This is the first in an occasional series about The Observer’s Book series.
My 1964 copy of The Observer’s Book of Astronomy hasn’t had a dust jacket for a long time; the spine is faded, the front and back boards are a bit grubby. The author’s name isn’t on the cover, but look inside at the title page and there’s a name most of will recognise: Patrick Moore. Who else could it be?
There aren’t many astronomers whose names most people instantly recognise, but Sir Patrick Moore, (he was knighted in 2001) is certainly one. As the presenter of BBC TV’s The Sky at Night he did much to make astronomy more popular. He presented the programme from 1957 until shortly before his death at the end of 2012.
Every time I read this book, I can hear him speaking in his usual rapid-fire way; it makes me read more quickly so I can keep up. See if you find the same:
“The Moon is the Earth’s only natural satellite. It is a very minor body, but its closeness to us makes it appear far more splendid than any object in the sky apart from the sun, and we tend to imagine that it is much more important than is really the case. Its diameter is 2,160 miles, and its average distance from the Earth is slightly less than 239,000 miles”
See what I mean?
Here’s another excerpt:
“On a winter evening Orion may be seen in the south, his pattern quite unmistakable both because of its distinctive shape and because of the brilliance of its stars. From it we may find not only Sirius but also many important groups such as Taurus (the bull), Gemini (the Twins) and Auriga (the charioteer or wagoner). Capella, in Auriga, is almost directly overhead.
His enthusiasm shines through and while there’s lots of information crammed into each paragraph, it is presented in a clear and simple style that makes me want to know more. This book is written for the beginner and It’s a great introduction to the night sky.
Amongst the plates showing the solar system and further away objects, there’s a picture of the Sputnik satellite, and a telescope on the cheap and nasty pillar and claw stand; this type of stand is “virtually useless” and “unsteady as a jelly” advised Patrick Moore. A sturdy tripod is much better.
The endpapers show a map of the heavens, with the main constellations shown. The book comes, as the title page says:
“With 64 plates
in colour and black and white
including 16 specially drawn
by L. F. BALL”
This is an interesting and entertaining book, and it doesn’t matter that what we know about the universe, and that the equipment we can now use to observe it has moved on; much of the advice and information is still perfectly sound.
The Observer's Book of Astronomy, by Patrick Moore.