Notes from Under Sky

Night Sky

In which I review this new magazine

I finally received my copy of Night Sky, along with (apparently) an explanation of why it took so long. The front and back cover were significantly torn up, as was the address label (which was then hastily taped back on). Oh well.

The insides, fortunately, are in much better shape. Other than the flimsy paper, which might have contributed to the cover being torn, I like the production. I like the way the monthly sky maps are done, with two maps for each month on facing pages—one entirely unlabelled in white on black, and the other labelled lightly in black on white, just the way it's done in Dickinson's Nightwatch. Someone evidently thought that beginners might get lost looking up at a night sky lacking lines and symbols, and would therefore need two steps to match the map to the sky. I agree.

There are also three nice little pieces, presumably regular departments, on a constellation (Leo), a beginning star-hop (Ursa Major and environs), and an object of interest (M13).

Kudos to Tony Flanders for recognizing that orientation in the eyepiece is not a simple choice inverted, reversed, or normal, but that the image might be rotated just about any amount depending on where the object is in the sky (as well as the way the eyepiece is oriented).

I noticed that Phil Plait's diagram for explaining the Moon illusion (also present in his Bad Astronomy book) looks a lot like the one I drew up for my article on the Moon back in 1999:

And to think that he didn't even ask permission!

Ed Ting's article on selecting telescopes for beginners is as good, if not better, than any I've seen in Sky and Telescope's annuals. One concern of mine is that he describes the Tele Vue Pronto objective (and by extension, that of the Ranger as well) as semi-apochromatic. Did he really mean that?

David Levy has written an excellent article on the two comets of late spring, NEAT and LINEAR. Accessible without being overly watered down, it even includes a recipe for cooking up a cometary nucleus of your very own.

Jay Ryan's comic strip "SkyWise," which appeared for a number of years in Night Sky's parent magazine, Sky and Telescope, makes its return debut in this premiere issue, also, with an episode on finding the Moon during the day at various phases.

As you might expect, there are plenty of opportunities to subscribe to the new magazine at the rip of a card, distributed at random throughout the issue. Too bad people who've already subscribed can't get an issue that doesn't have these.

One thing that wasn't immediately obvious until I started reading in a bit greater detail is that this magazine is substantially more geared toward the North American (specifically U.S.) reader than Sky and Telescope. That is definitely in evidence in that the horizon diagrams (you know, like "facing east 1 hour before dawn," etc) are for U.S. observers, in that there is nothing at all geared especially toward southern hemisphere observers, as well as the interesting property that all moderate distances are expressed in miles, rather than kilometers.

To keep things simple, this U.S. bias goes unsaid. For instance, the all-sky maps for May and June do not include the note that it's set for 40 degrees north latitude (or whatever it happens to be). I guess the idea is that you don't want to confuse beginning readers with a consideration like that whose implications aren't immediately obvious. Something to keep in mind, if you're considering this as a gift for a friend.

All in all, an enjoyable little read. In my mind, well worth the price of admission. (I must admit that I have my own ulterior motives for subscribing—I have designs on submitting to them, but don't tell them that!) You can subscribe to a year's worth (six bimonthly issues) for $17.99 U.S. at

Copyright (c) 2004 Brian Tung