Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders
From Novice to Master Observer
Publisher: Maker Media, Inc
Final Release Date: October 2007
Pages: 520

With the advent of inexpensive, high-power telescopes priced at under $250, amateur astronomy is now within the reach of anyone, and this is the ideal book to get you started. The Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders offers you a guide to the equipment you need, and shows you how and where to find hundreds of spectacular objects in the deep sky -- double and multiple stars as well as spectacular star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies.

You get a solid grounding in the fundamental concepts and terminology of astronomy, and specific advice about choosing, buying, using, and maintaining the equipment required for observing. The Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders is designed to be used in the field under the special red-colored lighting used by astronomers, and includes recommended observing targets for beginners and intermediate observers alike. You get detailed start charts and specific information about the best celestial objects.

The objects in this book were chosen to help you meet the requirements for several lists of objects compiled by The Astronomical League.

  • Binocular Messier Club
  • Urban Observing Club
  • Deep Sky Binocular Club
  • Double Star Club
  • RASC Finest NGC List
Completing the list for a particular observing club entitles anyone who is a member of the Astronomical League or RASC to an award, which includes a certificate and, in some cases, a lapel pin.

This book is perfect for amateur astronomers, students, teachers, or anyone who is ready to dive into this rewarding hobby. Who knows? You might even find a new object, like amateur astronomer Jay McNeil. On a clear cold night in January 2004, he spotted a previously undiscovered celestial object near Orion, now called McNeil's Nebula. Discover what awaits you in the night sky with the Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders.
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(1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)


A handy guide to deep-sky objects

By Dan Hanks

from Orem, UT

About Me Maker, Sys Admin

Verified Reviewer



      Best Uses

      • Intermediate
      • Novice
      • Student

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      While I disagree with some of Robert Bruce Thompson's opinions and practices in certain areas, in the astronomical realm, he and his wife Barbara have written a wonderful reference guide to the nighttime sky for amateur astronomers, the Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders. Corny title aside, this volume will keep me busy in my limited time under starry skies for years to come.

      The Illustrated Guide is a contellation-by-constellation guide to observing double-stars, galaxies, nebulae and star clusters. The Illustrated Guide also provides introductory material on how to best to observe these night sky objects with amateur equipment and a guide to some of the gear that will make your life as a backyard astronomer more pleasant. Much of this introductory material is a repeat of what's in the authors earlier book, Astronomy Hacks.

      The bulk of the book is a deep-sky object reference guide. For each of 50 of the northern hemisphere constellations, the authors provide several pages of information about that part of the sky, including a brief history of the name and story behind the constellation, a table of the prominent deep-sky objects that live there, and charts and helpful tips for finding each of these often elusive targets.

      For each constellation covered, there is a chart of the constellation as a whole, and then for most of the prominent objects found therein there are charts covering smaller portions of the sky to help you star-hop your way to find the object. Each chart indicates the field width displayed and many of the charts of smaller field widths contain 5-degree finder circles, and 1-degree eyepiece circles, which are useful, but it would have been nice for the circles to match the 4, 2 and 1/2-degree circles of my Telrad.

      Though the charts are nice, I find them a little harder to use than those I print out of the astronomy software on my computer. I think I tend to print out my own charts with a higher limiting magnitude, so I get more stars to use for reference.

      The tables of deep-sky objects provided for each constellation indicate the type of object, how easy it is to find it, a visual rating (is it worth looking at after spending 20 minutes trying to find it?), its visual magnitude, its size, its right ascension and declination, its common catalog number, and other pieces of useful information. It does take some time to get acquainted with the abbreviations and symbols the authors use to indicate all these facts.

      If you acquire a copy you may want to take it to a local print shop to get the book spiral bound. Keeping the book open when turned to Andromeda or to Taurus can be a challenge when you're trying to use your hands for other things. Holding the (somewhat heavy) book up to your eyepiece while trying to compare the charts to what's in your eyepiece is a pain (maybe that's another reason why I like my printouts better). Perhaps cutting off the spine and drilling holes for a 3-ring binder might be the best option so you can consult one page at a time next to the eyepiece (the book is just big enough to do so).

