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Annals of the Deep Sky, Volumes One and Two

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Annals of the Deep Sky, Volumes One and Two

Jeff Kanipe and Dennis Webb

Willman-Bell, Inc. 2015

$24.95 each

This past summer (2015) saw the release of the first two volumes of an ambitious new astronomy series written by Jeff Kanipe and Dennis Webb, the authors of the well-received book, The Arp Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies: A Chronicle and Observer's Guide. The series carries the lofty title of Annals of the Deep Sky, and has already been compared favorably to the much-loved Burnham’s Celestial Handbook. I first learned of these books here on Cloudy Nights, where they were praised as a “stunning new celestial companion,” before they were even released. Such pre-publication hype left me both interested and a little skeptical. (At the time, I was not familiar with The Arp Atlas or with its authors, and so the reason for the optimism was lost on me.) When the books became available locally, I decided to see for myself, and my initial impression led me to buy and immediately read both volumes.

These books are meant, by the stated intentions of the authors, to enlighten both observers and imagers regarding the nature of the objects they view, and to provide a broader general knowledge of astronomy and astrophysics in the process. The objects selected are discussed in terms of the most recent astrophysical data available on them.  Comparisons with Burnham’s work are inevitable, and not entirely inappropriate; the authors of Annals of the Deep Sky clearly share the love and enthusiasm Burnham had for his subject. The focus on the science of astronomy and astrophysics is sharper, however, than Burnham’s, and there is much less of the anthropological and archaeological material Burnham added to so many of his discussions. Instead, the reader is offered a healthy dose of science history. The pathways astronomers have followed to reach our current understanding are retraced using historical overviews that illustrate how the science of astronomy has evolved. The tales of discovery include biographical information of the principle investigators involved. The history of astronomy is a fascinating story in its own right, and melding it with the picture of the universe that developed as a result of that history, definitely adds to the appeal of these books. All of this information is presented in a writing style that presents the data and concepts discussed in a straightforward manner, while still conveying the enthusiasm of the authors. As a result, these books go beyond merely providing information, and are a pleasure to read.

The books are organized by constellation, in alphabetical order. The discussion of objects in a given constellation starts with prominent stars or stars of particular scientific interest, and then proceeds outward to ever more distant deep sky objects visible within the official boundaries of that constellation. At the end of each constellation section, charts are included that illustrate the three-dimensional aspect of the slice of sky involved. The objects discussed appear to have been chosen partly for their popularity with observers and imagers, but also in some cases to illustrate concepts of astrophysics. As a result, some objects are covered that would not necessarily make excellent targets for a backyard telescope, but make for fascinating reading all the same.

In these opening volumes of the series you find a couple of features of special interest. Volume One starts with a pair of chapters (120 pages of the book) covering astronomy and astrophysics (“An Introduction to Basic Astronomy” and “Descriptive Astrophysics” respectively). The latter was especially useful to me, since my study of such matters has always been a bit informal, and I needed a concentrated dose (so to speak) to get the most out of the material that followed. The end of Volume Two includes a seventy-three-page glossary of “Essential Terminology” that could best be described as comprehensive. (Volume Two also begins with a dedication to the late Robert Burnham Jr.) Fortunately, I looked both books over before beginning to read, knew the glossary was there in Volume Two, and could put the material to good use in Volume One.

The physical quality of the books deserves some mention. The print style and white (instead of cream-colored) paper makes them easy to read for those of us in the bifocal brigade. The illustrations are clean and well-defined, all of them in black-and-white, but none with the muddy quality you sometimes see when B&W is used as a cost-cutting measure. These are paperbacks, however, and while well-bound and with sturdy covers, don’t lend themselves to be opened flat or exposed to dew. Used as ordinary reference books, however, they should have a long shelf life. This isn’t to say you can’t use them at the eyepiece, but for my purposes and preference they work best at the desk as handy reference material, or in the easy chair for reading pleasure on a cloudy night.

These are not, strictly speaking, observing guides. There isn’t much information on locating objects, although there are Telrad finder charts included, nor are there any long descriptions of what you are likely to see in the eyepiece, as you would find in a work by French or O’Meara. The density of other types of information – and the authors do pack a lot of information into these books – was such that I didn’t realize the above until I read Alan MacRobert’s review in the December 2015 Sky & Telescope. While it’s true these books are lacking in this regard, I can’t say it really matters, given their general purpose.

There were, in the first volume especially, some awkward editorial blunders, the sort of thing a copy editor really should have caught. I’m talking about misspelled words, mostly, with a few word usage errors. These stood out the way they did because everything else was such a smooth read. (They are also being corrected in future printings, according to a comment on Annals of the Deep Sky Facebook page.)

These first two volumes worked for me on more than one level. They served as a refresher course on some basic matters of astrophysics and astronomy history. They provided new insights into stars and objects I thought I knew well, and they introduced me to a number of new objects and concepts. On their Facebook page for these books, the authors state that there will be “at least” ten volumes needed to cover all the constellations. Exactly how many there will be is apparently still an open question, depending presumably on the amount of material the authors find for their work, and how much of it they manage to squeeze in.  The third volume (according to Alan MacRobert’s S&T review of these books) is due out in January 2016. Whenever that actually happens, I’m looking forward to it, and to however many more volumes are yet to come.

  • ArizonaScott, BarabinoSr, auriga and 13 others like this


Ken Sturrock
Feb 09 2016 11:41 AM

I just started reading the first volume myself and really like it. Also, I couldn't agree more with your review - nailed it.

Feb 10 2016 01:29 PM

Thanks, Ken!


I'm really looking forward to Volume Three, which according to their Facebook page, is at the printer and should soon be available.

Nice report.  Sorry I missed it when originally published.  With respect to the S&T criticism (i.e., that the authors are sparse on descriptive observational text) I consider that a virtue, not a defect.  I could care less what an author wants me to believe they were able to observe.  I want information that helps me verify and contextualize what it is I am seeing.  Like Bunrham's before it, this series promises to do just that, except with less cultural data and a bit more science and technology.





Jul 21 2016 01:09 PM

Thanks for your comment, Jim.


I'm inclined to agree with you that the lack of descriptive material shouldn't count as a failing. For those who enjoy reading such accounts there's certainly no shortage of material. These books are aimed at increasing an observer's understanding of what they see. I like their use of the term "contemplative observing" in this context. For me, much of the pleasure of observing celestial objects comes from what I know about the object, rather than what I actually see through the eyepiece.


And I'm very pleased to report that the third volume maintained the level of quality overall.

    • jrbarnett and auriga like this

A remarkably engaging and well-written review, showing a feeling for language, a willingness to share with the reader your own thought processes as you read the books, and a clear and incisive mind. A pleasure to read, even if you can't spell "principal." I try for a similar writing style in my own work but I think you are a bit better at it.

I agree with you about the value of context and understanding of a celestial object as compared to simply giving its appearance in a telescope; so many sky guides read like catalogs, precise, rather dry and omitting the astrophysical significance of the object and the history of its study.

Bill Meyers (auriga).

Aug 26 2016 08:06 AM



I screw up with "capital" and "capitol" on a regular basis, as well. Just goes to show the worst possible editor for any bit of writing is its own author.  ;) 

Volume III Is now out!

    • desertstars likes this

Volume III came out a long time ago.  Do you mean Volume IV?

    • desertstars likes this

My bad. Still happy about it though. :-)

    • desertstars likes this
Sep 12 2016 01:21 PM

It bears mentioning. ;)

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