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Yearbook of Astronomy 2017 – Reviews

Admittedly, as an amateur astronomer I never paid much attention initially to Patrick Moore’s Yearbook of Astronomy. Having recently done what many wannabe armchair astronomers do and purchased a few second hand copies (I now own copies of the 2014 and the 2015 editions) I am starting to realise, after a browse through them, that this may well have been my loss.

I think the biggest issue is that many of us believe, once the year they represent is past, that that is it. However you would be mistaken! These nice little gems are packed with interested articles and essays which are quite often as current today as when they were written. I was having a browse and was pleased to see biographies along with useful guides and essays on various topics, like ripples of time.

Of course, something had to inspire me to take a look at this potentially-lost series, and that trigger was a chat with Brian Jones.

Brian is a chap who, admittedly, I have not been acquainted with until recently but was drawn by his interesting Facebook posts containing biographies of past astronomers. I love reading this sort of thing.

As such, I decided to purchase the 2017 Yearbook of Astronomy (note that it is now the Yearbook, not Patrick Moore’s Yearbook) and it arrived, nicely packaged and wrapped I might add, not long before I began to pen this review on it. Unwrapping the book, I was impressed by the quality of this neatly bound paperback with its good quality pages.

When compared to the other Yearbooks in the series, at 136 pages long this is a little thin although, as Brian did indeed outline before I bought it, it was either that or miss a year, and it should be borne in mind that the 2017 edition was put together ready for the printer within a space of only three months! Nevertheless I can still see that quality still reins over quantity its pages including, amongst others, articles by Neil Norman on Minor Planets, Variable Stars by Roger Pickard and High Resolution Planetary Imaging by Damian Peach – so something in there for everyone!

A closer look at the sky notes shows details of the planets along with some lovely narratives on key constellations visible for the time of year. I took a chance look at the entry for April and was interested to read what it has to say on Virgo. I also took a closer look at the Planetary Imaging article by Damian Peach, which again was packed with interesting and useful information.

All in all, my first impressions of this book are it is well worth the purchase and I do urge the astronomical community to get behind this project. When Sir Patrick Moore sadly passed away, it was not just his programme the Sky at Night that needed to carry on, but many of his side projects, the Yearbook of Astronomy being one of them. I for one will be adding future editions of the Yearbook to my collection, so keep up the excellent work!

Alastair Leith

To purchase your copy of the Yearbook of Astronomy 2017 CLICK HERE:

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Win a copy of PHILIP’S STAR FINDER by John Woodruff and Wil Tirion

This competition is now closed.

The first two sets of correct answers to the competition questions were received from:

Nicholas Challoner of South Woodford, London.
David Reece-Belsey of Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.


Each of the winners will receive a copy of Philip’s Star Finder.

The questions, together with the answers, are as follows:

1 – In which constellation would you find the stars Izar and Alkalurops?
a: Boötes

2 – Which now-obsolete constellation, depicting a bird, was introduced by Alexander Jamieson and shown perching on the tail of Hydra (the Water Snake) in A Celestial Atlas, compiled by Jamieson and published in 1822?
a: Noctua (the Owl)

3 – In which constellation would you find the stars Tania Borealis and Tania Australis?
a: Ursa Major

4 – Which Greek astronomer published a list of 48 constellations in around 150AD?
a: Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy)

Prizes donated by Philip’s Astronomy, publishers of the above book. Further details of the range of Philip’s astronomy books can be found here

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SCIENCE FICTION BY SCIENTISTS by Michael Brotherton (Editor)

This anthology contains fourteen intriguing stories by active research scientists and other writers trained in science.

Science is at the heart of real science fiction, which is more than just westerns with ray guns or fantasy with spaceships. The people who do science and love science best are scientists. Scientists like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Fred Hoyle wrote some of the best-known and widely-read tales of golden age science fiction. Today there is a new generation of scientists writing science fiction informed with the expertise of their fields, from astrophysics to computer science, biochemistry to rocket science, quantum physics to genetics, speculating about what is possible in our universe. Here lies the sense of wonder only science can deliver. All the stories in this volume are supplemented by afterwords commenting on the science underlying each story.

