The ideal introduction to astronomy in the city.
These days, skywatchers do not have to live close to a city or town center to suffer from the effects of light pollution. According to the National Park Service, city lights as far as 200 miles away diminish views of night skies. So even in a remote field, the sky above may be part of the "sky glow" of the surrounding city or town. Weather might be an issue too, as it is for all skywatchers. Nevertheless, there are many celestial delights to be seen.
Urban Astronomy shows that nighttime lighting and the resultant brightening of the sky can be combatted and demonstrates how to make the best of poor conditions. Although the unaided eye may be able to pick out only a few hundred stars, binoculars or a small telescope will reveal many times that number.
A little optical aid can also give you good views of every type of major astronomical object, including star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. For example, there are special filters that let through the light from distant nebulae while blocking out wavelengths infested by unwanted stray light from streetlights. Modern CCDs allow modest amateur telescopes to penetrate the urban sky glow and reveal sights that would have taxed larger instruments 30 years ago.
The book also covers:
The book's nine chapters cover the basics of successful urban viewing, its "enemies" -- weather and streetlights -- and explain how to choose viewing targets and arm yourself with the right "weapons and ammunition" to find them. The book also covers indoor astronomy.
Urban Astronomy is an ideal guide to skywatching while combating light pollution. It will show you how to get the most out of almost any sky.
Robin Scagell is a long-serving vice president of Britain's Society for Popular Astronomy. A lifelong stargazer, he has worked as an observer and photographer, and as a journalist has edited a wide range of popular-interest magazines. Robin is the author of several popular astronomy books, and has contributed to many other publications. He often appears on television, commenting on events in space and astronomy, and runs an astronomical picture agency.
In London's Regents Park, a throng of people gather each month after dark for a star party. They call themselves the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, after the fictional Sherlock Holmes' gang of local informants, the Baker Street Irregulars. Despite observing in a most unpromising location, they manage to observe a wide range of objects, including deep-sky favorites such as galaxies, planetary nebulae and star clusters. While the views they get of such wonders aren't as good as those from dark-sky sites, they prove the point that city observing is not a waste of time.
But this book is not just about observing from the middle of a big city. More amateur astronomers than ever now have to face the problems of light pollution. You may live in the leafy outskirts of a pleasant small town yet still be unable to see the Milky Way. And even well away from the bright lights, light pollution is still evident. You can be in what seems to be a remote country site, with no habitation or artificial lighting visible for miles, but when you try to photograph the Milky Way, for example, the background rapidly turns brown from the lights of cities well beyond your immediate horizon. Even if the sky overhead is black, lower down you see the familiar skyglow.
Despite this, amateur astronomy is still as popular as ever, with new technology helping to overcome what the streetlights have robbed from us. And purely visual observers, armed with no more than a telescope, can still enjoy good views by choosing their moment and their targets. Writing for the first edition of this book in 1994, veteran US observer Leif Robinson recalled his first ever observation as a child using a small telescope propped on a staircase: the double star Albireo, with its contrasting yellow and blue hues. The good news is that this delight still awaits observers wherever they live, as do many more.
This book is as much for relative newcomers to astronomy as it is for those who have been observing for years. I have had to assume that you are familiar with the basics of observing, so if you don't know what an equatorial mount is, or whether first-magnitude stars are brighter than sixth-magnitude ones, then please look in a more general book. My own Firefly Stargazing with a Telescope covers this, and more.
In Chapter 4, I cover observations that you can carry out from light-polluted skies that have a practical use, but the fact is that the vast majority of amateur astronomers observe for fun, cherry-picking the objects that are around, rather than engage in programs of work. You don't have to be a dedicated observer in order to call yourself an amateur astronomer, but around 90 percent of all amateurs probably don't observe regularly or have a particular subject area that they are interested in. If this is you, don't worry -- you're in good company, me included.
I hope this book will help you to discover what you can see, and encourage you get out there and look -- or maybe regain the enthusiasm that deserted you when the night sky got brighter. The Universe is still out there and waiting to enthrall you.