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New Atlas of the Moon

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"New Atlas of the Moon"
by Thierry Legault and Serge Brunier, Firefly Books, copyright 2006, English translation.
128 pages, approx. 217 images/illustrations Retail price: $55.00

By Rich Handy

Ok, I openly admit it, I'm a incurable lunatic. So when I heard that a new lunar atlas was being released by Firefly Books based on the high resolution CCD images of master lunar photographer, Thierry Legault, I was naturally excited. Well, closer to hysterical, so I pre-ordered a copy immediately.

When I received the package, I was surprised at its weight and size, something substantial was inside. A gasp of delight followed when I finally was able to free it from the packaging. The cover is stunning, a four day old crescent Moon in jet black space embraces the title in beautiful white and silver fonts on glossed hard card . The rear cover follows the same theme, but the crescent is a waning 26th day Moon surrounding the book description. This atlas is large, at 11.5" x 14.5" it is about 35% larger than Antonin Rukl's "Atlas of the Moon", and feels as if it must weigh in at about 3 lbs. The 0.005" thickness and bond of the paper is wonderful. When the atlas was later exposed to dewy conditions the moisture did not penetrate, instead it beaded up on the top surface. After about 15 minutes I was able to take a tissue and wipe the droplets off with no damage. The book is wire bound allowing it to be opened flat with no tendency to fold closed when laid out on a table. Speaking of tables, you may need a larger one to provide room for this one, especially if you are using other atlases or maps at the same time. Yes, this atlas is the new six hundred pound gorilla.

The atlas has a page entitled "How to use this atlas" that describes the page layouts for the two major sections of the book. "The Moon from day to day" is a phase by phase description of each day of the lunation from the third day to the 27th. and the "Lunar Cartography" section, which is a regional and feature based description of an area or feature. These comprise the high resolution close ups that along with the daily phase images make this atlas so visually compelling. There is a wonderful layout map of the Moon drawn in a style similar to the Virtual Moon Atlas or the NASA airbrush relief maps. It shows both the naked eye view and the inverted view. Though each map only about 8.5" in diameter, it is beautifully illustrated and clearly labeled with the major basins and most large and medium sized craters.

" The Moon from day to day" section sports four different views of each phase; viewed naked eye, through binoculars, a refractor or reflector with a star diagonal and without. That pretty much covers any possible image orientation most amateurs would likely be using during observation. Selected larger full page phase images have acetate overlays with text that point out the nomenclature of the major features visible during that particular lunation. Many of the prominent lunar features, such as 15 Maria, the southern lunar highlands and their prominent craters and mountain ranges are nicely represented by Thierry's excellent images. Perhaps the authors felt that providing a overlay for every day of the lunation may have seemed repetitive (and possibly much more expensive to print) so they are placed only in front of the odd days of the lunation. They are very readable, printed with bright white ink and provide the reader with the option to lift the overlay away to reveal the area without the text. This is a great way for the novice observer to learn the major lunar features. Each overlay has selected features with page numbers cross-referenced to the Lunar Cartography section. Simply flipping to the corresponding page number provides a detailed description of the feature and some of its interesting neighbors, along with more of Thierry Legault's superbly detailed high resolution video or webcam images.

Initially I felt that the text reflected our present understanding of lunar geologic history. That was until I ran into an image of Alphonsus on page 79 that stated the "mysterious" dark halos around craters ringing the floor periphery in several locations were "undoubtedly material strewn out during impact." Yet the images of Ranger 9 show all these small craters are volcanic in nature and are connected by rilles. The spectral work of Thomas McCord at MIT as well as computer models developed by Jim Head and Thomas McGetchin based on eruptive energies and magmatic materials indicate these dark halos are pyroclastic deposits around low lunar cinder cones. On page 92 I noticed a statement about a small crater being created by a " 200 m bolide", yet bolides are meteoric fireballs created by friction in a planet's or a moon's atmosphere. I hadn't heard there was an appreciable atmosphere on the Moon. Other loose wordings abound; page 81, "Unlike most very ancient lunar craters Maginus has a well preserved wallÉ" then later in the same paragraph, "After 4 billion years of bombardment, the wall has suffered considerable damage." So which is it, well preserved or not? On page 32 an essay text states that "It is clear now that all lunar craters are the result of meteor or asteroid impactÉ", yet the authors later admit (page 77) that some craters are produced by volcanic processes. Again on page 69 "Émolten lava from the (Nectaris) sea spilled into Fracastorius through a breach in its northern wall and completely flooded the interior."
Actually we understand that the basin floor subsides due to the weight of the lavas. Any craters formed on the margins incline toward the basin center and later lavas bury the lowered rims.