      The book is fun to browse, and is helpful when planning your observation sessions, but the true test for such a work is to put it to use under a clear sky at night. So it has accompanied me on a few increasingly-difficult-to-find-time-for forays into the backyard. At the recommendation of the authors in Astronomy Hacks, a year ago I purchased an 8 inch dobsonian telescope (Zhumell brand). This new scope has given me a good opportunity to field-test the material in the Illustrated Guide—although my 'field' to-date has mainly been the light-polluted backyard of my home in Orem. The book has helped me find a number of interesting things in the sky, though some have eluded me. For many of the objects in the book, you'll need good (dark) skies and plenty of aperture. I found that adding a Telrad finder to my scope made finding these objects much easier—I now spend more time looking at these objects then for them. A good-quality, easy-to-use scope will make all the difference in whether your observation session is successful, enjoyable, and therapeutic, or a source of frustration and disappointment. A good scope will make using a book like this much more pleasant.

      The Illustrated Guide is useful for beginners and experienced astronomers alike. For beginners, the book will be challenging to use, but will provide years of deep-sky targets to chase down. For those with more experience the book will be a great reference.


      Great Astronomical Field Guide

      By Dave Walz-Burkett

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      Don't leave this book behind when you head out to your next star party! It is an indispensable field guide packed with star charts and information on several hundred deep sky objects (DSOs) and multiple stars.

      The book starts with a brilliant introduction to observing deep sky objects. It continues with a section describing equipment used for deep sky observation. In the introduction, you'll learn about (or be refreshed on) topics like multiple stars, stellar magnitudes, declination and right ascension, clusters, nebulae, galaxies, etc.

      In the section on observation equipment, you'll find details on binoculars and telescopes, advantages and disadvantages of different sizes, types, and features of both types of instruments. Loads of information on the various accessories you'll need for your observing sessions are found in this section. Also, several planetarium software packages and star atlases are described in detail.

      The constellation maps are very thorough and photos of the region (mostly at 60' field width) show what the DSOs look like on film. The star maps typically show a 10 to 15 degree field width, with a 5 degree finder field and a 1 degree eyepiece field. The maps use black stars on a white background.

      The Thompson duo have provided a great guide to observing that brings me back to astronomy after many years away from the hobby. I think this book will hook you in as well.


      A must have for the backyard astronomer

      By Anonymous

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      December 2007

      I have used this book for the last month. While my opportunities to use it in the field have been limited due to poor observing conditions, I have been able to put it to the test a couple of nights. This book is a gem! I recommend it for both the beginner and the more experienced user. I have a copy of the author's previous book, "Astronomy Hacks", which is also a gem. The two books complement each quite nicely.

      The first part of the book is introductory material. It explains many things that a budding astronomer needs to know. It covers things like basic vocabulary, what to look for when purchasing equipment, and how to use the star charts. While much of this is geared towards the beginner, there is also some practical and useful advice for the more seasoned observer, like the discussion of equipment, which has improved immensely over the last couple of decades.

      The bulk of the book is aimed at observing and this is where the book really shines. The star charts and directions for locating objects are unparalleled. There is nothing else available for the amateur astronomer like this book. The vast amount of information is incredible. This is not your usual self-help book with a few pictures and a couple of constellation drawing. This is a book for serious use but it is easy to use. If you want to observe the night sky and find celestial objects, this book is the tool for you.

      Everything you need to know is there. The black and white sky charts and field photographs are just what you need to help find deep space objects. The accompanying texts are clear and concise.

      I wish this book was available when I was kid, those many years ago when I lay in the backyard at night. What a treasure it is and now that I have found it I'm using the book to help our Boy Scout troop move beyond their merit badge requirements to delve into astronomy. The boys have found the book easy to use and a few have gained a new appreciated for looking at the night sky. It was hard to get them to go to bed.

