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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uncharted_constellationsThis book compiles an array of interesting constellations that fell by the wayside before the International Astronomical Union established the modern canon of constellations, a decision that left out lesser known ones. Their history is nevertheless interesting, and at last author John Barentine is giving them their due. This book is a companion to The Lost Constellations, highlighting the more obscure configurations.

Extensively illustrated with figures drawn from classic works of celestial cartography which appeared during the period from the 17th to the 19th century, the 16 constellations found in this volume fall into one or more of three broad categories: asterisms, such as the Big Dipper in Ursa Major; single-sourced constellations introduced on surviving charts by a cartographer perhaps currying the favour of sponsors; and re-brands, new figures meant to displace existing constellations, often for an ideological reason. All of them reveal something unique about the development of humanity’s map of the sky.

You can purchase a copy of Uncharted Constellations by CLICKING HERE.

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The Lost Constellations-1Casual stargazers are familiar with many classical figures and asterisms composed of bright stars, such as Boötes, Crux, Orion and the Plough, although this book reveals not just the constellations of today but also those of yesteryear. The history of the human identification of constellations among the stars is explored through the stories of some influential celestial cartographers whose works determined whether new inventions survived.

The history of how the modern set of 88 constellations was defined by the professional astronomy community is recounted, explaining how the constellations described in the book became permanently ‘extinct’.

Dr. Barentine addresses why some figures were tried and discarded, and also directs observers to how those figures can still be picked out on a clear night. These lost constellations are described in great detail using historical references, enabling observers to rediscover them on their own surveys of the sky. This book, together with the companion volume Uncharted Constellations, offers an array of interesting and intriguing star groups which, although they effectively vanished from star charts when the International Astronomical Union laid down the modern list of constellations almost a century ago, are still there if we know where to look.

Treatment and recognition of the obsolete constellations as extant features of the celestial sphere adds a new dimension to stargazing that merges history with the accessibility and immediacy of the night sky.

You can purchase a copy of The Lost Constellations by CLICKING HERE.

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by James Geach

Galaxy (James Geach)This book is a compelling tour of the state-of-the-art science of extragalactic astronomy. It offers a first-hand account of both the science itself and how it is done, describing what we currently know as well as what we don’t. Astronomer James Geach takes us back 100 years to when scientists first proved the existence of other, distant galaxies, and tracks the continued improvement in our ability to collect and interpret the light emitted by faraway galaxies. He discusses examples of our rapidly accelerating research, from the initial discovery that faint ‘spiral nebulae’ were actually separate star systems located far beyond the Milky Way to the latest observations of the nature of extremely distant galaxies and how they have evolved. He also examines the theoretical framework and computer simulations that describe our current ‘world model’ of the universe.

The numbers involved when it comes to discussing stars, galaxies and the inconceivably vast tracts of empty space between them are staggering. With hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe, all of varying shapes, sizes and ages – each containing hundreds of billions of suns – at first glance our universe appears frustratingly unknowable, and yet it is captivating to explore.

With over one hundred superb colour illustrations, GALAXY: MAPPING THE COSMOS is an illuminating guide to the choreography of the cosmos, chronicling how our home in the universe came to be and how we came to know our place within it.

‘An enthralling, detailed and beautiful look at one of the most challenging and exciting areas of modern astronomy, and a great addition to any enthusiast’s library.’  Sky at Night Magazine

Starlight Nights readers can receive a special 20% discount by ordering online and entering the code ‘SN-20’ at the checkout. This offer expires 31 July 2016.

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

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WHAT STAR? by Brian Jones

The constellations are arbitrary groupings of stars which form patterns or imaginary pictures in the night sky. There are 88 official constellations which together cover the entire sky, many of these having traditional names and associations with folklore and mythology. What Star? identifies and describes each of the constellations, providing useful information as to its location, form and mythology.

What StarThis highly illustrated book takes the reader on an exciting and informative journey of discovery around the sky at night. Aimed at both the beginner and the more accomplished star gazer, the main part of the book comprises an alphabetical section covering the 88 star patterns that adorn our night sky, some familiar and others perhaps less so.

