Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas
by Roger W. Sinnott
This one is a no-brainer. BUY ONE. It's realy that simple.
When looking for a good atlas, there are a number of factors to consider, but they all boil down to how easy is it to use ion the field, and does it do the job. I own three star atlases. My first was the Bight Star Atlas, which has very wide field maps, with companion data on the facing page. Some complain that there is too much distortion on those maps (true), but for locating targets in the grand scheme of things, I find it terrific. For binocular use or a richfield scope, or even naked eye it is very handy. In fact I used it for my full Messier list. But moving on to the Finest NGC list, the Bright Star Atlas didn't cut it anymore. I picked up a Sky Atlas 2000 Deluxe (normally NOT a budget item) and love it - with the one problem of its size. It's huge. It really needs a table of it's own to use it properly. So when I saw the little Pocket Sky Atlas, it lookedlike the best of both worlds - detailed but compact. And a bargain price to boot!
The atlas is divided into 8 sections - each section covers 3h or right ascension, and each of these sections is divided into 10 individual pages - with the full width of the section given in two-page spreads. Arrows on each page give the page number for the next adjoining map. Stars down to magnitude 7.6 are plotted (30,796 in all), and 1500 deep sky objects, including some that are nearly impossible visually, but make good photographic targets. Standard convention for double and variable stars is followed, and galaxy ovals are scaled and oriented properly. The maps are in colour, with the milky way shaded, and - get this - the constellation lines are already drawn in! Although the book is small, there is enough on each spread - about 40 degrees square - that page turns are less frequent than you might fear.
In the field, the book really shines. It is small enough that it can sit on your knee, on your EP case, on the spreader of your tripod, or any other convenient location, and it is clear and uncluttered. Being spiral-bound, it stays open where you leave it. The scale is just about optimal for use with my 8x50 RACI finder, but with enough detail that I can still navigate with a wide field EP in my C8. It even has a telrad scale inside the front cover, visible when the book is open, to help you navigate using this common device.
So, with all this wonderfulness, you are thinking to yourself, where's the catch. My one and only desirewould be for this book to have tabs for the 8 divisions. Having tabs would make it quicker to locate maps when you have to switch between divisions. That's it, really a minor convenience thing.
Given the quality of this atlas, it's usefulness in the field, and the low pricetag, I would rate this book as a must-have item. If you don't already have one, you can pick one up through the Budget Astronomer Bookstore.
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