Deep Sky Observing: The Astronomical Tourist
by Steven R. Coe
(part of the Practical Astronomy Series edited by Patrick Moore)


Book Review by Joe Orman

[Originally published in the newsletter of the East Valley Astronomy Club, February 2001]

Steve Coe is well known in the Arizona amateur astronomy community. His exuberant personality has enlivened many a meeting and star party; EVAC members who attended the November meeting will remember his entertaining talk on dark nebulae. He also brought copies of his new book, one of which was acquired for the EVAC library. The club's money was well spent. While there are some tips on equipment, the book is mostly a guide on "how to use that equipment to view and enjoy a variety of deep-sky objects" (galaxies, nebulae and star clusters), and includes Steve's actual observing notes and his own sketches of each object as seen through a variety of apertures during his 20-plus years of observing. As someone whose entire output of astronomical artwork consists of two crude sketches, I can personally attest to the amount of effort that must have gone into producing the dozens of fine sketches reproduced here. Many of the objects are also shown in photos taken by Steve and others. My only major complaint is that the 373-page book does not include an index, so finding a particular object in the book takes a bit of page-flipping. Deep Sky Observing is not only a handsomely-printed guide to a cornucopia of intriguing objects, it's like sharing 'scope time with a friendly and knowledgeable companion.

As a special addition to this month's review, here is my Question & Answer session with the author himself:

Q: Many of us who are juggling jobs and families can barely find time to go observing. Can you tell us how you also found time to write a book? Was most of the work just transcribing your existing observing notes?
A: I had already done much of the observing, so some of the task had been completed just from years of going out with the telescope. In the acknowledgements at the very front, my dean at DeVry was kind enough to work with me on getting a sabbatical. That term away from the classroom made a big difference in clearing out the time to put the book together and proofread it.

Q: In this age of sensory stimulation, instant gratification, and CCD photography, can you tell us how you nurtured the patience required to do these drawings?
A: I just plain enjoy drawing what I see at the eyepiece. It is the most personal way I know to capture what can be seen with a telescope. I love to take astrophotographs also, but my drawings have more "soul". A photo is a task to be completed, a drawing is a labor of love. Even when there are over 70 of them to complete before a deadline!

Q: The sketches really are top quality. I notice you mention Rembrandt at least twice. Is this a subtle attempt on your part to achieve greatness by association?
A: One can only hope. I know my limitations in this area, maybe having my book with Rembrandt's name in it will provide me better sketching skills in the future.

Q: Anyone who's met you knows you have a great sense of humor, and that really comes across in the book as well. Do you consciously use that to promote astronomy? Are there any other behaviors that amateurs can use to make the hobby attractive to others, especially young people?
A: Yes, my sense of humor is always at the forefront of any task I am trying to complete. But, seriously folks..... One could say that I am blessed, or cursed, with that bizarre manner of looking at life. I don't have to consciously turn it on, quite the opposite. As far as attracting young astronomers, we need to communicate that looking at the stars is both great fun and a great challenge. When the entertainment industry has blasted the senses at such a high level of input, it is tough to fully appreciate the subtle glow of a distant nebula. But, as amateur astronomers, we are the only ones on the Earth who have the tools and the expertise to pass on the beauty of the Universe we live in. That is the reason there is a chapter on public viewing sessions and a list of objects to present.

Q: On page 341 you say "Galileo invented the telescope." Tsk, tsk ... you should know better. Care to issue a correction?
A: Ok, Galileo invented the astronomical telescope. Better? I will add it my list of errata. There aren't too many so far.

Q: Have the profits from your book allowed you to buy any of the goodies on your wish list, such as the 35 mm Panoptic eyepiece?
A: Yes, and I am hoping to go truck shopping soon, so buy early and often. They make great presents.

Q: Now a somewhat serious question. In your philosophy, what is the ultimate purpose of observing: for personal enrichment, to make a contribution to science, to make friends, just for fun ... or all of the above?
A: I do not observe to make a contribution to science. I have rarely gone out with the telescope to provide scientific information. So, I do think that the other benefits are very compelling. Personal enrichment has been a big part of the hobby for me, the chance to really see our Universe in all its splendor is very compelling and it changes how you view existence. To make friends, I did not start out with this goal in mind, but it has come true in spades. So many of my lifelong friends are amateur astronomers that it is great to go to a club meeting just to see them all. I find observers of the sky to be: intelligent, outgoing, motivated and just plain fun to be around. A very compelling reason to join in and see the sky.

Q: I'll close by saying your book is very informative and enjoyable to read, and every deep-sky observer should buy a copy. Is my bribe check in the mail?
A: Well, is it a bribe if what you are saying true? Now that we have had fun with it, I wish to thank everyone who has purchased a copy of the book and I do hope that they enjoy it under clear skies. Thank you.

Revised: June 6, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Joe Orman
Joe Orman's Home Page