Since ancient times the night sky, with all its sparkling beauty, has been a source of fascination to mankind. Although a number of the constellations that grace modern star charts were devised in relatively recent times, many were created by the astronomers and story-tellers of old, both to honour the characters in their mythology and also to create a framework of reference in the heavens and to bring a sense of order to the confusion of stars that shone down upon them.

Orion-highThe information given for each constellation includes a coloured chart (such as the one shown here) together with an outline of myths and legends attached to each group and information relating to the individual stars that form it, including their brightness, distance and colour. We also take a look at some of the deep sky objects that are found within each constellation, such as double stars, variable stars, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies, with information to help you track these objects down.

What Star? also includes a useful introductory section together with charts showing the whole sky for each season and an illustrated Glossary explaining the terms used within the main body of the book. Featuring over 100 of the best photographs ever captured of the night sky, this book will prove to be a handy work of reference for the beginner and more experienced observer alike.

What Star? will show that you don’t need an expensive telescope or elaborate equipment to enjoy the night sky and that, armed with little more than a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, you can commence your journey around the night sky.

You can purchase your copy of What Star? by CLICKING HERE

Happy stargazing!

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POCKET SKY ATLAS – Jumbo Edition by Roger W. Sinnott

Sky and Telescope’s celestial atlases are the standard by which all other star atlases have been judged for a half century. Now we’ve raised the bar again with our Pocket Sky Atlas – Jumbo Edition. There has never been such a wonderfully detailed atlas so handy to take on trips and use at the telescope, thanks to its user-friendly size, convenient spiral-bound design, and easy-to-read labels. The charts show both constellation boundaries and stick figures to help you find your way.

Pocket Sky AtlasAs the preface points out, the backyard astronomer of today has access to a wide range of star atlases and it is often difficult to choose which one is right for you. Many of those which are currently available are large and unwieldy and are perhaps more suited for reference at home. What the travelling observer needs, in his or her desire to escape light pollution, is a portable and easy-to-use sky guide, and the Pocket Sky Atlas certainly seems to fit the bill.

This atlas is small and portable, measuring around 12 inches (30cm) x 9 inches (22cm), and is probably too big for most pockets. However, it is perfect for the average backpack or car glove box and, because of the spiral binding, is easy to hold while observing, either flat or folded back on itself. Although relatively small and inexpensive, the Pocket Sky Atlas is well thought out and organised. Printed on heavy paper with a smooth, glare-free finish, and containing charts which collectively cover the entire sky, the book opens with a brief but well-written introduction by Roger W. Sinnott which explains the layout of the atlas and the information it contains. From a personal point of view, one of its attributes is the fact that, along with the constellation boundaries being depicted, the main stars within each constellation are joined to form the traditional ‘stick figures’ that make both the identification of each group, and the way it sits against the backdrop of the sky as a whole, that much more straightforward. The generous amount of overlap between adjacent charts makes star hopping across individual chart boundaries easier.

The list of objects contained on the charts is impressive. Showing over 30,000 stars down to visual magnitude 7.6 the atlas also depicts a large number of deep sky objects including many double and multiple stars; variable stars with minimum of magnitude 7.6 or brighter; globular clusters down to magnitude 10.5; galaxies to magnitude 11.5; planetary nebulae to around magnitude 12; and open clusters whose overall brightness exceeds that of an 8th magnitude star. In addition there are many bright and dark nebulae, together with all the objects in both the Herschel 400 observing list and Messier Catalogue. The Messier objects are identified by their M numbers rather than NGC numbers, although those from Patrick Moore’s popular Caldwell catalogue are identified by their NGC numbers rather than their Caldwell numbers. For both the Messier and the Caldwell objects, there are lists in the back of the atlas which cross-reference the Messier or Caldwell numbers with their corresponding NGC numbers, as well as identifying the specific chart(s) on which they can be located.

In addition to the main charts, there are a ten ‘close-up charts’ showing in greater detail the regions around the Pleiades; Orion’s Sword; the Virgo Galaxy Cluster; the Large Magellanic Cloud; the Cone and Rosette nebulae in Monoceros; fields of galaxies in Ursa Major and Leo; the North American Nebula near Deneb in Cygnus; and the rich stars fields in Sagittarius and Scorpius.

The symbols used for different types of deep sky object are clear and are generally to scale and show orientation, which can be a great help. All symbols are depicted on the Chart Legend which is repeated at regular intervals throughout the atlas.