      What a great book, now if the weather would just cooperate.

      October 2008

      Over the last ten months I been able to use this book a number of occasions. I am happy to report that the book is everything it promised to be. It is well written, easy to use and quite helpful. I take a copy with me whenever I expect to have a clear night.


      Wonderful reference for a new observer!

      By Bob Waltenspiel

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      I'm a relatively new amateur astronomer, having bought my first telescope less than a year ago. My telescope is an 8in Orion Dobsonian. This book has become my constant companion while observing. Before beginning my session, I use this book to create my observing list. While observing, I use the finder charts to find the each item in my list. As I observe, I use the text to take in some great info about what I am observing.

      Here's what I really like about this book:

      1. All photographs have the same field of view. They haven't zoomed in on dim or small objects. They don't have a wide view for large objects (beyond what I can see with my telescope). The photograph gives a terrific idea of what I will find as I search.

      2. The finder charts never fail to bring me close to the object I want. Both the charts and the text description bring me right to the object.

      3. The choice of objects in this book fit great with my goal to earn the Astronomical League pins. It's not the pins that I want but the learning that goes with the work for these pins. They are a great sampling of most of the types of objects in the sky.

      The only improvement that I would make would be to make all print bigger. I've just begun to use cheaters for reading and observing in the dark makes the problem worse. For example, the print at the bottom of each page shows the current chapter or constellation. I often refer to this text as I move around the book. It's just too small to read with my red flashlight alone.

      Love this book!

      (1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)


      Wonderful Illustrated Guide

      By mclucas

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      This book is the newest of a long list of field observing guides. The authors are long time observers and have produced a guide that is not too long, not too short, and reasonably priced. Chapters 1 and 2 cover an introduction to observing and the equipment and software that are useful. The remainder of the guide covers 50 constellations; the remaining 38 are too far south to be visible from mid-northern latitudes. Each constellation listing gives you a list of binocular objects, urban objects (those visible from more light polluted sites), and detailed lists and diagrams for all the major objects. For example in Cassiopeia, Table 12-1 contains a list with information on star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. Table 12-2 features multiple stars. Following this, star charts, photos, and detailed descriptions are provided for the major objects in the constellation. Eyepiece circles are used on numerous star charts to aid in star hopping to particular objects. The paperback is 8 x 10 in size and is very convenient to carry or pack. In short, this is an excellent guide that is smaller in physical size and less expensive than others, but packed with much useful information. I have been using it myself and I highly recommend it.


      A great book for beginning and intermediate astronomers!

      By Tim Nicholson

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      If you are serious about amateur astronomy then you should get this book!Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders is much more than just lists of objects to observe. It is a wonderful companion at the telescope. With it's clear finderscope and telescope FOV charts it makes it easy to find every one of the 500+ objects it covers. And serious beginners will find the layout of the book with it's first two sections devoted to describing the lists that were used to populate the book and observing techniques and equipment invaluable to getting the right equipment and setting it up properly to use. One of the goals that Robert and Barbera had in mind with this book was that after having completed finding and observing many of the objects listed the reader would be well on the way to earning several of the Astronomical League and RASC certificates from wich the objects included were gleaned. I heartily recommend this book! I even found it good reading on those nights when getting out was not an option. Having the latter part of the book divided into constellations, each broken down with it's own list of objects makes for easy planning for what to look for on any given night. If I could ony have one book or chart with me at the telescope this would be it.


      Great book for both beginner and advanced amateur astronomer

      By Kasper

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      For years I've been interested in astronomy and searching for a more accessible book hereupon than those existing on the market before. When I got my copy of Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders, my first impression was that this book could be the answer to my quest. It appeared to be complete and - more importantly - suitable for the absolute beginner. Especially the first two parts of the book are intended for these beginners: they give a good introduction on the equipment needed to observe the nightly skies and the objects that can be seen there.