Mike Brotherton is a professor of astronomy from the University of Wyoming who specializes in observational studies of quasars, enigmatic objects powered by supermassive black holes. He is also the author of the well-reviewed hard science fiction novels Star Dragon and Spider Star from Tor books, and founder of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers. He is a member of the advisory board of Springer’s Science Fiction book series.

In Science Fiction by Scientists we are presented with an interesting blend of situations, environments, speculations and creative trips of the imagination. As the book title suggests, the stories have a good input of science, written as they are by an assortment of physicists and physics teachers, astronomers, microbiologists, science fiction writers and an aerospace engineer which, when taken together, offers a collection of thought-provoking and speculative science fiction. The fourteen stories in the anthology comprise a good blend of science and fiction, each tale being accompanied by an afterword in which the author discusses and explains the science behind the story in question. Science Fiction by Scientists is a book that I can definitely recommend. Brian Jones.

You can purchase a copy of Science Fiction by Scientists by CLICKING HERE

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Yearbook of Astronomy 2017

It recently came to our attention that the publishers of the Yearbook of Astronomy had taken the decision to cease production and that the 2016 edition would be the last. Not wishing to see the Yearbook disappear from the bookshelves, we have taken over the task of editing it and have found a publisher for the 2018 edition onward. However, in order to maintain the continuity of the Yearbook – which first appeared way back in 1962 – we have self-published a (shorter) edition for 2017 which can be ordered using the PayPal button below. We hope that the readers and devotees of the Yearbook will understand this and support our efforts by purchasing a copy for their library . . .

Please select the correct button for the area that you want your Yearbook delivered to:

Yearbook of Astronomy 2017 (£12.99 delivered within the United Kingdom)



Yearbook of Astronomy 2017 (£16.99 delivery within rest of Europe)



Yearbook of Astronomy 2017 (£18.99 delivery to rest of World )

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cassiopeia-lowThe prominent ‘W’ or ‘M’ shaped formation of stars known as Cassiopeia graces the far northern skies and represents the mythological Queen Cassiopeia, wife of King Cepheus and mother to Andromeda, the beautiful maiden rescued by Perseus. When favourably placed, the entire constellation can be seen from locations to the north of latitude 12°S, with portions of Cassiopeia visible from Australia, South Africa and all but the southernmost reaches of South America. Cassiopeia stands out quite well and should be spotted fairly easily by observers at mid-northern latitudes.

For observers in Great Britain and northern Europe Cassiopeia is a circumpolar constellation, which means that it never sets as seen from these latitudes. A good general guide to locating Cassiopeia is to use the two end stars in the ‘bowl’ of the Plough as pointers, these being the two stars we use to locate Polaris, the Pole Star and as depicted on the chart of North Circumpolar Stars. Following the imaginary line from Merak through Dubhe and past Polaris as shown will eventually bring you to Caph in Cassiopeia from where the rest of the group can be picked out.

Cassiopeia lies within the Milky Way and the whole area in and around this group is seen to abound with stars. On a really dark, clear and moonless night you should spot around fifty naked eye stars within the group, although binoculars will reveal many more scattered across this region of sky. Although most of these stars are below naked-eye visibility, their combined light produces the effect we call the Milky Way. While not usually very clear to city-dwellers, the Milky Way can be a superb sight when viewed under a really dark and moonless sky.

