Review: The Complete Guide To The Herschel Objects
by Fred Rayworth
There are plenty of observing guides out there and I have a few of them. However, none specifically target an observing catalog I’m pursuing in the way this book does. Far from being a collection of star charts, this tome is more of a guide of descriptions of what to expect for each object, rather than where they’re actually located.
The book starts with a few introductory chapters on the Herschels, not only William, but his sister Caroline and his son John. They tell of how he first came into astronomy, telescope making and his obsession with discovering new objects. Though these short chapters only take up a fraction of the book, they’re a fascinating read. By far, the majority of the book is consumed by the descriptions of each of the 2,435 objects the author filtered down based on errors from the original lists of between 2,478 and 2,511 objects. This is a great help, especially to anyone who has the original lists or any of the computer-generated lists off the net. Within these pages are real observations of objects, not mistakes. That makes pursuit of the complete Herschel list all the more real.
Each chapter is broken down as a constellation. It starts with an introduction and history of who discovered what and when, including credits from other and overlapping discoverers.
As for the descriptions themselves, the author has visually observed each one. The first part of the description is usually taken from a Deep Sky Survey (DSS) image, followed by the author’s visual description. Sometimes, especially for many of the more spectacular (or visually interesting) objects, there will be either a DSS image or the authors drawing. He also includes some data and abbreviations if you’re into that. I personally could care less about that gobbletygook. It goes right over my head. I want it in plain English.
My interest is purely the visual observations. The author’s instruments ranged from an 8-inch SCT to a 15-inch Dobsonian, though on one occasion in New Mexico, he used a 24-inch Dobsonian but I’m not sure if it affected any of his descriptions as I haven’t run across any of them yet. Since I’m using a 16-inch Dobsonian, I can assume that all 2,435 objects are within reach of my telescope. The whole point of purchasing this book was to use it to help me find the rest of the Herschels. At the time of purchase, I had already found 1,119 of them. One could say I’ve found the easiest of the bunch, but that’s not necessarily the case.
I noticed that the magnitudes listed by the author don’t always coincide with what’s listed in my primary source, Megastar. There seems to be quite a disparity, though I’ve never quite gone with magnitudes as absolutes anyway… more as guidelines. I have found that magnitudes can vary widely depending on the source, so I have to take them with a grain of salt. Sometimes I think they should just say faint, fainter and forget about it.
The book is well put together, college textbook quality, hardback and the print quality is top notch. The author, being Canadian, uses the Queen’s English, so the spelling of certain words is a bit off compared to the American way of things, but by no means is it poorly written. However, during the intro chapters, the author tends to repeat things a bit, rehashing facts several times from chapter to chapter. I give him a pass on that because it was still a fascinating read.
I’d be tempted to take this tome out in the field, but I hesitate to do so because of not only the price, but the quality and durability for field work. This is a book I’d want to study beforehand which is what I got it for in the first place. I never intended it for the field. My goal was to print my charts for the evening, study the objects I would shoot for so I’d know what I should expect to see, then go for it. This book is perfect for that.
If you’re a deep-sky observing enthusiast, out to conquer the Herschel 2,400, this is the best book out there. Not only will it define these objects, it will clear up many of the fuzzy areas, give a what-to-expect for each object, and spur you on your way. Highly recommended.