As I pack my books in anticipation of moving next month, I realize what a great collection I have. My dear tomes live on two tall bookshelves, five shelves each. One bookshelf is dedicated entirely to science fiction, a lot of which I still need to read; the other holds my non-fiction. I thought I would share with you some of my favorite books about the science I love so much as a way to ignite the astronomy bug for those who may not know where to start.
If you are a novice to observing, one of the must-have books is The Messier Album, written by John H. Mallas and Evered Kreimer. First published in 1978 by Sky Publishing Corp (they also publish Sky & Telescope magazine), this book had its fifth printing in 1994 and now is only available from Amazon.com used resellers.
Why would I cherish such an old book about the Messier objects when there are newer ones with prettier images taken by bigger and better telescopes? I’ll admit I’m a little sentimental about this book, my primary reference when I first observed the glorious gems of the northern hemisphere. Night after star-filled night my little tome sat by my side during my quest for my Messier certificate from the Astronomical League.
During the day at many a star party, I would peruse my little companion for the objects I intended to bag after dusk. I read the “basic data,” “NGC description,” and “visual appearance” for each of the 110 Messier objects. I studied the black-and-white photographs and, sitting at my telescope after dark, I compared what I saw to the drawings made by Mallas.
Users of small telescopes will get the most benefit from The Messier Album. Mallas used a 4-inch f/15 Unitron refractor for his observations and his drawings offer an accurate view of what can be seen through a smaller aperture scope by the human eye. Trying to compare an object seen through a small telescope to the fabulous color pictures from light buckets like Hubble is nearly impossible for the novice.
Also included in The Messier Album are essays written by Owen Gingerich titled “Messier and His Catalogue” and “Hints for Beginning Observers,” as well as a checklist, a chapter on Mallas’ and Kreimer’s process, additional reading, and “Messier’s Own Catalogue” which is written in French. The best thing about this little book as an observing aide is that it’s available for as little as $2.38US from Amazon.com.
With today’s technology, you can spend hours searching the Internet for lists, photographs, and data about Messier’s objects. I even found an Android app that looks interesting. To be honest though, I’d much rather be sitting at the eyepiece with a red-lensed flashlight and my little book in hand.