Cassiopeia contains six prominent stars, the brightest of which is Cih whose light has taken around 550 years to reach us. Cih generally shines at magnitude 2.15, although this star is slightly variable and prone to sudden and unpredictable increases in brightness. Shedar, its name derived from the Arabic ‘al-sadr’, meaning ‘the Breast’, is a magnitude 2.24 orange giant star. Shining from a distance of around 220 light years, the orange tint of Shedar is easily seen in binoculars. Slightly fainter than Shedar is Caph, a white giant shining at magnitude 2.28 and lying at a distance of just 55 light years. Caph derives its name from the Arabic ‘al-kaff al-khadib’ meaning ‘the Stained Hand’, an allusion to the Eastern tradition of staining the finger-tips with henna leaves. Achird, located between Shedar and Cih, is a comparatively nearby star, its magnitude 3.46 glow reaching us from a distance of just 19.4 light years.

Marking the knee of Cassiopeia is magnitude 2.66 Ksora, the light from which set off on its journey towards us around a century ago. An alternative name for this star is Ruchbah, both names being derived from the Arabic ‘rukbat dhat al-kursiy’ meaning ‘the Knee of the Lady in the Chair’. The star Segin completes the distinctive shape of Cassiopeia. Segin shines at magnitude 3.35 from a distance of around 425 light years, the light we are seeing from this star today actually having set off towards us before the invention of the telescope in the early-1600s!



m52-in-cassiopeia-noao-aura-nsfCassiopeia plays host to a number of open star clusters within reach of binoculars or small telescopes, one of which is Messier 52 (M52), discovered by the French astronomer Charles Messier in 1774. This collection of around 200 stars shines with an overall magnitude of 7.3 and is thought to lie at a distance in excess of 5,000 light years. M52 can be found close to the star 4 Cassiopeiae, lying more or less on a line taken from Shedar through Caph, and you can track it down by star m52-finder-chart-lowhopping through the field of stars from Caph as shown on the finder chart. During your search, remember to look for a small patch of light rather than an actual gathering of stars. Once M52 is located, binoculars will reveal it as a misty cloud, although even a small telescope will bring out a number of individual stars within this fine open star cluster.


This prominent constellation was alluded to by the English astronomer Joseph Henry Elgie (right) when he was recalling his original efforts to find his way around the night sky. joseph-henry-elgieAs he informs us, a number of the constellations that he struggled to identify were rather faint and difficult to detect, although he had no problems with Cassiopeia, writing that: ‘Facing due north, and looking high upward, the gaze meets with five stars of nearly equal brightness, in form resembling a sprawling capital “W”. They make the principal outline of the constellation Cassiopeia, the Lady in the Chair. I cherish a kindly remembrance for Cassiopeia; it was the first star group I ever recognised, when, under almost heart-breaking difficulties, I was trying to learn the geography of the sky’.

Why not take time out to look for the distinctive shape of Queen Cassiopeia, and perhaps bring to mind Elgie’s wonderful comments on this beautiful pattern of stars…

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earths-of-distant-suns-michael-carrollHow We Find Them, Communicate With Them, and Maybe Even Travel There

All of us are mesmerized by the possibility of other Earth-like worlds out there. Is there intelligent like elsewhere? Can we go there? Can we at least communicate with them?

Author Michael Carroll has spent decades as a science journalist and even longer as an astronomical artist. In Earths of Distant Suns, he asks what we can gain from identifying these Earth analogs spread across the Universe. Based on the latest mission results, and supported by the author’s artwork, this book explores the possible lessons we may learn from exoplanets. Potentially, for example, we could learn more about our own climate. Also explored are the possibilities of communication between, or even travel to, these distant yet perhaps not so dissimilar worlds.

As the number of known Earth-like objects continues to grow, the author takes us closer to these ‘pale blue dots’ so far afield. Recent discoveries by space telescopes such as Keck, the Hubble and Kepler, as well as more sensitive ground observatories, are laid out. These findings have fired the imaginations of the general public as well as scientists. Speculation about alien worlds is no longer left to the realm of science fiction!

