British Astronomical Association
Supporting amateur astronomers since 1890

Secondary menu

Main menu

BAA Journal Book Reviews

Successfully starting in astronomical spectroscopy – a practical guide

EDP Sciences, 2018
ISBN 978- 27598-2026-9
Pp 268, £79

Journal issue: 2018 October
Pages: 307–307

Spectroscopy presents a steep learning curve to the newcomer, both in mastering the equipment and its use and in learning how to process the data it produces. This book aims to assist the new user up that learning curve. Does it suc­ceed? Read on.

The book's subtitle ‘A practical guide' accu­rately describes the author's approach to intro­ducing spectroscopy to the newcomer. As some­one who has been climbing the spectroscopic learning curve myself over the past few years, I found the book addresses many of the issues I faced and gives the sort of practical advice I would have found very useful. It does this in a me­thodical way by progressively addressing the capabilities, both in equipment and skills, which the new user needs to acquire.

The early chapters introduce spectra and spectroscopy, provide a basic introduction to the physics of light and starlight, and discuss choosing the type of spectroscope most ap­propriate for different observing programmes, including the trade-off between resolution and wavelength coverage.

The emphasis here is on a realistic understanding of what is achievable. It is worth noting that the book only describes the use of spectroscopes employing a slit to iso­late light from the tar­get. The optical design of different types of slit spectroscope is illustrated with the Alpy and Lhires instruments produced by the author's company Shelyak Instruments.

Chapters eight and nine are perhaps the most valuable for newcomers to spectroscopy as they describe how to set up a spectroscope for the to be due to chlorophyll (instead of the more 

first time on the bench during the day before ever connecting it to a telescope. This stage, which in­cludes focusing and aligning the two cameras attached to the spec­troscope, is crucial if the user is to achieve optimum performance. Attempting these adjustments for the first time outside at night will almost certainly lead to frustra­tion and failure. The information provided here has been distilled from many years of helping new users and seeing the problems they encounter.

The book then moves on to de­scribe how to make and reduce spectroscopic observations, start­ing with the Sun since this does

not require the user to attach the spectroscope to a telescope. The author illustrates the data reduction process using Christian Buil's ISIS software, arguably the most advanced software freely available to the amateur community, but software which has a steep learning curve for the new user. In the view of this reviewer it is a challenge worth overcoming as ISIS contains so much useful functionality that it repays the ef­fort of learning it many times over.

After providing good practical advice on mas­tering control of a GOTO mount for the first time and learning the process of autoguiding, the author describes attaching the spectroscope to the telescope, balancing the equipment on the mount, and managing the plethora of cables in­volved. These are all tasks best performed in daylight. Finally the telescope must be focused at night so that a sharp stellar image is seen within the slit in the guiding image, and the autoguider activated to keep the star centred in the slit for the duration of the exposure, which may last many minutes.

The book finishes with a short reprise of the information in the preceding chapters by describ­ing a typical observing session, and provides pointers to ways in which the user can continue to improve their observational technique. The author underlines the importance of archiving spectra in one of the managed spectroscopic databases now available to ensure the data will be available to others.

Reading this book is like having an expert at your elbow who talks you through the complex process of choosing a spectroscope, setting it up and using it to record high quality stellar spec­tra. At all stages the author provides sound ad­vice based on years of experience helping new users. For a beginner starting out in spectro­scopy, I strongly recommend this book as there are few sources which cover the whole process in such well-grounded detail.

David Boyd


Dr David Boyd has been exploring the potential of amateur spectroscopy for several years and has so far contributed over 300 spectra to the BAA Spectroscopy Database