Review of Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas Desk Edition

EDIT: Since my original post here, I have spent more time with this Atlas and have updated my review here on my blog. You may read this review and then go read the updated review on my blog at this LINK if you wish. My quick take. Great atlas for the beginner to intermediate observer. Lacking details for the advance to expert level of observer. Lots to like here and yes, I do recommend it though of two desk editions I own, one had a serious malfunction of its binding that caused me some heartache. I recommend NOT folding the atlas in half with the binding.  Be leery if you do that and know your binding may fail.

Okay, it seems in the hobby of Amateur Astronomy there are trends and waves that come and go. As new things come out that seem to fill a void or a need in the hobby, they become the latest trend or item to get.  Well, when I saw information about the Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas I felt that this might be such a thing.  There are two editions, a desk edition and a field edition.  I recommend to go and review their website located at this link for useful information, some that I will go through here.

First the atlas is produced by Ronald Stoyan and Stephan Schurig and is published with Cambridge University Press.  The atlas seems to have a focus on the 4 inch, 8 inch and 12 inch telescopes. The emphasis on these sizes is plain when you open up the desk version and on the inside page to the front cover is a star magnitude size chart and explanation, followed by a Deep-Sky Object charts that shows how to know when looking at the Atlas if the DSO is viewable in a 4, 8 or 12 inch scope, what filter is recommended for the object and what objects are not viewable in a 12 inch scope.  This feature seems to be one of the ones that is used to really promote the atlas.  Indeed Rondal Stoyan in this YouTube Vide LINK, promotes that notion of the three sizes of telescopes right off the bat and ranking of deep sky objects for being observable.

Now I think this type of addition is fine for those new to the hobby or for the many casual observers out there.  For me though, as an experienced observer, I know the magnitude range and the impact of sky conditions and of surface brightness and other factors that go into whether I can see an object, or push my equipment to a point that I can be challenged beyond the norm. Also, Mr. Stoyan uses himself and his eyes as the basis for determining what can and cannot be seen. That is rather a bold claim since some eyes are younger and they pick up objects easier, especially with experience, and older eyes can detect because of the years of experience that make up for some loss of vision in the eye due to aging. My recommendation is to forgo this feature of the atlas and push objects and your equipment. Then again, as I said, if your new or a casual observer, use that feature and it probably is pretty close. One of my deepest thrills in DSO observing is to see how far I can push my eyes and equipment in bringing out detail. For me, this feature seems to limit that.

In the image above you can see that most of these objects are observable in a 4 and 8 inch scope (the brightest shades of yellow and red) with Sh 2-230 good to go in a 12 inch and IC 405 good in a 8 inch and 12 inche.  Items that have their description number next to them, but have no color are not observable in a 12 inch scope. Some I agree with, some I don't but as I do not want to have anyone saying they can see or not see an object based on my opinion and experience, I won't say. I would encourage as per above that others observe and find out for themselves.  In the YouTube video above they show this feature in depth letting you know that the atlas shows 15000 DSO's in this manner.

Another feature I do not like is that the Atlas automatically eliminates objects that the authors and editors feel are too hard or are not observable. Let me decide please and it is why I use SkyTools 3 and print off of maps from that tool to determine what I can observe by giving me the star hop and letting me and my equipment determine that. For me, that is a large part of the fun of visual observing. So this feature for me is not a huge positive or reason to buy this atlas. They point out in the video that this is extremely helpful for beginners and will eliminate futile attempts on objects they can't see. That may be true, and it may handicap them to relying too much on this atlas to determine what they can and cannot see.

The atlas runs in 10" x 11" in size per sheet, and the ring binding in the middle allows you to fold the desk edition over, and basically the same for the field edition. It is a good thing also that in the desk edition (I kept my desk edition and sold my field edition to a fellow observer; more on that soon) has the ring binding and allows you to fold it over. It is heavy for me for an atlas to be used at the scope. Combined with being somewhat bulky I find it difficult for me to use right at the eyepiece. I fold it over on a table near the scope and use it to go back and forth to and that is the best method for me in using this scope. I think in the YouTube video you can see as Mr. Stoyan holds and flips the atlas that if you use this at the eyepiece, you won't be holding unto anything else. The size is great for my table and using it there, especially folded over.  The paper on the Desk Edition is just a tad less stiff then the paper in the Pocket Sky Atlas but for me, even in a dewy situation, it has held up fine. For that reason, that in two sessions with heavy use of the atlas on a table with dew numbers high in the desert, I was totally content with the Desk Edition over the Field Edition. The pages on the Field Edition are made of a material that resists dew and dampness so if your living in a heavy dew area, and want to get that, for around $250.00 plus shipping. The desk edition is only around $100.00 so your choice on your poison. For me, I don't face hard dew year round in Utah or the West, so being cheap on somethings, I opted for the $100.00 Desk Edition.

