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The Galaxy's Treasures.

Astronomy of the Milky Way Mike Inglis (Springer-Verlag, 2004).

Observer's Guide to the Northern Sky: 242 pages, ISBN 1-85233-709-5, $34.95, paperbound.

Observer's Guide to the Southern Sky: 236 pages, ISBN 1-85233-742-7, $34.95, paperbound.

WHEN I WAS ASKED to review this new two-volume observing guide, part of Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy Series, I jumped at the opportunity. I had spent the previous few weeks compiling an observing list for an upcoming stargazing trip to Costa Rica with a 13.1-inch telescope and was excited about having a fresh resource to serve as a planning aid and a reference for unfamiliar southern objects.

The attractive softbound books, individually covering the northern and southern Milky northern and southern Milky Way, conveniently arrived just two days before my departure, and I immediately tossed them into my carry-on bag. During the flight I pulled out Astronomy of the Milky Way and settled in for a close look.

Instead of attempting to tackle the entire sky, Mike Inglis takes a unique approach by focusing solely on deep-sky objects within the confines of the Milky Way. The format is straightforward: he divides the year into two-month intervals and highlights several well-placed constellations for each period. The southern volume covers January through June, with the northern volume picking up the remainder of the year.

Many of the featured objects are familiar showpieces requiring just binoculars or a small refractor; a few are obscure challenges for an experienced observer with a 12-inch or larger light bucket. The brief descriptions have a conversational tone and flow smoothly with a nice balance of elegance and warmth. Not only does Inglis choose a tasty mix of deep-sky objects, but he often throws in interesting astrophysical tidbits.

Each two-month block ends with a data table for the targets that lists alternate designations, magnitudes, and positions, but it lacks dimensions. Don't bother to look for favorites such as the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) or the Magellanic Clouds. In sticking with the theme, Inglis bypasses attractions outside the borders of the Milky Way.

The text is accompanied by black-and-white pictures of varying quality having professional-observatory pedigrees and several dozen color images, some from noted amateur astrophotographers. I was far less impressed with the numerous small-scale computer-generated star charts. These turned out to be of little practical use, as their legends lacked star-magnitude indicators, and the charts themselves varied in size inconsistently, ranging from 1[degrees] to 6[degrees]. While I found the full constellation charts a bit more helpful for orientation, the dot sizes and text often proved too small to be easily readable. An experienced amateur will realize that the photos and finder charts won't replace a quality star atlas, but a beginner may become frustrated.

Both volumes conclude with identical series of brief appendices covering astronomical coordinates, magnitudes, stellar classification and colors, nebula filters, and a very spotty list of astronomical resources. The appendices seem to be an afterthought. In a note about observing emission nebulae, I was surprised to see a recommendation for a filter transmitting the light of hydrogen alpha. Although this emission line is responsible for the vivid red seen in photographs, the human eye is not particularly sensitive at this wavelength. Observers should stick with a standard ultrahigh-contrast (UHC) or oxygen-III filter for visual use.

In Costa Rica our group observed from a dark site along the Gulf of Nicoya. After a couple of nights out with my target list I compared my notes with Astronomy of the Milky Way. Unfortunately, a more serious flaw immediately emerged: very careless copyediting. The first object I observed was NGC 2359 ("Thor's Helmet"), an emission nebula in Canis Major. My notes described a large object, more than 10 arcminutes in diameter, but the book gave the dimensions as just 10 by 5 arcseconds. Hoping this was an isolated oversight, I grabbed the northern volume but was immediately disappointed to find NGC 6520, a 7-arcminute-wide open cluster in Sagittarius, described as "a small cluster, only 7 arcseconds across."

In a panic I began checking additional objects in the book and quickly identified numerous clusters, galaxies, and nebulae described with the wrong angular units. The planetary nebula IC 2448 in Carina (just 10 arcseconds in diameter) is mentioned as "about 10 arcminutes across," while its more famous relative, the Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra, is erroneously described as "over 50 arcminutes in diameter." Oh, my! Haphazardly interchanging the units of arc is an unforgivable case of sloppy editing.

Later one tropical evening I observed NGC 2516, a prominent naked-eye cluster in Carina, and was baffled by the author's comment, "At a diameter of 50 arcminutes it is nearly the size of the full moon." That's odd, as the Moon spans just 30 arcminutes.

Does Astronomy of the Milky Way succeed in its ambitious goal of describing the deep-sky wonders of the entire Milky Way? Inglis has admirably covered a lot of territory with an engaging writing style. If you're looking for a compact observing guide that packs loads of objects, photos, and charts, this book fills the bill. But until there is a revised edition that eliminates the pervasive editing bugs and improves the finder charts, I plan to stick with venerable observing guides such as Hartung's Astronomical Objects for Southern Telescopes by David Malin and David J. Frew and the Observing Handbook and Catalogue of Deep-Sky Objects by Christian B. Luginbuhl and Brian A. Skiff.

Review by Steve Gottlieb

STEVE GOTTLIEB (sgottlieb@telis.org) is a confessed deep-sky junkie and regular Sky & Telescope contributor.
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Author:Gkottlieb, Steve
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Words:922
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