Philip’s complete guide to stargazing

By Robin Scagell Reviewed by Martin Edmonds
Philip's 2015320 pages
Price £25 (pbk)ISBN:978 1 84907 343 1


Robin Scagell will need little introduction for readers of this Journal. A long-serving Vice President of the Society for Popular Astronomy, Mr Scagell has written a large number of volumes on amateur astronomy and many readers will already have a number of his books upon their shelves. This Complete Guide to Stargazing is a new edition of the 2006 original, which itself was an expanded version of his popular Night Sky Atlas.

This large format book is an ideal introduction to amateur astronomy and is illustrated throughout with full colour pictures, charts and diagrams. The opening sections of the book present a general look at the night sky and a guide to equipment before moving onto specific chapters about the Moon, the solar system, stars and deep-sky objects. A guide to the appearance of the sky for each month of the year follows, with more detailed information on the fifty most important constellations. This atlas section presents both conventional star maps and realistic views of the constellations, and its format is very clear and accessible.

In these monthly guides not every constellation is included, however in each case a range of objects of interest are presented and the descriptions are clearly intended for small to medium telescopes under average conditions.

Starting with descriptions of binoculars, telescopes and mounts, Mr Scagell gives practical advice on choosing and setting up equipment. Whilst there is plenty of information here for naked eye and visual observers, he also introduces imaging and the use of solar filters.

The chapter on the Moon is particularly well illustrated and manages to provide a detailed and engaging overview in a relatively compact section. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the solar system, which uses some spectacular images from the Magellan orbiter, the Opportunity rover and Mars Express to good effect.

The final section is an A to Z and will be invaluable to anyone new to amateur astronomy; this chapter is richly illustrated and the concise definitions presented are accompanied by clear diagrams and tables where required. At all times this book is mindful of readers who may be completely new to the subject; technical terms are explained clearly and precisely and the instrumentation referred to is generally that used by amateurs.

Whilst aimed at the novice, this well-presented book has much to engage the more seasoned stargazer and is an ideal gift for the armchair astronomer.

Martin Edmonds is a schoolteacher and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and has a particular interest in solar observation.

The British Astronomical Association supports amateur astronomers around the UK and the rest of the world. Find out more about the BAA or join us.