      The third part of the book is a selection of miscellaneous constellations and objects that can be seen with average equipment (even binoculars could do the job). Such a listing of objects make the book less capable for reading it on a rainy night on your comfortable sofa with a good glass of wine though: this book is actually written to take with you on your nightly explorations, and to use it as a manual and reference book (indeed, as a guide)! This is where my main point of criticism comes in: the book has a glued softcover, which means that little is needed before the cover comes off (and the cover of my example is indeed starting to come off). A stiff cover (hardcover) version of the book would be better, since such books are less subject to wear.

      As regards the contents of the book I can be short: the book contains a lot of interesting data on constellations and such, which might frighten the absolute beginner though. My advice for them would be to just read the introductions and images coming with each object, and the descriptions to find them off course. The somewhat more professional might find the data useful though.

      To conclude: to some extent, my first impression proved to be correct. It's not the first book I've read about astronomy, and I can say that this one is great for the absolute beginner and more advanced amateur astronomer. The absolute beginner should aim at the 'readable' parts of the book though and take the tabular data for granted. One thing is for sure: it is definitely a valuable addition to your book shelf and your backpack! ;)


      Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders - A fine acquisition

      By Andr_ Cajolais

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders

      Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson

      O'Reilly, 2007

      I received the Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders for Christmas, part of my wishlist. First impression : great presentation and a very nice layout. I couldn't wait to explore this new acquisition for my librairy.

      This book is a definitive must for the serious beginner. If you're just getting into the hobby, and are serious about it, you have to get this book. It will rapidly become your main assistant under the stars.

      The first chapters of the book on deep sky objects observing and equipment needed to do so are well written and offer a wealth of information for the beginning and even for the intermediate observer.

      Then, the star party begins... The information about each constellation (there are 50 of them for the North Hemispher observer) is complete, clearly presented, and the sky charts are made with one of the best planetarium software on the market.

      Robert and Barbara, the authors of this book, made some choices about the catalogs selected for their night sky explorations. They were well inspired. Of course, the Messier catalog is explored _ this is the catalog for those beginning into astronomy -, but the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) finest NGC list and the Astronomical League Society catalogs are well suited for introducing someone to the hobby.

      The objects selected can be easily seen in a small telescope or binoculars. If you are using a large instrument, in the 8 or 10 inches telescope for example, you'll be rewarded with great views.

      In each of the chapters covering the constellations, the descriptions of the objects are clear and instructive, all of them are illustrated with realistic photographs, representing quite the same view you would get at the eyepiece.

      Of course all of the night sky is not covered in this book, but be sure that the Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wondres will provide you with hours and even a few years of exploration of the night sky.

      After you'll gone through this book, you will have gain enough understanding of the night sky to be considered an experienced amateur astronomer.

      Andr_ Cajolais

      Qu_bec, Canada


      Worth the Wait

      By David A. Riso

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      Like many other amateur astronomers I'm a big fan of the Thompsons's earlier book, Astronomy Hacks, and have been eagerly awaiting a sequel. Well, their new book is finally here -- and it was worth the wait!

      As an observer's guide, An Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders is not exactly a sequel to the earlier "tips and tools" volume, but it is written in the same simple and engaging style. Once again readers are treated to access to the Thompson's vast experience in observing the heavens through binoculars and telescopes. Anecdotes about their own observations, coupled with comprehensive charts and diagrams, really simplify finding elusive objects, such as "faint fuzzy" galaxies and nebulae. Finding your target is the critical first step in every observing session, and can make the difference between a wonderful night and a frustrating experience. The illustrations of finder and eyepiece fields on the charts are particularly helpful, and the photos are unmistakable confirmation of what you see in the eyepiece.

