famously remarked 'Why didn't I think of that?' That's how I felt on opening The Cambridge Double Star Atlas, a collaboration between longtime observer James Mullaney and renowned uranographer Wil Tirion.

Most atlases mark doubles with a horizontal bar through the star, but few bother to include their designations. So serious double-star observers have become accustomed to a tedious routine: Look up your target star in a table, and use its coordinates to identify the appropriate star-and-bar on your chart. The new atlas circumvents that by labeling more than 2,000 doubles and providing detailed information about each in a table at the back. It's a very good idea, and on the whole, brilliantly executed.


The Cambridge Double Star Atlas shows stars to magnitude 7.5 and 900 deep-sky objects. That makes it eminently usable--but perhaps not the best choice--for a deep-sky observer with no interest in double stars. The book has a wire binding, allowing it to lie flat or be folded back on itself. At 12-by-9-inches (303 x 228 mm) and 12/3 pounds (0.75 kg), it's at the ragged edge of what can be comfortably held in one hand next to the eyepiece. The paper is very nice and promises to hold up well to dew, but the printing on the charts is done in halftone--even the black labels--which makes it slightly less crisp than it would be if printed with solid colors. Nonetheless, the gracious scale of the charts makes them easy to read, even by red light.

In addition to providing basic data for all of the charted double stars, Mullaney has a separate table listing 133 of his favorites in more detail, including spectral types and observing notes. Both data tables depart from custom by showing right ascension to whole minutes rather than tenths and omitting the position angle and epoch. Mullaney correctly points out that no book can be kept up to date, so serious observers will always need to refer to the online Washington Double Star Catalog ( for the latest information. However, many double-star observers use the position angle to confirm marginal sightings, and its omission undercuts the book's ability to provide one-stop shopping in the field. But despite this relatively minor problem, The Cambridge Double Star Atlas is a landmark work, and one that everybody who likes double stars should own.


Sky & Telescope associate editor Tony Flanders often observes double stars from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Title Annotation:Books & Beyond; The Cambridge Double Star Atlas
Author:Flanders, Tony
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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