Look Inside

Here is a chapter-by-chapter look inside the new fourth edition of The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, with previews of selected pages (several per chapter) in small slide shows. The book will be published in September 2021.


Part 1: Getting Started

Part 1 introduces the sky as you can see it with just unaided eyes and binoculars, following our advice that those new to the hobby start simple. Get to know the sky first before buying a telescope. There’s lots to see and explore simply and easily.

Chapter 1: Amateur Astronomy Comes of Age

Chapter 1 sets the stage and provides an overview of the state of the hobby. A new addition is our illustrated Aah! Factor scale, a “life-list” of amazing sights.


Chapter 2: The Naked-Eye Sky

Chapter 2 explores the vast array of sky sights and phenomena you can see with no more than your unaided eyes. No telescope is required, and no money need be spent! We include the first of several Milky Way panoramas.
Topics • Getting to Know the Sky • The Day Sky • The Sunset Sky • The Darkening Sky • The Dark Sky • Auroras • The Milky Way


Chapter 3: Your Observing Site

Chapter 3 discusses a topic many guidebooks neglect—selecting your observing site. Dark skies are great, but most of us have to make do with brighter, urban sites. There’s still lots to see under less than perfect skies. We include a system for rating your site. We discuss light pollution and the movement to dark sky preserves and astro-tourism.
Topics • The Eroding Sky • Seeking Darkness


Chapter 4: Getting to Know the Sky

Chapter 4 is about getting to know your way around the sky. New to this edition, we include seasonal star maps for both the northern and southern hemispheres. We illustrate how the sky moves, when and where to see the Milky Way, and how to star hop. We recommend star atlases, from simple to advanced, print and digital.
Topics • Learning the Northern Sky: Seasonal Sky Charts • Learning the Southern Sky: Seasonal Sky Charts • How the Sky Moves • Where Is the Milky Way? • Star-Hopping • Printed Star Atlases • Digital Star Atlases


Chapter 5: Buying Binoculars for Astronomy

Chapter 5 delves into binoculars, the best tools to start exploring the sky with optics. We discuss what you can see with just binoculars (a lot!), and what to look for in their specifications and features. We provide our buyer’s guide to our recommended models for stargazing, from 42mm to 56mm aperture, gleaned from testing more than two dozen models from many brands.
Topics • Consider the Humble Binocular • Our Binocular Buyer’s Guide


Chapter 6: Binocular Sky Tours

Chapter 6 is all new. Guest author Ken Hewitt-White takes you on a tour of 10 top deep sky sights for binoculars, 8 tours in the northern sky and 2 in the southern. We provide finder charts and instructions on how to locate the sky’s best nebulas and star clusters, with most objects visible even under suburban skies.
Topics • Where We Are Going • Northern Winter Sky • Northern Spring Sky • Northern Summer Sky • Northern Autumn Sky • Southern-Hemisphere Sky


Part 2: Choosing and Using a Telescope

Part 2 explores the marketplace of telescopes and accessories. For many readers of previous editions, this was the core of the book they loved the most! We’ve completely updated all our equipment recommendations and buying advice.

Chapter 7: Choosing a Telescope

Chapter 7 contains the favorite content for many readers of the three earlier editions. We’ve updated all the models and our marketplace survey, and provided a new set of telescopes we can recommend to buyers, though still with our emphasis on simplicity and portability as the traits to look for. A new section illustrates what you can and cannot see through a telescope.
Topics • What Can You See? • A Brief History of Telescopes • Choosing the Best Telescope • Surveying the Telescope Market • Recommended Telescopes • Making the Purchase


Chapter 8: Choosing Eyepieces and Filters

Chapter 8 is all about buying those most important and essential accessories—eyepieces and filters. As with earlier editions, the topic gets its own chapter, but now with updated brands and models. Included are the results of our shootout of premium 82° and 100° eyepieces, comparing a dozen models from 10 brands.
Topics • Eyepiece Basics • Eyepiece Designs • Our Eyepiece Shootout • Eyepiece Recommendations • Choosing Filters


Chapter 9: Our Accessory Catalog

Chapter 9 covers all the many other accessories available to tempt telescope owners. Some are essential, others not so much. We sort them out, and provide buying advice for what you need, what you might like to have, and what you can live without. We cover optical aids and digital add-ons, all updated to the current market.
Topics • Almost Essential • Nice to Have • Luxury Items • Not Essential


Chapter 10: Using Your New Telescope

Chapter 10 explains how to set up a typical beginner’s telescope. We answer that most common of questions—why won’t it focus? Of all the chapters, this one has changed the least from earlier editions because the same challenges still befuddle new telescope owners. Consider this the “missing manual” for your telescope.
Topics • Your First Telescope • The Optical Tube Assembly • The Equatorial Mount • Some Assembly Required • Motor Driven • Daytime Adjustments • Nighttime Use • First Light • Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions


Chapter 11: Using Your GoTo Telescope

Chapter 11 is a major re-working and updating of content in earlier editions, providing tutorials on setting up, aligning and getting a computerized “GoTo” telescope going. We cover the common errors that result in scopes aiming at the ground! We provide detailed tips and tutorials for Celestron, Meade and Orion/Sky-Watcher telescopes, and cover how to connect your scope to a laptop or mobile device for wired or WiFi app control.
Topics • GoTo Tips • Meade Audiostar/Autostar Telescopes • Celestron Telescopes • Sky-Watcher/Orion Telescopes • Getting Connected


Part 3: The Telescopic Universe

Part 3 surveys all that the sky has to offer the telescope owner, from the nearby Moon, to distant galaxies. Even here, content has been revised and updated, plus we’ve added two new guided tour chapters for the telescope user.

