Science and Exploration

Review: The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing The Cosmos

By Keith Cowing
December 22, 2018
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Review: The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing The Cosmos
Ultimate Guide to Viewing The Cosmos

When I was growing up in the 60s you needed a guide book to figure out the constellations in the night sky. Flash forward. Now all you need is an app on your iPhone.
With an app, no work required. You just hold it up at the sky, it talks to satellites to find out where you are, and names jump out om the screen. The app does all the work – you are just an observer. While these apps are quite good they fall short when you are actually standing outside – especially if it is cold and you can’t get your gloves off to click on a function.

What you really need is something you can use in advance of your skywatching sessins and then revisit after you have spent time wondering what those lights in the sky are all about.

That’s where this book comes in. For starters, it is a nice book to behold – the cover seems to be designed to stand a little outdoor use. Inside every page is a pleasure to look at.

Like a good app, it can tell you what is going ot happen and when. But it does so in a way that lets you look at many things at one or one thing in detail so as to get a big picture notion of what is happening in the sky above.

If you already know a lot about the night sky and how things work, this book is a great way to collect all of that information in one easy to access place. But if you are new to the sky – young or old – this book also does double duty in explaining the basics of who and what stars and planets and nebulae are.

The book also spends a lot of time explaining those moving lights in the sky – satellites crafted by human hands and how to use cameras and telescopes to track and photograph them.

The authors of this book are all skilled space and science communicators and it shows – on every page of the book.

The one thing that is missing from this book is, well, an app. Yes, I know I am running in circles on this topic. Apps are usually written to squeeze lots of things into a small package – and context usually suffers. Its an app after all, bot a book. But the considerable thought that went into this book might be the basis for a more thoughtful companion app. An ebook version with an integrated basic app with audio commentary from the book’s text, running on a large iPad that you can easily hold up to the sky, or place comfortably in your lap, would be cool. Just a thought.

Meanwhile, this book in its present form is already well worth reading and using as a sky reference for years to come. HHighly recommended.

The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing The Cosmos: Everything You Need to Know to Become an Amateur Astronomer

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.