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Sky Vistas by Craig Crossen

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#126 Tony Flanders

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Posted 12 May 2015 - 05:19 PM

Perhaps the reason you missed the details is because Sky Vistas got an ambivalent  review in one of the astronomy magaznes. Very unfortunate and  ungenerous review. The reviewer couldn't follow  the organization of the book and kept complaining about it. Crossen is an outstanding writer and an extraordinarily knowledgeable and scholarly person and deserved a much better review.


For any magazine to review this incredible work and say such a thing is absurd. It's always easy for critics to find issues with books. How about the overwhelming incredible heart and work Craig Crossen contributes? which far exceeds any idiosyncrasies. I got a comment for magazines. How about some in-dept information about objects instead of these boring and endless visual descriptions everyone has heard again and again and again and again a gazillion times over.


Bill still hasn't forgiven me for my review. Fortunately, Craig has. One of my best experiences at S&T was editing his recent superb recent series of articles on the Milky Way.

I have always had extremely high regard for Craig Crossen, starting with his wonderful book Binocular Astronomy. And for that matter, I also have extremely high regard for his co-author Gerald Rhemann, one of the finest astrophotographers working today. And as I noted in my review, the book at its best is truly superb.

However, I also still think that Sky Vistas has some serious flaws; I don't retract anything I said then. But if I were to write the review today, it would place the emphasis differently and also, perhaps, be somewhat more tactful.

Edited by Tony Flanders, 12 May 2015 - 05:21 PM.

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#127 LivingNDixie

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Posted 13 May 2015 - 11:11 AM

I think books are much tougher to review, then say a eyepiece or scope. What one person loves another hates. It really comes down to personal taste.
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#128 Tony Flanders

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Posted 13 May 2015 - 01:49 PM

I think books are much tougher to review, then say a eyepiece or scope. What one person loves another hates. It really comes down to personal taste.


The ideal review -- either of a book or a piece of equipment -- should tell the reader whether he (or she) wants to buy it, not necessarily whether the reviewer would buy it.

Obviously, that's easier said than done.

#129 desertstars

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Posted 13 May 2015 - 02:53 PM

Definitely easier said than done. I reviewed a few books here on CN early on. Honest reactions by a reviewer are not always appreciated as such, believe me.

 

As an author myself, I find that an honest and civil review that points out both perceived flaws and successes in a book is far more valuable to me than fannish gushing. Not that I don't love a uniformly positive review, now and then, but when a reader makes me rethink what I've done, more than likely I'll learn something in the process.



#130 Crossen

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 05:41 AM

In my personal opinion the two main flaws of Sky Vistas are in the Introduction and in Chapter 5: Stars, Globulars, Planetaries.  In his Sky & Telescope review, Tony Flanders pointed out that the Intro has no illustrations.  Because the Intro is essentially a summary of deep-space astrophysics, this is indeed a fault.  However, as I shall explain in a moment, I was under time and space constraints that made it difficult for me to provide illustrations for the Intro.

 

Double and variable stars, globular clusters, and planetary nebulae are not ideal objects for low-power, wide-field instruments like binoculars and RFTs, so I put them together in Chapter 5.  Again because of space constraints, I was forced to write about them rather summarily.  I particularly regret not being able to say more about globular clusters as tracers of our Galaxy's structure and history because these are fascinating subjects.

 

Gerald and I signed the contract with Springer-Verlag Vienna/New York for Sky Vistas on October 21, 2002.  The contract stipulated that we were to have the text and photos completely finished by April 30, 2003.  Now, Sky Vistas is a rather long book.  Fortunately, I had rather extensive, carefully-written observing notes on virtually all the objects that I intended to include in the book, otherwise I could never have met that deadline.  In fact I fortunately had re-written and expanded those observing notes just the previous summer.

 

At an early stage in the production, Springer decided that all the pages of the book, and not only the color plates, should be high-quality, heavy-stock, glossy print:  it would give the book a classier look.  To prevent Sky Vistas from being hugely expensive, our editor asked me to keep its page-count below 300.  In the event it ran to 320.  But this meant that some things would have to be treated more succinctly than others.  First priority would obviously be objects seen at their best in wide-field instruments:  Milky Way star clouds and dust clouds, large emission nebulae, large open clusters, and stellar associations.  I also decided to emphasize galaxies because the whole idea of observing galaxies with binoculars is rather unusual, and certain nearby galaxy clusters are splendid richest-field objects.