Chapter 12: Observing the Sun, Moon and Eclipses

Chapter 12 explores the Sun and Moon and their interaction in eclipses. We illustrate the many types of features that can be seen on the Moon and on the Sun, including in hydrogen-alpha light. We explain the filters needed for safe solar viewing. As with most chapters, all illustrations and images are new to this fourth edition.
Topics • Observing the Moon • Observing the Sun • Observing Lunar and Solar Eclipses • Eclipses 2021-2030


Chapter 13: Moon Tours for Telescopes

Chapter 13 is new to this edition. Guest author Ken Hewitt-White takes us on a night-by-night tour along the terminator of the waxing Moon, focusing on selected areas with the most dramatic and varied features, all visible in even the most modest telescope. All photos are by renowned lunar imager Robert Reeves.
Topics • Our Sample Moon Tours • 3-Day Crescent • 4-Day Crescent • 6-Day Crescent • 7-Day Quarter • 8-Day Gibbous • 9-Day Gibbous • 10-Day Gibbous • 11-Day Gibbous • 12-Day Gibbous • 14-Day Full


Chapter 14: Observing the Solar System

Chapter 14 is all about the planets. What can you expect to see through a telescope? And how can you get the best view? We also cover comets, historic and recent, as of 2020. All text and photos have been updated, with stunning planet images by renowned solar system photographer Damian Peach.
Topics • Observing Mercury • Observing Venus • Observing Mars • Observing Jupiter • Observing Saturn • Observing Uranus and Neptune • Observing Dwarf Planets and Asteroids • Observing Comets


Chapter 15: Exploring the Deep Sky

Chapter 15 takes us out into deep space, to explore the vast realm of deep sky objects—double stars, star clusters, nebulas and galaxies. We head south to survey the southern hemisphere sky, and provide Milky Way mosaics of the galactic core and southern sky wonders. Even in this chapter, text is greatly updated, and all the images are new, with many from expert astro-imagers from Canada and the USA.
Topics • The Deep Sky Menagerie • Making Sense of the Sky • Diving into the Deep Sky • Inventories of the Sky • The Stars • Star Clusters • Where Stars are Born • Where Stars Die • Beyond the Milky Way • The Other Side of the Sky


Chapter 16: Telescope Sky Tours

Chapter 16 is another all-new chapter to the fourth edition. Our sky guide Ken Hewitt-White provides 20 tours of selected deep sky targets, 4 for each northern hemisphere season, and 4 for the wonders of the southern sky. We provide charts to star hop, stopping at many other interesting objects along the way. Completing our tours will make you an expert star hopper and deep sky observer.
Topics • Our Sample Telescope Tours • Where We Are Going • Northern Winter Sky (M42; M78; M35; M46-M47) • Northern Spring Sky (NGC 2903; NGC 4565/M64; M51/M94; M5) • Northern Summer Sky (M13; M57; M27; M8/M20) • Northern Autumn Sky (M2/M15; M31/M33; NGC 7789/M2; Double Cluster) • Southern Hemisphere Sky (SMC; LMC; Carina Nebula; Omega Centauri)


Part 4: Capturing the Cosmos

Part 4 expands astrophotography in this new edition into two essentially all-new chapters on capturing and processing images of the night sky. Our philosophy is to keep it simple, and to take it one step at a time. We focus on the use of DSLR and mirrorless cameras, and familiar software, to make astrophotography as easy as possible, yet still yield first-class results.

Chapter 17: Photographing the Sky

Chapter 17 provides advice on how to take publication-quality astrophotos with the camera you might already own, from phones to the newest mirrorless marvels. We cover nightscapes, sky trackers, and shooting the Moon through a telescope. We suggest the best gear for guided deep sky images through a telescope, with the emphasis on buying a good starter setup for under $3,000. We review the best practices for acquiring the finest images with the least noise and troublesome flaws that so often plague a beginner’s first attempts.
Topics • Getting Started: Phone Photography • Choosing a DSLR or DSLM Camera • Step One: Capturing Nightscapes • Step Two: Tracking the Sky • Step Three: Through a Telescope • Focusing the Camera • Choosing Deep Sky Gear • Step Four: Using Deep Sky Gear • Advanced Astrophotography


Chapter 18: Processing Astrophotos

Chapter 18 provides all-new step-by-step tutorials for processing nightscapes and deep sky images, with the workflow we used for all our astrophotos shown in our book. We use just Adobe Photoshop for all steps, employing functions in Photoshop often unknown to astrophotographers, and to implement a professional non-destructive workflow that allows any setting to be changed at any time.
Topics • Our Workflow • Other Workflows • Step One: Developing Raw Images • Step Two: Stacking Images in Photoshop • Step Three: Processing Nightscapes • Step Four: Processing Deep Sky Images • Advanced Deep Sky Processing


Appendix: Telescope Maintenance and Learning More

Our book ends with an Appendix containing detailed tutorials for:
Polar Alignment—Using polar scopes, apps and new polar alignment cameras, with instructions and charts for both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Cleaning Optics—Eyepieces, lenses and mirrors.
Collimating Optics—For both Newtonians and Schmidt-Cassegrains.
Testing Optics—How to perform critical star tests to evaluate telescope optics.
To Learn More—Includes a bibliography of recommended books and choice websites to explore each chapter’s topic further.


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