Astronomy Hacks

Front Cover
"O'Reilly Media, Inc.", 2005 - Nature - 388 pages

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.
 

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This book is unique--the single best book I have ever seen on learning to observe with a telescope. Whether it's doing the math on the best low-power eyepiece for your particular scope, or measuring the true field of view of your eyepiece, or how to collimate your Newtonian, or why you need a Telrad finder, or the correct way to counterbalance your Dobsonian--it doesn't get any better than this for plain, clear and entertaining explanations.
The book does get comically OCD at times, meaning that you probably aren't going to light-proof your car, wear a pirate's eyepatch to preserve your dark adaptation, or even do a Messier marathon (personally I'd rather drive needles under my fingernails.) You don't have to wait for a full-moon night to sight in your Telrad. You aren't going to cook every recipe in the cookbook, either, but so far as I can tell, every suggestion is actually a good one. I'll probably work up to some that now seem a little outlandish as I gain experience.
Two problems with the book--given the speed with which equipment evolves, or is at least taken off the market, there is way too much discussion of specific makes and models of equipment. The discussions are still useful but they're getting dated. And the authors have far too little to say about refractors, or really any scope that isn't an 8- to 12-inch Dobsonian. On the other hand, I should have started with an 8" Dobsonian rather than an 80mm. achromat--and so should you.
And the most basic point--this book is about visual astronomy--no go-to scopes, no photography. If it's being out under the starry sky that you like, in the still of the night, this is still the way to go.
 

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About the author (2005)

Robert Bruce Thompson is a coauthor of O'Reilly's Building the Perfect PC and PC Hardware in a Nutshell. A born geek, he built his first computer in 1976 with 256 bytes of memory, toggle switches, and no operating system. Since then, he has bought, built, upgraded, and repaired hundreds of PCs for himself, employers, customers, friends, and clients. Robert spends most clear, moonless nights outdoors with his 10-inch Dobsonian reflector telescope, hunting down faint fuzzies, and is currently designing a larger truss-tube Dobsonian (computerized, of course) that he plans to build.

Barbara Fritchman Thompson, the coauthor of Building the Perfect PC and PC Hardware in a Nutshell, worked for 20 years as a librarian before starting her own home-based consulting practice, Research Solutions. She's also a researcher for the law firm Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge, & Rice, PLLC. During her leisure hours, Barbara reads, works out, plays golf, and, like Robert, is an avid amateur astronomer.

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