One area that I think this atlas does really shine is with the constellation maps that help in locating a specific map to go to for finding the objects you need. It is quite easy if you have your constellations memorized or a planisphere nearby. I also like that the atlas contains Abell, Arp, and other catalog items in it. This is also an added benefit for the newer observer. I do not like the arrow system for the double stars as that to me is confusing,especially for someone new in the hobby and use to the line through the star. On the other hand the intensity of the star I do find nice. Stars go up to mag. 9.5 and it does have a lot of DSO's for a 12 inch scope.

Below you can see the atlas folded over and thus making it a decent size for a table near a scope in the field. I still prefer the Pocket Sky Atlas for its size, then moving to a printed star chart of the laptop if it is covered with red whatever to dim the light coming from it.  I haven't found a comfortable way to use this atlas except with a modified ready book light that clips on the atlas and is red.  Awkward to hold at the scope/eyepiece is how I best describe it if you need a red light to use to see it.

The Virgo galaxies are printed here with many being beyond a 12 inch, which I disagree with. I have seen them in a 10 inch and a 14 inch so location, conditions, experience and age have to play a roll here.

Note on this segment that some of the galaxies are shown, but are not visible in a 12 inch so no label. This if you haven't figure out is my biggest gripe of the atlas, the greatest selling point. A 10 inch in a 21.5 SQM sky should see most of these. I have seen some in a SQM 20.9 sky in a 10 inch so I just don't like a book based on one observer's experience telling a newbie or less experience observer what they can and cannot see. Let them figure out and present what is out there so they can try. Disclaim in the front of the atlas.  This is why I use printed off charts if not a laptop in the field. 

Now I sound sour on the atlas, I am not. I like it for what it is, but I don't think if I wasn't going to review for my blog that I would purchase one if I was an experience observer. The atlas is focused for those using a 4, 8 or 12 inch telescope to observe; don't have a lot of time to figure out if they can see something for themselves by star hopping or using a GoTo to get there and taking a look.  If your a newbie to the hobby, or a casual observer or a good experience observer who doesn't like faint stuff, then this is an excellent reference and tool to use. Whether you use it in the field or at home is up to you. Field or Desk? I opt and recommend the Desk edition as I feel dew won't tear it up too bad but then again, I am a west coast guy and a Utah/Desert observer. I feel the atlas is a decent buy at $100, but at $250 for the field edition, I just can't justify that for an atlas. I still like my Uranometria 2000.0 Deep Sky edition and use that in the field, like this, on a table if I find I didn't print off a chart or bring the laptop. For the cost and what you get, I feel that Uranometria 2000.0 is the much better deal as it goes deeper.

I purchased one copy from the Book Depository.  The atlas arrived in 11 days and cost was $88.00 for that copy. My other version arrived from an online supplier at Barnes & Noble. That took 8 days to arrive and the cost was $89.00.  Costs have gone up since I purchased my 3 and I sold the Field Edition for $175 which was my cost. 

Ease of Use:  4/5 Somewhat bulky and awkward. Ring binding for flipping the atlas is a huge plus. 

Organization: 5/5 Love the Constellation Charts for getting to the right Map. Love the size for 

Usefullness: 3/5   More a 4/5 or 5/5 for a novice/beginner, casual observer. 2/5 for experience  
Cost: Field 2/5; Desk  4/5  
                                          Sorry I just feel $250 for this level of atlas is too much. 

Set Up: 3/5             The look and feel are good, the double stars could be confusing for the targeted 
                                audience of the atlas. Don't like the 4,8,12 inch telescope deal. 3/5 is for 
                                experienced observers, more like 4/5 for novice/casual observers. 

Overall Rating: 4/5   

A very good atlas for beginners, novice and casual observers.  Not a great reference for experienced visual observers. If you have a 14" or larger scope, this leaves out far too many objects. Having said that, it isn't made for that market but that market needs to know that the atlas isn't for them.  Field Edition costs too much in my opinion, stick to the Desk Edition unless you want the page protection for dew. My Desk Edition is holding up great to 2 sessions where at the end the dew got up to 90% in the West Desert.  Pages never turned or were impacted at all and the atlas stayed on the table the entire time for a 4 hour session. 

Edit:  Over at in their book section LINK  there is a confirmed report that with the field edition that is suppose to be waterproof, that if you close the atlas wet, the pages will stick together and when pulled apart the surface pages will peel off.  As noted for $220 to $250 I would expect a much better performance from this atlas than that.  It is post #235 on that entry so you have a reference. Another reason I'll stay with printed charts that go into a page protector sheet if I fear dew, or at least into a binder. No biggie if that page gets ruined.  I have not had that issue with the desk edition in the field . . . . hope I don't.