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Probably the most amazing astronomy book you will buy this year !

February 18, 2014 Leave a comment

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I’m talking about This Is Mars by Alfred S. McEwen, Francis Rocard and Xavier Barral with contributions by Sebastien Girard, Nathalie Chapuis and Nicolas Mangold and published by Aperture.

OK, first thing to note, it’s not cheap ! At £65 this may stretch people, but fortunately you can find it as low as £39.25 now using Amazon marketplace sellers. Second thing to note, it’s huge ! Measuring 30 cm wide and 36 cm tall this will not fit on most standard bookshelves and will almost by default become a coffee table book. You are, however, buying quality here. This hard bound book is beautifully designed and executed and falls somewhere between art and science in content.

The photographs of the surface of Mars presented here are both beautiful and utterly astounding and derive from the HiRISE camera mounted on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been taking ultra high resolution images of Mars since 2006.  The 150 black and white images are just short of A3 size and presented on very high quality art paper with each image covering an area 6km in breadth.  The range of landforms is staggering, from plunging canyons, vast black dune fields, towering volcanoes, craters, glacier flows and swirling trails left by desert twisters to name but a few.

After a brief introduction by the editor, Xavier Barral, about two thirds of the book is taken up with photos while the final third includes a series of short papers. The first is a description of the HiRISE camera and MRO project by Alfred S. McEwen. This is followed by an excellent essay by astrophysicist Francis Rocard covering the evolution of Mars and it’s geology (together with some detailed maps) which includes a timeline of the main observations of Mars from the 2nd century AD through to 2012. Finally, there’s a geomorphological tour of the surface of the Red Planet by Nicolas Mangold using the photographs in the book, which explains the origins of the numerous features you will see in the photographs.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough and I doubt anyone interested in astronomy would be even remotely disappointed to receive this book.

More information at the publisher’s website here http://www.aperture.org/shop/books/this-is-mars-books

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A couple of astronomy book recommendations with a comet theme

August 27, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s a miserable grey and slightly cold day at the Sunnymeade observatory with heavy rain drumming down – perfect weather for reading a good book! With the stunning Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd now high in our northern hemisphere night skies, displaying a distinct tail in images of just 10 minutes exposure, I thought it was time for a couple of relevant book recommendations for the autumn nights ahead.

First up is the new novel by Christina Koning Variable Stars (Arbuthnot Books, May 2011, 402 pages. ISBN-10: 0956521444). This is a fine piece of historical fiction centred on the lives of three astronomers of the Georgian period; Caroline Herschel, her brother William Herschel and their friend Edward Piggott.  The storyline focusses primarily on Caroline Herschel as she moves between Hanover, Bath, Windsor and Brussels in the shadow of her more famous brother. This is essentially a classic Georgian tale of unrequited love involving Caroline, Edward Piggott and his cousin John Goodricke,  but at the same time a thrilling account of scientific discovery as new objects are observed and located for the first time amongst the familiar constellations.  The restrictive social circles in which the Herschel’s move are perfectly portrayed as are the missed opportunities and fleeting fame of some of the characters who burn brightly then fade into the background (hence the metaphor in the title Variable Stars). Many other famous contemporaries appear in carefully crafted cameos including Dr Johnson, Farinelli and Fanny Burney and it is clear that a great deal of research into the period and lives of these people supports the narrative framework. This novel is certainly aimed at the female reader in terms of the romantic content, but there is plenty here for every gender and particularly if you have an interest in historical astronomy.

Secondly, we have Martin Mobberley’s new book in the Springer Practical Astronomy Series Hunting and Imaging Comets (Springer Publishing, October 2010, 408 pages, ISBN-10: 1441969047). The Springer publications can vary wildly in their usefulness and accuracy of information. A number of them have been frankly appalling with factual inaccuracies, badly reproduced images and overly repetitive introductions and body text. Thankfully none of these criticisms can be levelled at Martin Mobberley’s accessible volume which covers an area of amateur astronomy that is surprisingly under represented.

Martin is well-known to amateur astronomer’s for his monthly articles in Astronomy Now magazine and appearances on the BBC TV programme The Sky at Night. He images comets regularly from his home observatory in Suffolk.

The fifteen chapters in the book cover the basics about comets, the history of their discovery, professional and amateur comet hunting, comet hunting and imaging techniques and a delightful biographical chapter at the end of some of the world’s most prolific comet imagers. The text is easy to read, engaging, enthusing and by the end you just want to rush out under the stars with your equipment and start finding those comets! Martin has a very relaxed and chatty approach to writing and this makes the volume all the more successful as it eschews the dry fact-laden approach of so many books on astronomy at this level. The images throughout are well reproduced, particularly the well-chosen colour photos, and I think the image of comet 17P Holmes by Michael Jager on page 245 must be pretty much the most amazing comet image I have ever seen. The appendices list a lot of useful web and literary resources for further research, or the procurement of the necessary equipment and software for comet observation and imaging. Information in the book seems to be very up to date with the latest entries on comet discoveries dating to late 2009.

This is currently the most comprehensive volume on the subject for the amateur astronomer and if you have an interest in comet observation or imaging then I highly recommend you get a copy of this book. It will become an essential and much read part of your library.

Categories: Books