The fact that this atlas was designed by experienced observers is obvious. As a portable, concise and easy-to-use observing guide, this one is hard to beat and fits well into the range of atlases currently available for both the backyard astronomer and the rural star gazer.

You can purchase a copy of Pocket Sky Atlas – Jumbo Edition by CLICKING HERE.

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Binocular Highlights is a tour of 99 different celestial sights – from softly glowing clouds of gas and dust to unusual stars, clumps of stars, and vast star cities (galaxies) – all visible in binoculars. Each object is plotted on a detailed, easy-to-use star map, and most of these sights can be found even in a light-polluted sky. Also included are four seasonal all-sky charts that help locate each highlight. You don’t need fancy or expensive equipment to enjoy the wonders of the night sky. In fact, as even experienced stargazers know, to go beyond the naked-eye sky and delve deep into the universe, all you need are binoculars – even the ones hanging unused in your closet. If you don’t own any, Binocular Highlights explains what to look for when choosing binoculars for stargazing and provides observing tips for users of these portable and versatile mini-telescopes.

Binocular HighlightsMany of us will already own a pair of binoculars, and their usefulness and convenience for gazing at the night sky is emphasised in this book. It is true that stargazing is usually associated with telescopes, although the attraction of binoculars, including their comparatively low cost and instant accessibility for a quick and rewarding wide-field look at the night sky, is made clear to the reader throughout.

Binocular Highlights offers an excellent guide to the night sky for binocular observers. Written by someone with experience in binocular observing, the book is based on the monthly column ‘Binocular Highlight’ which graces the pages of Sky & Telescope magazine. As well as containing interesting information on a wide range of celestial sights, some of which are easy to track down with others offering more of a challenge, it provides an extremely useful guide to choosing a pair of binoculars for stargazing, with advice on the different sizes and types of binocular and what to expect from each; testing binoculars for their condition and performance; binocular mounts and observing techniques; and the numerous pitfalls that can befall the binocular purchaser.

Binocular Highlights - Pleiades ChartThere are four fold-out seasonal star charts, located at the front and back of the book, each of which covers the specific seasonal area described in detail within each of the four main sections. Circled numbers on the seasonal star charts refer to the pages where objects in that region of sky are described in more detail in the main part of the book. The detailed charts to which the reader is guided have been rendered at one of three different scales; the wide-field charts (such as the example shown here) to magnitude 7.5; the medium-scale charts to magnitude 8.0; and the close-up charts to magnitude 8.5 and, regardless of the scale, the darkened circular area always represents the field of view for typical 10 x 50 binoculars.

The author mixes interesting facts with personal experience to introduce us to the star clusters, nebulae, galaxies and other celestial characters scattered across the night sky and which offer ideal targets for the binocular observer. Seronik’s fascination with the night sky comes across well in the Introduction and inspires the readers to actually go out there and take a look for themselves. The symbols depicting the various types of deep-sky object are clear and the coil binding makes the book easy to use while under the night sky. It should be pointed out that Binocular Highlights is written for observers located between 30º and 50º north latitudes and is therefore not suitable for observers in the southern hemisphere.

Many observers would indeed class themselves as casual stargazers, their main way of observing the sky being with a pair of binoculars. However, whether you are an experienced observer or a casual star gazer, Binocular Highlights is an ideal and informative guide to the night sky for the backyard astronomer, bringing the subjects to life in an entertaining and enlightening way.

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

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A Guide to Astronomy by Lloyd Mallan

A Guide To AstronomyA Guide to Astronomy by Lloyd Mallan


From the Fawcett ‘How-To’ series of books. Contents include chapters on The Earth’s Atmosphere, The Moon, The Sun, The Planets, The Milky Way, Radio Astronomy, The Marketplace, A Reflector-Telescope Camera for $30, A 3-Inch Refractor for $75 and Building a Herschel Wedge (budget prices set out in the chapters are as at date of publication!). Illustrated throughout in black and white and including many (interesting) advertisements including one on the back cover headed ‘Man in Space – WHEN?’. This is a wonderful retro-look at the subjects of astronomy and space!

