Sunday, August 07, 2011

List-erature: This Astronomy Lover's Essentials

August brings much rain and cloudy skies so there is little reason for me to stay outdoors at night. In between waiting for the skies to clear, I've come up with a short list of astronomy-oriented books. Please note that this is not meant to be the definitive guide for any astronomer; these are merely my personal favorites that have helped me embrace the field.

1. The Firefly Encyclopedia of Astronomy (Edited by Paul Murdin and Margaret Peston). This is a really extensive collection of facts about the history of astronomy, phenomena, theories, space missions.... I'm tempted to say everything under the sun but that would be inappropriate -- and hyperbolic. What I love about this encyclopedia is that it contains pages of practical advice on imaging, solar observation, radio astronomy, and other things that would interest an amateur like me. It doesn't have detailed coverage of constellations, but I can forgive that because I know how thick it would be to fit everything in. Good thing I have...

2. Burnham's Celestial Handbook (Robert Burnham Jr). I'll truly be lost without this three-volume set. Not only does it have very, very, very detailed information on the more popular constellations and its stars (variable, multiple and double stars), it also includes the different nebulae and galaxies in each. It has accompanying charts, graphs, and photographs depicting magnitude, celestial coordinates, and nearly everything else you would be interested to know. No wonder Mr Burnham couldn't settle for just one book. If you're into deep-sky astronomy, you really should pick up a set.

3. Sky and Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas (Roger W. Sinnott) . This practical and convenient guide is one of the most important things in my astronomical library. It's easy to use when you're in the field and contains the best viewing months for different objects. It's almost like going on a road trip with the most reliable map around.

4. Cosmicomics (Italo Calvino). A lyrical collection about the origin of the universe. Each tale begins with a brief piece of astronomical interest: information on the moon, the expansion of the universe, early life. Then what Mr Calvino does masterfully is to depict the universe as seen by an early speck of life -- cellular structures but I'd like to imagine the narrator old Qwfwq as a piece of stardust -- and mold it into twelve poetic/philosophical moments. One of my favorite lines is Qwfwq recalling that gradually, living among signs had led us to see signs in countless things that, before, were there, marking nothing but their own presence; they had been transformed into the sign of themselves and had been added to the series of signs made on purpose by those who meant to make a sign (p38)' that would lead to signs like 'fire-streaks against a wall of schistose rock' or 'the badly inked tail of the letter R in an evening newspaper'. The entire book made me shiver with delight and purpose.

5. Every Soul a Star (Wendy Mass). It may have been The Little Prince that first got me gazing upwards, but it was Ms Mass' YA title about how a total solar eclipse changed three kids' lives that really inspired me to take my interest in stargazing a step further. In this wonderfully introspective story, Ally, Jack, and Bree are at the Moon Shadow Campground run by Ally's parents, the only site to view an oncoming solar eclipse. All three have various reasons to be there -- some more reluctantly than others -- but in the end, their encounter changes them profoundly. I can relate to powerful and moving astronomy is. Now I'm a member of the Astronomical League of the Philippines, learning so much more than I could have on my own, and I don't know if I could have done it without this book.

Bottom line? Reading has truly helped me find more loves and more passions, and even in these grey, rainy hours, I cannot be more grateful.

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