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Review: “Night Scenes 2017”

…and so we come to my final review of the guides to the night sky during the year ahead…

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The guides and yearbooks I’ve reviewed so far have all been commercial, professional publications – glossy and lavishly-illustrated, and available in every town’s newsagents and/or bookshops. “Night Scenes” is very different. It’s an amateur-produced publication, written by astronomer, writer and Outreacher Paul Money, who many people will know from “Sky At Night” magazine (he is their Reviews Editor) and the astronomy society guest speaker and lecture circuit.

That’s NOT to say “Night Scenes” isn’t professionally produced by Paul and his team. It certainly is. I’m just making the point that it’s not a mass-market publication like the other guides available from, say, Astronomy Now, Sky at Night magazine and Collins.

“Night Scenes” is, I don’t think he’ll mind me saying, a real labour of love for Paul, and reading it is like listening to one of his talks – there is so much crammed into it, so enthusiastically, it leaves you a little breathless! As you can see from the pic below, essentially it follows the same basic format as the other guides: each month has its own section, with an “all” sky chart showing the stars, constellations and planets, complemented by additional charts – Stellarium-generated with additional labelling – showing notable planetary conjunctions, eclipses, occultations and the paths of asteroids and comets. Unlike the other guides, tho, “Night Scenes” features monthly fold-out spreads…

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As you can probably tell from that pic, “Night Scenes” is a lot busier than the other publications; there’s not a spare centimetre on any page, with the text going tight up to the edge of the charts and diagrams, flowing around them like water, showing – in a good way – how it is more like an amateur-produced desk top publishing production than a professional one. and that’s not a criticism, just an observation. In fact, there’s so much on its pages you feel like you have to shut it very quickly in case everything slides off them and comes pouring out, like That Cupboard everyone has at home..!

But don’t let that busy look fool you. It’s busy in a good way. The guide is very informative and once you’ve got the hang of what its charts are showing and how to use them it will help absolute beginners and more experienced amateurs alike identify things in the night sky, and plan in advance when to look out for attractive gatherings of planets and close encounters between planets and the Moon…

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But they ALL do that, I know. So what makes this guide different, if indeed it is different?

Well, for a start there are no filler articles or features, and no adverts. It’s just a big bottle of freshly squeezed night sky watching with the pulp left in. And this guide is clearly written by a genuine sky-watcher, someone who stands out in the cold on those oh-so-rare clear UK nights and actually LOOKS AT STUFF UP THERE. As I have said many times before, the test of a good guide of this kind is to hear the author’s real voice when you read it, and “Night Scenes” passes that test with flying colours.

I asked Paul about his guide…

How long have you been producing the guide?

First one was for the year 2000, originally for my WEA classes, so I printed the first two years myself with my poor inkjet printer which finally went on strike! It was commercially printed the first time for the 2002 edition.

What made you start producing your own when there were already so many available commercially?

At the time there weren’t many available at all. The main rivals were actually the ones produced by the Times and FAS. Both did not feature full colour charts and with modern desktop publishing becoming available to anyone, I wanted to produce something different to the mainstream.

Who is the guide aimed at?

Anyone interested in looking up at the night sky with naked eye, some binoculars sights and a few that need a modest telescope. No experience required, just curiosity at seeing things like conjunctions between moon and planets/ stars etc.

Why do you think guides such as yours are still useful when there are phone and tablet apps that do the same thing?

It doesn’t require batteries and if used at night in the field, a red light torch is just the job compared with bright screens. Also, not all apps have an option for predicting in advance when something will happen, forewarned is to be prepared and NightScenes can be picked up and browsed easily to the month needed rather than messing about with time settings in an app.

So… if you’re looking for a big, glossy, luxurious guide to the night sky in 2017, lavishly illustrated with photos taken by “amateur” astronomers with kit so big and so expensive you will only ever own it in a dream, then follow this guy’s advice…

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But if you’re looking for a no frills practical observing guide to 2017’s sky events, written by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable observer, and don’t mind that it has typos on many pages or that most of its commas have gone absent without leave, then this will do you very well over the coming 12 months. Highly recommended.

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Night Scenes 2017

£7.00

Enquiries to ASTROSPACE PUBLICATIONS paul@astrospace.co.uk

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