Used. Paperback. Good condition with very slight scuffing to the cover. Published around 1958 by Fawcett Publications, Inc. 144pp Measures around 9 inches (23cm) x 6½ inches (16cm) No ISBN or cover price.


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Meteors and Meteorites

On any clear night of the year a sometimes brilliant, rapidly moving streak of light may be seen against the background of stars. This streak of light is known as a meteor (or shooting star) and usually persists for less than a second. Meteors are caused by the collision with air molecules of tiny particles of interplanetary dust which enter the atmosphere at speeds of up to around 45 miles (70km) per second. Countless numbers of these tiny particles are orbiting the Sun, rather like miniature planets. When in space they are much too small and faint to be seen, revealing themselves only when they succumb to the Earth’s gravitational pull and are drawn in to the upper atmosphere. Here they are heated violently and burn themselves out, quickly destroyed in the brief blaze of incandescence we see as a meteor.

Meteors that appear at any time and from any direction in the sky are known as sporadic meteors, and can be observed on any clear night. However, during so-called meteor showers there is a sometimes dramatic rise in the number of observed meteors. Meteor showers occur as a result of the actions of comets which, as they travel along their orbits, are constantly shedding particles into space. These particles of cometary dust eventually become spread out all along the cometary orbit. At certain times of the year the Earth passes through the orbital paths of various comets, the upshot of which is that comparatively large numbers of particles can enter the atmosphere, whereupon meteor activity is seen to increase.

Meteor Radiant (Diagram)METEOR RADIANTS
Particles of dust shed by a comet travel along the cometary orbit in parallel paths (see A in the diagram). As a result, when particles from the same comet enter the atmosphere, they all seem to radiate from a particular point in the sky, this point being known as the ‘radiant’ (B). The concept of a meteor radiant can be clearly illustrated by looking along a straight road. The road edges, telegraph wires and so on, all of which are laid in parallel paths, seem to meet at a point on the horizon (C). This point is analogous with the radiant of a meteor shower.

Perseid RadiantThere are a large number of meteor showers per year. Some of these are quite feeble, although around a dozen or so are responsible for between ten and a hundred meteors per hour at times of maximum activity, which occurs when the Earth passes through the densest region of a swarm of cometary particles. Each meteor shower is named after the point on the celestial sphere containing the radiant. For example, the Lyrids radiate from a point in the constellation Lyra, while the radiant of the Perseid Meteor and Milky Way (Wikimedia)Geminids lies near Castor in the constellation Gemini. The most active shower of all is the Perseids (above right), which radiate from a point near the star Eta Persei (Miram) in the northern reaches of Perseus. The meteor captured in this image (left) is a Perseid, seen here streaking past the Milky Way.

Most particles entering the atmosphere are so small that they never reach the surface, although occasionally much larger objects succumb to the Earth’s gravitational pull and at least partially survive the journey through the atmosphere. These objects are called meteorites and appear much less frequently than meteors.

Many examples have been found, and the study of meteorites has shown them to be roughly as old as the Solar System itself. Unlike the tiny particles which produce meteors, many of which have their origins in comets, objects known as meteoroids travel independently through space, some of these being in orbits that carry them across the Earth’s path. Plotting their orbits from positional measurements taken during meteorite falls show that many of these objects originate in the asteroid belt, arising from collisions between larger bodies.

Arizona Meteorite Crater (Wikipedia)Very large meteorite falls are rare, yet when they do occur they can cause a great deal of damage, as borne out by the Arizona Meteorite Crater, located near Winslow in Arizona. This huge impact crater (right) is the result of a meteorite fall which took place thousands of years ago. Measuring over a kilometre in diameter, the floor of the Arizona Meteorite Crater lies nearly 200 metres below the surrounding terrain. Luckily no large meteorites have fallen on densely populated areas, although fatalities resulting from smaller meteorite falls have been recorded, albeit only of animals. A meteorite fall in 1860 killed a horse in Ohio and one in 1911 finished off a dog in Egypt. Injuries to humans have been reported, such as in November 1954 when a housewife in Sylacauga, Alabama was hit on the arm by a meteorite which came down through the roof of her house. Another near-miss account is that of a Ugandan boy who, in 1992, was hit by a meteorite fragment, although he was not harmed due to the fact that the speed of the fragment in question had been slowed by passing through the branches of a tree!

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