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Astronomy Hacks: Tips and Tools for…

Astronomy Hacks: Tips and Tools for Observing the Night Sky

by Robert Bruce Thompson

Series: Hacks

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Astronomy Hacks owes its title to the distant days when hacking was a complimentary term, referring to a quick and dirty but generally clever way to fix some technical problem. Particularly in the software industry, hacking traditionally implied creative participation and sharing ideas, an ethic which still underpins developments such as open source code. In Astronomy Hacks, the authors – a husband and wife team from North Carolina, USA – have compiled their knowledge and experience into 65 well documented “hacks”, with the stated aim of helping new astronomers to find their way over the initial learning hump, spend their money wisely, and bypass the frustrations that plague many beginners.

The hacks are organised into four chapters. Getting Started (Hacks 1-10), aimed very much at complete beginners, covers basics such as joining an astronomy club, observing site etiquette, and how to dress for warmth on a cold night, but also includes two lengthy and thoughtfully written essays on choosing the best binocular (Hack 8) and choosing the best general purpose telescope (Hack 9). Regardless of whether or not you agree with their conclusions – the authors are big fans of 6” – 10” Dobsonians – their discussion emphasises important practicalities all beginners should think about (ease of use, portability), and is full of sound advice.

Observing Hacks (Hacks 11-32) deals with basic observing skills, such as protecting your dark adaptation, printing and interpreting custom star charts, star hopping, and logging observations. My favourite (Hack 19) is easily the simplest. Ever get tired of constantly shuttling between eyepiece and chart table, trying to relate the chart to what you see through the eyepiece? Use fridge magnets to mount your charts directly beside the eyepiece, so you can switch views without having to move.
Scope Hacks (Hacks 33-43) gives detailed and very practical advice on how to fine tune a Newtonian for best performance, including centre spotting your mirror, cleaning the primary mirror, collimation, and minimising astigmatism. Collimation strikes many beginners as a black art, but it’s safe to say that – if you don’t feel comfortable giving it a go after reading this chapter – you should consider swapping your Newtonian for a refractor. Several hacks are specific to Dobsonians, reflecting the authors view that such instruments, by their very nature, are inherently well suited for hacking. As the introduction to this chapter puts it, buy a refractor or SCT and you’ve bought a scope; buy a Dob and you’ve bought an ongoing project.
Accessory Hacks (Hacks 44-65) includes eyepiece selection and management, how and why to use a Barlow; upgrading your finderscope; choosing and using filters; and more advanced improvements such as building an equatorial platform for a Dob. Before treating myself to a unit power finder last year I scoured the internet for guidance as to the relative merits of a Telrad versus a Rigel QuikFinder, but without success. Hack 53 covers this in detail. (The verdict? I won’t go wrong with the QuikFinder, but would have done better to buy a Telrad because of its 4º field of view…)

As is all too common with astronomy books generally, Astronomy Hacks is almost oblivious to the fact that many astronomers live south of the equator. Hacks 29 and 30 devote 20 pages to planning and running a Messier marathon, which is strictly a northern hemisphere pursuit. Hack 56, on using angular separations between easily recognised stars to gauge your finderscope’s actual field of view, is limited to Ursa Major and Cassiopeia, neither of which rises high enough to be readily observable south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Nor does the book delve into hacks for the more advanced astronomer: astrophotography is mentioned only briefly, and techniques for accurate polar alignment not at all. But these are minor criticisms, and are unlikely to bother beginning astronomers who are the author’s intended audience. For such readers, Astronomy Hacks is a useful and welcome addition to the astronomical literature, full of eminently practical advice and observing tips so clearly explained that anyone should be able to make them work.

(adapted from CASMag, March 2006)
  caslib | Mar 31, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0596100604, Paperback)

Why use the traditional approach to study the stars when you can turn computers, handheld devices, and telescopes into out-of-this-world stargazing tools? Whether you're a first timer or an advanced hobbyist, you'll find Astronomy Hacks both useful and fun. From upgrading your optical finder to photographing stars, this book is the perfect cosmic companion.

This handy field guide covers the basics of observing, and what you need to know about tweaking, tuning, adjusting, and tricking out a 'scope. Expect priceless tips and tools for using a Dobsonian Telescope, the large-aperture telescope you can inexpensively build in your garage. Get advice on protocols involved with using electronics including in dark places without ruining the party.

Astronomy Hacks begins the space exploration by getting you set up with the right equipment for observing and admiring the stars in an urban setting. Along for the trip are first rate tips for making most of observations. The hacks show you how to:

Dark-Adapt Your Notebook Computer Choose the Best Binocular Clean Your Eyepieces and Lenses Safely Upgrade Your Optical Finder Photograph the Stars with Basic Equipment The O'Reilly Hacks series has reclaimed the term "hacking" to mean innovating, unearthing, and creating shortcuts, gizmos, and gears. With these hacks, you don't dream it-you do it--and Astronomy Hacks brings space dreams to life. The book is essential for anyone who wants to get the most out of an evening under the stars and have memorable celestial adventures.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:59 -0400)

Astronomy Hacks begins the space exploration by getting you set up with the right equipment for observing and admiring the stars in an urban setting. Along for the trip are first rate tips for making most of observations. The hacks show you how to: Dark-Adapt Your Notebook Computer. Choose the Best Binocular. Clean Your Eyepieces and Lenses Safely. Upgrade Your Optical Finder. Photograph the Stars with Basic Equipment.… (more)

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