Then there were these having nothing to do with lunar geology: on page 67 "ÉPetavius is even larger than Langrenus, located 500 km north at the same latitude." Huh? One would think that a feature that was 311 miles further north would not be located at the same latitude, no? On page 40 we read that " As the Moon's near side enters the long lunar night, its farside , just beyond Mare Orientale and the Cordillera Mountains emerges from nearly two days of complete darkness." I think they meant two weeks! Well I'm willing to chalk these up to the vagaries of translating the original French text into English. Nevertheless, the writing style was very enjoyable, despite the sense that I needed to question the factual basis of certain statements.

The Lunar Cartography section has some great graphic features such as views of changing illumination that illustrate how the angle of the Sun's light affects particular lunar forms. Yet I couldn't help but feel a little let down about the number of features the atlas described in detail. The Lunar Cartography section covers only about 60 features, so its obvious this atlas was not meant to compete with "The Hatfield Photographic Lunar Atlas" edited by Jeremy Cook, Springer or with the "Atlas of the Moon" by Antonin Rukl, Sky Publishing Corporation. Each describe most of the features an amateur can study through small to medium apertures. For an experienced observer, this atlas falls a little short of its promise of being the great resource it could have been. There are just not enough of Thierry's images defining most of the Moon's features. Considering the time, cost and difficulty of producing a high resolution photographic atlas that would contain as many features as Rukl's atlas, it would pose a monumental challenge to any publisher, and sadly one that may never be realized in print. However for the novice and intermediate lunar observer this new atlas is a great way to introduce yourself to the major features of the Moon, leaving advanced study to more comprehensive atlases or texts. Even the experienced observer will still be delighted with the 60 gorgeous images contained in the Lunar Cartography section.

I was very impressed with the overall artistic style of the book. Each section was nicely organized and was very well integrated into the layout design. Though some may regard it as uncluttered, my feeling was that each page was under utilized, and did not contain as many pictures or as much text as I would have preferred to have seen in this sized atlas. This was partially the result of the choice of a book format that mixes circular and rectangular text and image frames on the same page. Moreover, the large font size and excessive space between images and text contributed to the sense of wasted space. Mind you, I'm not complaining about font size here, I have poor eyesight and love the text readability even without glasses and in low light conditions.

There are some hidden gems in this atlas as well, it has a great Lunar Movements section that is a good read about the orbital motion of the Moon with concise explanations of the eclipses and Librations, a practical guide to observing including a short discussion telescopes and lunar imaging, Lunation/ Colongitude calendars for every day of each year until the end of 2010, a small but clearly written glossary and a nicely detailed index with references to all the lunar features mentioned in the atlas.

Things I liked

  • Stunning CCD and Webcam high resolution lunar images by Thierry Legault
  • Wire bound pages for easy manipulation of the pages
  • Large, easy to read font size
  • Thick (0.005") water resistant paper helps reduce damage from dew
  • Clear acetate overlays on selected odd days of the lunation cross-referenced to the Lunar Cartography section.
  • Images of how the Moon appears to the naked eye, in binoculars, and telescopes with and without star diagonals.
  • Full page, entire phase mosaics for each day of the lunation
  • Interesting essay discussions regarding the Moon
  • Bonus sections cover lunar motions, eclipses, telescopes and imaging, lunation and Colongitude calendars till 2010
  • Beautifully drawn layout map of the Moon showing naked eye and inverted views
  • Detailed index
  • Attractive book design

Things I didn't like
  • Text inaccuracies or errors
  • Poor use of space caused by choice of book format
  • Insufficient number of features covered in the Lunar Cartography section

"The New Atlas of the Moon" by Thierry Legault and Serge Brunier is a beautiful book that has many features desirable in a scope side atlas. Despite some problems with the text and the limited number of features it describes, I feel it is a valuable resource for the novice, intermediate or advanced lunatic.


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