      The book is truly comprehensive, packed with over 500 pages of useful information. At the same time it is easy to use, as the data is arranged alphabetically by constellation name. In addition to the guide to 50 constellations, the book opens with an excellent introduction to deep sky observing, which those newer to the hobby will find especially useful. There is also a chapter on observing equipment in which the authors present the kind of practical and useful information fans of their earlier book have come to appreciate.

      In short, this is a great book for the newbie and the experienced observer alike. It belongs on every amateur astronomer's bookshelf _ except when it's being used in the field.


      The most complete guide for observing the deep-sky

      By Zsolt Szalma

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders:

      Well, the Thompsons did it again. I loved Astronomy Hacks which came out a few years ago and was chock-full of information on how to bring out the most of your astro equipment. This time Robert and his wife Barbara created a wonderful guide for those who wish to hunt down the best of the myriad of deep-sky objects. They did an excellent job.

      The content of the book can be devided into two distinct parts:

      1.) the first chapter introduces the reader into the bits and bytes of deep-sky observing, while the second chaper deals with telescopes, and accessories. The authors give detailed information on the various types of deep-space objects (multiple stars, open- and globular clusters, nebulae and galaxies). There are also some nice photos which depict each type of object. These are not the glorious full-color Hubble photos we see all over the net. The Thompsons decided to choose photos that represent quite close what an amateur astronomer will see through the eyepiece. A very wise decesion I may add. Besides just presenting clearly written info on deep-sky objects, the authors also introduce basic astronomical concepts, like the magnitude system, the celestial coordinate system or stellar designations). Even if you are familiar with all these terms and concepts and the world of deep-space object, you will definetly want to read the last part of the first chapter titled "How The Constellation Chapters are Organized". This is where they explain how to interpret the info in the summary tables found throughout the second part of the book. As for the second chapter, I am not going into details here. It's full of practical information on astro-gear: telescopes, eyepieces, filters, finders, barlows,planetarium software, you name it. Not as detailed as in Astronomy Hacks but still quite thorough.

      2.) The second part of the book constitutes about 80% or more of all the content. This is where the real juice is. This part is a constellation-by-constellation guide to finding and observing numerous deep-sky objects. But just what objects exactly? The authors decided to turn to some of the observing lists compiled by the Astronomical League (AL) and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). Included are the AL Mesier Club list, the AL Binocular Messier Club list, the AL Urban Observing Club list, the AL Deep Sky Binocular Club list, the AL Double Star Club list, and the RASC Finest NGC list. Quite a few deep-sky objects. Enough to keep any observer happy for a long time. I don't know of any other observing guide that contains detailed information on such a large number of objects. For each constellation there is a short introduction to the particular constellation , then comes two separete tables: one listing basic info on the featured clusters, nebulae and galaxies, and an other doing the same for multiple stars. There's also an overview chart showing the whole constellation and the objects being discussed in the following pages. To me, the real gem of the book lies in the object descriptions. Yes, the authors will go into detail describing how to locate each object by star-hopping, and how those object will look to the observer through medium sized amateur telescopes. Just wonderful! Aiding the written descriptions are finder charts with 5 and 1-degree finder circles drawn in. The reader will also find many astrophotos similar to those in the first chapter. They are all black-and-white, have the same scale and represent fairly closely what one may see through a telescope.

      Negatives? Very few and far between. The authors' intention was to make this book a field guide. However, I find it a little to heavy and bulky to use by the telescope. And besides, it's just to precious to me to take out into the cold and dewy nights. I will use the information in this book when I prepare for observing in my room. And after I am finished under the stars, I will take the book out again and compare my notes to those made by the Thompsons.

      The Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders is Well, the Thompsons did it again. I loved Astronomy Hacks which came out a few years ago and was chock-full of information on how to bring out the most of your astro equipment. This time Robert and his wife Barbara created a wonderful guide for those who wish to hunt down the best of the myriad of deep-sky objects. They did an excellent job.

      The Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders is highly recommended to any amateur astronomer with a telescope, regardless of their level of experience. Thanks to Robert and Barbara for this unique guide to astronomical wonders!

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