 

I also knew that one of the most original features of Sky Vistas would be the 3-dimensional approach I would take in describing individual objects, putting them into Galactic and even intergalactic depth perspective.  The rather unusual structure of Sky Vistas from Chapter 2 to 4 is intended to assist the reader/observer in thinking about the heavens 3-dimentionally, even in sections of the book which do not discuss Galactic and intergalactic depth perspective explicitly.  Tony particularly criticized the structure of Sky Vistas.  However, whatever its flaws, I would not change that structure; it is a unique approach to writing about observational astronomy and no newly-cut path is perfectly level or straight.

 

But what I would do, if I had Sky Vistas to do over again, is provide that Introduction with illustrations.

 

Craig Crossen


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#131 Tony Flanders

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 02:45 PM


Gerald and I signed the contract with Springer-Verlag Vienna/New York for Sky Vistas on October 21, 2002.  The contract stipulated that we were to have the text and photos completely finished by April 30, 2003. 

Ouch! Writing a major book in six months is almost inconceivably fast.


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#132 Crossen

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Posted 19 May 2015 - 01:00 PM

 


Gerald and I signed the contract with Springer-Verlag Vienna/New York for Sky Vistas on October 21, 2002.  The contract stipulated that we were to have the text and photos completely finished by April 30, 2003. 

Ouch! Writing a major book in six months is almost inconceivably fast.

 

Thanks for the compliment, Tony, but it was not as much work as it sounds.  As I said in my previous post, I had the descriptions of the objects I meant to include in the book practically already in final draft already.  Most of the observing that went into Sky Vistas I did from April to October 1998, and my routine had been to write rough notes in the field and then rewrite them either right away or the next morning.  In the summer of 2002 I rewrote all those notes in hopes of including them in a book on deep-space observing with binoculars and RFTs--the book that became Sky Vistas.  So from October 2002  to April 2003 my main job was to combine the astrophysical information I had about these objects with these descriptions--a big enough job by itself, in all truth.

 

During those months, I also did considerable library research in the technical astrophysical journals to make sure that my astronomical data was as current as possible.  The Introduction was also based on an extensive sketch that I had written a couple years earlier, so it did not need to be written from scratch either.  However, the problem with the Intro was how much of that extended sketch to cut:  it had to include all the basics about deep-space astronomy, but could not be much more than a summary or review because of the book's page limitations.  But as I said, if I had it to do all over again, I would have found some things to cut in the main body of the book to make room for illustrations in the Intro.

 

During this whole process, Gerald and I were in constant communication, though we worked individually.  And the editorial staff at Springer-Verlag Vienna/New York here in Vienna, and especially our supervising editor Mr. Petrie-Wieder, were extremely helpful.  The deadline for us to turn in text and photos was April 30, 2003.  I sent the text in on April 29--but less from needing all that time to finish it than from the determination to work on the text as long as possible to make it as good as possible.

 

Craig Crossen


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#133 Daniel Mounsey

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Posted 06 July 2015 - 10:21 PM

Craig,

 

Going through those astrophysical journals must be a hell of a process and a lot of work. 



#134 Tony Flanders

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Posted 07 July 2015 - 04:12 AM

Craig,

 

Going through those astrophysical journals must be a hell of a process and a lot of work. 

I used to edit Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders column for Sky & Telescope. Whenever I would question any of the scientific facts in it, she would fire off the list of articles she had read before starting to write the column. She probably reads 100 pages of dense scientific prose for every 3-page article.

 

When your subject is the entire universe -- or at least our own galaxy -- there's no limit on how much research you can or should do!


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#135 Daniel Mounsey

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Posted 07 July 2015 - 08:27 AM

Tony, I recall hearing about that. I have to hand it to her, it's a ton of work. Ironically, there appears to be less astrophysical information in her columns, relative to Sky Vistas but she does tap into some interesting astrophysical data in some of the columns and Sue a very nice lady. I think the combination of the data and the visual observation are both good to share. I almost get the feeling there's nothing left for her to see in the northern hemisphere. She's done a good job covering objects.  



#136 Rick Woods

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Posted 07 July 2015 - 10:05 AM

A good combination, that: Willing to read all that stuff, able to understand it all, and able to write about it clearly.


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#137 Crossen

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Posted 08 July 2015 - 06:04 AM

Craig,

 

Going through those astrophysical journals must be a hell of a process and a lot of work. 

It was not as much work as it sounds because of the organization of the technical journal articles.  Basically all one needs to read are an article's Abstract, Introduction, and Conclusion.  The Discussion usually requires just a careful scan, only occasionally a real reading.  Between the Introduction and the Discussion is a description of the observing methods and data reduction techniques that are of interest only to active researchers.

 

Moreover, there is often a great deal of repetition between articles that are about the same subject or type of object.  For example, articles on specific white dwarfs or on WDs as a whole usually begin with an Introduction about the state of our understanding of WD stars that vary little from article to article.  The descriptions of methods of observing and data reduction, especially on similar objects, also vary little from article to article.  The increase in the number of pages published monthly by the technical journals is something of an illusion:  it is significantly greater than the actual increase in our astronomical knowledge.

