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Book:   Astronomy Hacks
Subject:   Astronomy Hacks to the Rescue!
Date:   2009-03-27 16:35:51
From:   Dave Walz-Burkett
Rating:  StarStarStarStarStar

In this hectic world of rushing around, some of us are lucky enough to get outside and enjoy the night sky from time to time. This book will help you get the most out of your time practicing amateur astronomy. It's a collection of advice, short essays, tips and tricks that will help you get up to speed without many of the frustrations typically encountered when learning this hobby.

The authors jump right in with invaluable tips that every amateur astronomer should know. The first chapter is loaded with goodies that will help you get geared up and understand basic safety, observing site etiquette, preparation, and offers advice on choosing the right equipment.

From there, you are taken into the field with a heap of great observing hacks. Starting with the basics like how to keep your night vision, you'll learn how to describe the brightness of an object, identify stars by name and understanding the various celestial coordinate systems. Fundamentals like learning to locate objects geometrically, star hopping, and learning to see both deep & shallow space objects are also covered here.

Urban observing skills, organized logging, and how to prepare for and run a Messier Marathon are included as well. The book closes with chapters covering scope and accessory hacks like collimation, tricking out your Dobsonian, aligning and upgrading your finder scope, and help on choosing planetarium software for your computer.

The hacks vary in length from quick single-pagers up to some very thorough ten-plus page hacks. The book contains many black & white photographs that compliment the text. When you decide it's time to clean your primary mirror for example, several photos of the multi-step process help guide you through. Icons accompany each hack, indicating the relative complexity of the hack, from beginner to expert. Each hack is numbered (from 1 to 65) and cross references are shown where related hacks are mentioned.

Other reviews of this book mention the authors' bias towards Dobsonian scopes. The authors don't have blinders on; they thoroughly describe many types of telescopes (and binoculars) and the advantages and disadvantages of each type. They have spent a huge amount of time in the field and they are simply reporting their observations when they say "If you attend a large star party, you'll probably see more Dobs than all other types of scopes combined." The reason so many people buy them is simple: Dobs offer arguably the best bang for the buck. If you're a beginner, you'll do well to learn the basics of star hopping and celestial navigation without relying on the crutch of a go-to scope. Have the batteries in your GPS ever died when you were in an unfamiliar area? Good thing you know how to read a map. ;)

Astronomy Hacks is the second book I've read by the dynamic duo of Robert & Barbara Thompson. Their book Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders was an excellent read and continues to be a great resource. I highly recommend both of these books.