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Book review of "Cosmic Challenges"


JAO
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A quick and personal book review of "Cosmic Challenges- the Ultimate Observing list for Amateurs" by Philip Harrington (2011) Cambridge University Press, £27.00.

Although my wallet took a severe pounding at Astrofest with the 20% of deal on Televue oculars I still had to buy this new book by Philip Harrington.

A quick scan through the pages of "Cosmic Challenges" on the Cambridge University Press stand at Astrofest convinced me I needed this observing book in my astronomical library. Harrington will be known to many for his series of Star Ware books describing pretty well every telescope manufacturer in the market. He is also known for his book on Touring the Universe with Binoculars and in addition to numerous other titles he is a regular contributor the American magazine Astronomy.

This latest volume by Harrington is a list and observing guide to 187 observing challenges for the amateur astronomer. The challenges range from basic targets for the beginner to serious and faint distant DSOs for the most experienced of observers. The book is divided in to a number of distinct sections starting with a rather nice short primer on observing technique and visual astronomers kit.

The subsequent chapters are divided into; naked eye challenges, binocular challenges, small scope challenges (3" to 5" aperture), medium scope challenges (6" to 9.25" aperture), large scope challenges (10"-14") and monster scope challenges (15" and larger).

Each section has a range of targets that include things like seeing M13 naked eye, M101 in binoculars; Lunar features like the Clavius craterlets in a small scope, Sirius and the Pup and the planetary nebula IC 418 in Lepus. In the later sections there are challenges like the 12 separate emission nebula in M33 (for which he provides an excellent chart). That last challenge obviously needs a big scope and dark skies but in my view there is something for everyone in this book and much for me personally to aspire to seeing! All the challenges also have a chart, although some of the charts for the most challenging targets will need to be used in conjunction with another atlas, given the small scale of some of the fields.

I should also say that the objects in each section are divided by season, making pulling together an observing list quite easy. I have already noted 9 challenges from the book to go on my observing list for the April 2011 Kelling Heath Skycamp.

There are some objects that will not really be possible for observers at UK latitudes given their declination, but that’s not an uncommon feature in American written books. That said, the majority of the challenges in the book are accessible to U.K. based observers. I also need to acknowledge that there are very many SGL observers in other parts of the world who will see some of those objects that elude us based here in Blighty!

Another feature of this book I really like is the detail in the observing notes section of each chapter. There are for example simple sketches of some of the objects and these in my view equate to what you might see through the eyepiece of the appropriately sized telescope. I think this is a real strength of this book. I have seen many excellent observing guides that I think are spoiled by the all be it high quality CCD images that although fine, bare no relation to what a visual observer will see in the eyepiece.

I think a further strength of this book is the detail in the written information about each challenge. Harrington’s descriptions are full of fascinating facts and information. Let me give you just one example.

One of my ‘Holy Grail’ observing challenges (p438 in the book) is the supernova remnant Simeis 147. SGL members will have recently seen some stunning images of this elusive object taken by Forum members. It is a really tough object that after a decade of hunting I have to date failed to find in UK skies, although I am hoping my new larger Dob (currently under construction) might reveal it. I’m digressing too much though.

Anyway I had always somewhat naively assumed that there was a Mr. or indeed Mrs. Simeis who had discovered this object. Well Harrington has put me right. Simeis 147 was discovered G.A Shajn and V.E. Hase in 1952 at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in Russia built near the Crimean settlement called Simeis! This sort of stuff won’t be of interest to everyone but I loved the mass of interesting little facts that run throughout this volume.

 

Finally, I think Harrington’s narrative style is very accessible and motivating and I’ve enjoyed reading it from cover to cover during this period of observing blight here in the eastern United Kingdom.

At about £27 pounds it isn’t a cheap book but at almost 500 pages and in hard back I think it is really good value for money. I suspect you can tell that I think it is excellent and a "must have" for those keen on visual observing, whether you have a pair of 10x50’s or a monster size Dob.

I hope you found this interesting and I have included a link to the book below:

Cosmic Challenge: The Ultimate Observing List for Amateurs: Amazon.co.uk: Philip S. Harrington: Books

I should also say I have no connection with or shares in this book but wish I had!

Adrian

Edited by JAO
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There is something for everyone, lunar, planets, deep deep sky. Given our light pollution you probably want up the aperture for all the categories. Personally I am going to enjoy finding some of these objects electronically, maybe not in the letter of the book, but some will still be a real challenge. Lots of useful and interesting comments and hints, good read even when the cloud stops you getting outside!

Cheers

PEterW

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Thanks Yoda, you will not be dissapointed, it is a great book in my view.

PeterW and Steppenwolf I am glad you agree this is a good resource. It still seems to be little known, although I suppose it hasn't been out that long.

Adrian

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Skills

Thanks for the feedback. I am sure you will not be dissapointed with this book, I think it is excellent for both Cloudy and Clear nights! Although I hope we all have more of the Latter.

Adrian

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Alan, thanks for the kind comments. You will not be disapointed by this volume. A must in my view for those who likes visual astronomy!

Adrian

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Great review, thanks.

I'm just starting out and so the fact that it starts from naked eye and works up through bins to bigger and bigger scopes really appeals. Sounds like a book that could be genuinely useful for many years.

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Dharma66

Thanks for you kind comments. You are right there's something for everyone in this book. The naked eye and small scope section is great and the lunar and solar system challenges are excellent too. Plus there is a lot for everyone to aspire to in this volume too.

Yep, I am also building a slightly larger scope :):):p

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I read a review of this book in one of the magazines recently. I quite fancied it, although I have three of the O'Meara books already (Messier, Hidden Treasures and Herschel). Your review has important information that the other review didn't have. The number of objects is a bit disappointing at 197, considering there are solar system objects in there as well. I should probably save my money.

Thanks, Martin

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Hi Martin

You have some excellent guides already with the O'Meara volumes you list. I have those too and find them very useful. I am working through the Herschel 400 list at present, although in slightly different order! I also really like O'Meara's writing style too.

I should say that although there are 187 observing challlenges in the Harrington book that equates to around 500 observing targets because many of the challenges include multiple objects. For example the 10 discrete NGCs in the spiral arms of M101, galaxy groups like Hickson 44 and 50 and other similar multiple objects.

That said many of the challenges will be in works you already own and the book won't be for everyone.

I think what we all need at the moment is more clear sky so we can get out and find these targets!

Adrian

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