 

 

Something else that facilitates my researches in the technical literature is the fact that I have a specific focus:  the local and global structure of our Galaxy.  Unfortunately, articles that deal specifically with Galactic astronomy, local or global, are relatively rare.  This is a consequence of the hyper-specialization that is encouraged in the field.  Research in Galactic astronomy is something that requires broad-based knowledge.  The technical journal articles of most use to me are those on stellar associations and on open and globular clusters, and on the distribution and dynamics of dust and gas clouds.  Articles on the structure of other spiral galaxies are also helpful.  Sometimes there is valuable information in the Discussions of such articles that is not mentioned in the Abstract or Conclusions.  For example, a 1993 photometric study of NGC 6603 in Sagittarius also included information about a photometric study of the M24 Small Sagittarius Star Cloud, but said nothing at all about it in the Abstract.

 

Craig Crossen


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#138 Tony Flanders

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Posted 08 July 2015 - 10:02 AM

Something else that facilitates my researches in the technical literature is the fact that I have a specific focus:  the local and global structure of our Galaxy.  Unfortunately, articles that deal specifically with Galactic astronomy, local or global, are relatively rare.  This is a consequence of the hyper-specialization that is encouraged in the field.

Actually, I think it's mostly due to the extreme difficulty of obtaining data on this subject. Optical results differ from radio results, and neither seems terribly reliable.

I have great hopes for Gaia in shedding light on this subject -- at least the part of the galaxy between us and the core, which isn't too badly obscured by dust. For instance, a long-standing question is to what extent star clouds are real structures versus everyday Milky Way stars framed by dust. Gaia should answer that pretty categorically.



#139 Rick Woods

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Posted 09 July 2015 - 12:09 AM

 

Craig,

 

Going through those astrophysical journals must be a hell of a process and a lot of work. 

It was not as much work as it sounds because of the organization of the technical journal articles.  Basically all one needs to read are an article's Abstract, Introduction, and Conclusion.  The Discussion usually requires just a careful scan, only occasionally a real reading.  Between the Introduction and the Discussion is a description of the observing methods and data reduction techniques that are of interest only to active researchers.

 

 

Well jeez, I wish someone had told me that before I read all those dense first-source paper books on Mars! I was thinking "OMG, this is hard, how do other people do it??"



#140 wargrafix

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Posted 09 July 2015 - 06:59 AM

I think that what happened was the intent of the book and execution of the book had divergent results. The review was fair, because he gives an opinion based on the presentation of the book and unlike some publications which never really talk of the negatives, he listed the concerns which may lessen the experience as a reader.



#141 Crossen

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Posted 12 July 2015 - 06:05 AM

 

Something else that facilitates my researches in the technical literature is the fact that I have a specific focus:  the local and global structure of our Galaxy.  Unfortunately, articles that deal specifically with Galactic astronomy, local or global, are relatively rare.  This is a consequence of the hyper-specialization that is encouraged in the field.

Actually, I think it's mostly due to the extreme difficulty of obtaining data on this subject. Optical results differ from radio results, and neither seems terribly reliable.

I have great hopes for Gaia in shedding light on this subject -- at least the part of the galaxy between us and the core, which isn't too badly obscured by dust. For instance, a long-standing question is to what extent star clouds are real structures versus everyday Milky Way stars framed by dust. Gaia should answer that pretty categorically.

 

Yes, Tony, there certainly is a lack of hard astrophysical data on the well-known star clouds of our Galaxy (though it's been a couple years since I line-blanketed the journals in search of information about them).  That such structures do exist is evident from photos of other spiral galaxies:  NGC 206 in the Andromeda Spiral is one of the most conspicuous cases for small scopes.  The article I mentioned in my earlier post found an age of 600 million years for the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud field around NGC 6603, which is in the star cloud's foreground.  This means the star cloud is composed of a medium-age stellar population and therefore must be a relatively stable structure.  But obviously a lot more research is needed on these objects, and probably not all the star clouds we see from our vantage-point in the Galaxy are 'real'.  The nature and ages of star clouds has direct relevance to theories of spiral arm formation.

 

I would again say that that research in such multi-faceted topics in astrophysics as star clouds is seriously hampered by the over-specialization that is endemic to the field.  During my two years of graduate study I observed that the Astrophysics Department of the University of Minnesota actively discouraged avenues of enquiry and research that were not sharply specialized.  This close-minded attitude toward methods of research unquestionably retards progress in the field.

 

Craig Crossen


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