Thank you...

... for taking the time to stop by. I hope some of these ponderings will resonate with you.

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(Unless stated otherwise, all text & pictures are © Lee Labuschagne, all rights reserved.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 15: Nightwatch

"Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another" - Plato

Nightwatch by Terence Dickinson

Terence Dickinson's astronomy books are bestsellers.  Nightwatch, in particular, has been a runaway success.  According to its publishers, it has been called "the best general interest introduction to astronomy" and the three editions sold more than 600 000 copies.  It is in its fourth edition now, and is sure to sell hundreds of thousands more.

I was introduced to this book by my dear Canadian friend Ken Hewitt-White, who is also a well-known astronomy writer and speaker.  I own many astronomy books, but this one is certainly one of my favourites.  Another one of Dickenson's books, The Universe and Beyond, will also feature in this 1+1+1 project, because like Nightwatch, it is not only well researched, presented and illustrated, but the text is accessible and he has the knack of enthusing his readers.

The Nightwatch focus is on skywatching as from the Northern hemisphere, and therefore the star charts  and discussions of particular areas of the sky are those that apply more to the North. But Southerners will also enjoy his approach, for he makes you want to go out and "look up".  As editor of the Canadian astronomy magazine SkyNews (I was lucky enough once to have been gifted a subscription to this magazine by another Canadian friend, Phillippa Williams, so I know it well), Dickinson really knows what he is talking about and knows how to convery that knowledge.

Like most writers of good astronomy guides, Dickinson puts things in perspective.   The first chapters look at the universe as a whole and he also talks briefly about the scope and size of the cosmos.  But then he starts talking about the practical side of things and covers all the most important things you need to know - from equipment to general observations of the planets and the "highlights" of  the night sky.  He tells you how to use star charts, how to observe double stars, comets, the moon...

Although most of these topics are also covered in other guides, Nightwatch is distinguished by its format (the ring binding makes it perfect for frequent use), good illustrations and the way in which practical advice is woven into an easy-to-read narrative. Although it does not cover all 88 constellations, there is more than enough to start with.  It contains among others sky charts for the different seasons  in two formats (one showing just the stars, one with a white background with labels and constellation stick figures) and also star charts for 19 areas of the sky. 

For Southern observers and those who are interested in more popular astronomy books: in the next few weeks and months I'll also feature some of the star guides specifically written for the Southern Hemisphere, but also some more specialised books.

In this context I could not resist adding a bonus quote by Henry Van Dyke: "Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars.”


Late afternoon on a rainy day in Cape Town.  The person standing at the rail is Richard Berry, another author of astronomy books who specialises in books about telescope building.  He visited South Africa for the ScopeEx exhibition in Johannesburg but also came to the Cape and got to know some of the local astronomy buffs

Picture & text: © Lee Labuschagne - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

I mention the Canadian astronomy magazine "Skynews" above.  Here is their website:


  1. Nightwatch is THE best observing guide ever. It's clear and informative, and the star maps are easy to read and easy to see thanks to the spiral binding. I was able to find the Coathanger Cluster thanks to them. It was one of the first books I purchased in 2001 when I caught the bug. It is STILL my absolute favorite.

    And GORGEOUS picture of the ocean! WOW!

  2. Glad you like the picture, Amy. So good to see some of my astonomy friends looking in here!

    Nightwatch is really special, isn't it?

    I hope you will become a regular visitor here. You can subscribe by becoming a follower - click the tab at the top or the one at right above the National Geography pictures.


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