You can purchase a copy of the book by CLICKING HERE

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astronomer-gazing-at-the-milky-wayThe Milky Way is visible as a faint pearly band of light arching across the night sky and is created by the combined glow of stars scattered along the plane of our Galaxy’s disc as seen from Earth. Deriving its name from its ‘milky’ appearance, it is easily visible to the unaided eye under clear, dark skies and any form of optical aid will show that it is made up of many thousands of individual stars producing the effect which is beautifully captured in this image.

We live in one of the arms of a large spiral galaxy we call the Milky Way Galaxy, the Sun and its planets (including Earth) being located around half way out from the centre. The Milky Way is actually our view of the Galaxy looking along the main galactic plane. The pearly glow we see is the combined light from many different stars and is visible as a continuous band of light stretching around the celestial sphere.

Although the vast majority of these stars are too faint to be observed without optical aid, their combined light produces the glow that can be seen crossing the sky. The dark patches superimposed against the backdrop of the Milky Way, and which are well captured in this stunning image, are areas where light from distant stars is blocked by regions of dust which are found scattered throughout interstellar space.

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Win a copy of POCKET GIANTS: ISAAC NEWTON by Andrew May

isaac-newton-pocket-giantsThis competition is now closed.

The first two sets of correct answers to the competition questions were received from:

James Fulton of Wootton Wawen, Warwickshire.
Victoria Bennett of Horbury, West Riding of Yorkshire.


Each of the winners will receive a copy of Isaac Newton – Pocket Giants.


The questions, together with the answers, are as follows:

1 – What were the forenames of Isaac Newton’s parents?
a: Isaac and Hannah

2 – What relation was the Rev William Ayscough to Isaac Newton?
a: Uncle

3 – In what year did Isaac Newton take up his post as Warden of the Royal Mint?
a: 1696

4 – On what precise date, and where, was Isaac Newton buried?
a: 4th April 1727 in Westminster Abbey


Prizes donated by The History Press, publishers of the Pocket Giants series. Further details of the Pocket Giant books can be found here

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rock-legendsThis book relates the history of asteroid discoveries and christenings, from those of the early pioneering giants of Herschel and Piazzi to modern-day amateurs. Moving from history and anecdotal information to science, the book’s structure is provided by the names of the asteroids, including one named after the author.

Free from a need to conform to scientific naming conventions, the names evidence hero-worship, sycophancy, avarice, vanity, whimsy, erudition and wit, revealing the human side of astronomers, especially where controversy has followed the christening. Murdin draws from extensive historical records to explore the debate over these names. Each age reveals its own biases and preferences in the naming process.

Originally regarded as ‘vermin of the skies’, asteroids are minor planets, rocky scraps left over from the formation of the larger planets, or broken fragments of worlds that have collided. Their scientific classification as ‘minor’ planets makes them seem unimportant, but over the past decades asteroids have been acknowledged to be key players in the Solar System. This view of their starring role even alters the trajectories of spacecraft: NASA’s policy for new space missions en route to the outer planets is that they must divert to study passing asteroids whenever possible. This book provides for readers a complete tour of the fascinating world of asteroids.

You can purchase a copy of the book by CLICKING HERE.

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Win a copy of POCKET GIANTS: ALBERT EINSTEIN by Andrew May

Albert Einstein - Pocket GiantsThis competition is now closed.

The first two sets of correct answers to the competition questions were received from:

Rod Hine of Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire.
Nick Evetts of Kempston, Bedfordshire.


Each of the winners will receive a copy of Albert Einstein – Pocket Giants.


The questions, together with the answers, are as follows:

1 – What school did Einstein enter at the age of 16, and where was the school situated?
a: Argovian Cantonal School in Aarau, Switzerland.

2 – In what year did Einstein pay his first visit to the United States of America?
a: 1921

3 – In what month and year did Einstein’s second wife Elsa die?
a: December 1936

4 – In what year was Einstein offered the presidency of Israel?
a: 1952


Prizes donated by The History Press, publishers of the Pocket Giants series. Further details of the Pocket Giant books can be found here

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