- The Chicago Astronomer -
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For beginners, I think "Turn Left At Orion" by G Consolmagno & Davis. It has basic info on solar system stuff. It has nice diagrams showing naked eye, finderscope and eyepiece views of interesting objects. Objects ranging from double stars, globulars, nebula and bright galaxies. All visible from small entry level telescopes. The book provides diagrams and descriptions for each object in two page spread.
For the intermediate, it's a mixed bag. There's the "Collins Atlas of Night Sky" by Storm Dunlop. It has great star charts along with constellation charts from Wil Tirion. Along side is a list of objects and brief description. Also a very nice moon atlas, all in one book.
There's "Celestial Sampler" by Sue French. Sue does a more in depth dive into each constellation and a selection of objects. No moon or solar system objects. Strictly deep sky. Very nice charts and descriptions in Sky and Telescope magazine format.
However, for those that can afford it, there is a revolution going on with the dawn of handheld electronic devices ie smart phones and tablets. You can run several "apps" that cover planetarium programs, moon atlas and surf the web for more info and photos. I find myself using more of these handheld devices to plan and use during my observation sessions.
(I posted Amazon links but strongly urge anyone to special order from their local independent book store!)
I don't shop online. Local independent bookstores? What are those?
(Shoot. I have made two online purchases that I can think of, both, ahem, ebooks).
Electronic resources are great, as Bill pointed out. At a dark site, they may be frowned upon though. At the IFSP last month, there was a vendor selling red filters for iphones, ipads, and certain sizes of laptop screens. I would have been tempted for one of the laptop screens, but as usual, I wasn't carrying cash.
I don't know if it's the best reference book, but if I could have one, and only one, reference guide at an observation, it would be my Peterson Guide to the Stars and Planets. It's written by Jay Pasachof, with star maps by Wil Tirion. From what I understand, Wil Tirion is the best in the business. Back in 2006 I picked up a used copy of an old edition, published in like 1982, and only paid a quarter or two for it. I used that book until I knew I was seriously hooked on astronomy, and found the most recent edition. It has seasonal sky maps for both hemispheres, histories and stories of the constellations, information about stars, clusters, galaxies, stellar remnants. There are charts for finding the planets, and explanations of how best to observe each one, somewhat detailed lunar maps, and safe solar observing. And dozens of star atlas charts covering the entire sky. I used used it pretty much exclusively at the Indiana Family Star Party, and have it nearby whenever I'm doing serious observing. I hope this copy lasts until the next edition is published. Oh, and I've bought the simplified pocket edition for a few friends that have shown an interest in astronomy.
All that said, I think it's unwise to go into the field with only one resource available. It's always good to cross reference.
I don't have a smart phone or tablet, but my laptop goes observing with me quite often. The main planetarium program I've been using lately is Cartes du Ciel, which is a free download. My secondary planetarium program is a trial version of Redshift 7 which came free with Sky & Telescope magazine awhile back.
For lunar sessions I use Virtual Moon Atlas. Lots of information, and somewhat realistic views. Recently though, I learned that trying to find some lesser known features near the terminator is not so easy. The program tries to simulate the lighting conditions, but falls a little short of the actual view. Acceptable from a free download. Bill had a phone app that showed a more realistic view.