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Norton's 2000.0 Star Atlas and Reference Handbook

Edited by Ian Ridpath

To find interesting objects in the sky, an amateur astronomer needs a good atlas; Norton's Star Atlas had met this need since it first appeared in 1910. I bought my first copy, the 15th edition, as a child with my allowance shortly after I received my first reflecting telescope in the late 1960s. The current edition, the 18th, was published in 1989 with substantial revisions.

The current version of this atlas, which was updated by Ian Ridpath to give stellar positions for epoch 2000.0, provides wonderfully detailed stellar maps and indexes of interesting objects visible with a small telescope. The limiting magnitude of 6.49 gives an atlas of about 8700 stars. The main set of 15 maps give the polar regions and slices of the sky in longitude. There are also two maps that show the whole northern and southern skies, and two maps that show the galactic plane. Each of the main maps is paired with a list of double stars, variables stars, star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. Buried in the center of the atlas is the table of Messier objects, which are a set of galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae that are especially good objects for the small telescope.

The atlas contains articles on amateur astronomy, on coordinate systems and time systems, on the Sun, the Moon, and each of the planets, on all variety of stars, on nebulae, and on galaxies. The articles are aimed at the novice amateur astronomer, so they describe what the amateur can see in a telescope. The articles on the Moon and on Mars present maps of both. The atlas also contains numerous tables, including tables for the characteristics of the planets and their moons, tables of the nearest and the brightest stars, tables of the different types of variable star.

The handbook section is written to guide the beginning astronomer. Terms such as magnitude, parallax, and stellar type are explained. The section on amateur astronomy begins with a discussion of how the eye works, and what can be seen in the sky with the unaided eye. It continues with a discussion of the types of telescopes, the types of eyepieces, and the types of telescope mounts. The handbook then describes how to use a telescope to observed objects in the sky. There is a section on astrophotography, but this is limited to film cameras; inexpensive high-quality CCD cameras were not available at the time the 18th edition was written, so this subject is neglected. If amateur astronomy is in your blood, you should have a copy of this book.

Jim Brainerd

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