Book Review: Extreme Stars At the Edge of Creation / Annals of the Deep Sky A Survey of Extragalactic Objects

     One thing that I enjoy about the hobby of being an amateur astronomer is the journey.  I go back to my first telescope, a Tasco 1ZHTE 10x -25x Zoom Astronaut Telescope.  Now I have to admit, this was my father's and he used it for two purposes. First was at the shooting range to zoom in and spot when shooting a rifle.  The second and it was used far more for this, was for observing the moon and some of the other objects in the night sky. I remember those nights when I was young. blown away by what I saw.  I remember using it as I grew older after Dad set it up and enjoying it for an evening in the backyard. It was an easy way to distract me for an evening.  However, my father was never one to share his stuff too much for fear we would ruin it, so my growing interest in astronomy would have to wait.

     My father though did do one thing for each of his three children. Our mother and him gave us a love of reading and a love of books. That gift us served us well through public school, through four years of a B.A., then 9 1/2 years of graduate school in my case.  All three of us were encouraged to pursue things that were of interest to us, and that included literature both the standard classics in American Lit and British Lit, modern genre's, and non-fiction literature in my case, science and history, my first loves.  I actually love my career as an educator, however I think if I had to do it all over again besides taking History, English and Physics, I would have combined a History of Science and focused on a history of astronomy.  However, I am now way off target and turning this into a biography not a book review on two books.  My point is my father's gift of reading has carried well over into my hobby side of life, in amateur astronomy and that has served me well.  See, besides learning about equipment, telescopes, eyepieces and things, I believe reading and understanding what is going on with the objects we observe in the night sky expands, enlightens and encourages our learning of the hobby and thus enriches the overall experience.

     Now with that in mind, I am going to review two books today that I have been reading this summer. One is Extreme Stars At the Edge of Creation  by James Kaler and the other is Annals of the Deep Sky A Survey of Extragalactic Objects by Jeff Kanipe & Dennis Webb.  Before I begin reviewing  Extreme Stars At the Edge of Creation I wanted to share a little about the author.  Most of my information is coming from that scholarly bastion of knowledge, Wikipedia, which I do for convenience. Dr. Kaler was born on December 29th, 1938 (11 days after my mother!) in Albany New York.  Kaler earned his A.B. at the University of Michigan in 1960. He attended graduate school at the University of Michigan (1960–61), at Christian-Albrechts-Universit├Ąt zu Kiel (Germany, 1961–62), and UCLA (1962–64), where he also obtained his Ph.D. in Astronomy 1964. His thesis advisor was Lawrence H. Aller.   Kaler started his professional career with appointments as a research and teaching assistant at the University of Michigan from 1958 to summer 1960. In 1961 he worked as an astronomer with the United States Naval Observatory. In 1964 he was appointed as an assistant professor of Astronomy by the University of Illinois, and promoted to associate professor in 1968 and to a full professor position in 1976 (all at University of Illinois). Since 1995 he is Campus Honors Faculty. In 2003 he retired to become professor emeritus at the University of Illinois.

Dr. Kaler has published over 9 books and 120 papers on a wide variety of astronomical topics. To further his commitment to his profession and to the amateur world he has also served as President of the Board of Directors of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific from 2007-2009, and of the Board of the Champaign Urbana Symphony Orchestra. Sorry, I love all genres of music (gift from Dad also) and I love and enjoy classical music being a season ticket holder of the Utah Symphony.  Dr. Kaler thus is in a position to really have nailed the books he writes about.  See this LINK for the Wikipedia Article where I gathered this info from.

     That is where I will start, Dr. Kaler's writing style.  The information he covers is actually complex but his writing style and approach is done in such a way that someone with a basic Introduction to Astronomy course can read, comprehend and enjoy his writing. Even those without that background who have some degree of scientific background/exposure can read and enjoy his writings, at least in this book.  The book, Extreme Stars At the Edge of Creation, is masterfully written and enjoyable to read.  You can actually get a sample of the first 27 pages of the book by going to the Library of Congress who shares those first 27 pages at this LINK (it is a PDF so be aware you are clicking on that).
     Let me state upfront this is not a book solely about the biggest, largest, blow up in a Supernova star book. The work covers the entire gammit of star types and stars that fit into multiple measurements of stars. Yes, Eta Carina is there as is the Pistol Star, and a section on Wolf-Rayet Stars but so are planetary nebula, The Helix and others and other The first chapter deals with our Sun as a star and where it fits in with other stars.  Dr. Kaler goes into spectra and variety to begin to help his reader understand how stars are looked at and compared and measured. Each successive chapter then examines stars that fit into a certain category, how they got there, what their future outcomes will be.  Dr. Kaler goes through what it means to be an O, B, A, F, G, K, M, L (and T) star, a DO, AGB, white dwarfs, giants, supergiants, hypergiants, neutron stars, Wolf-Rayet (WN and WC), planetary nebulas, novae, supernovae, and black hole.  Dr. Kaler also gives specific examples of these objects and many that we know of or are visible in the night sky. He explains how some may appear brighter than others because of their proximity to the earth, when in truth some stars that appear fainter are in truth more massive, more luminous than stars that appear brighter.

    The book is organized in such a way that you can read it in two ways or use it in two ways. My first notion was to read the sections that appealed to me most. That is how I am.  The other way is the way that I actually read the book to enjoy it which is to go from chapter to chapter.  Having said that the book was initially written in 2001 so some of the information provided in the book has become enhanced with time as more knowledge is gained. Dr. Kaler with Eta Carinae discusses how in truth, this is a binary system, and how the outflow of the nebula because of nitrogen has to be from a more evolved companion.  We now have a 11 year study that gives further light on this star that doesn't distract from Dr. Kaler's book, but as I stated, enhances our knowledge. You can see that study at NASA at this LINK.

     So for a book that is 14 years old, that costs $34.99 I highly recommend the book for both your reading enjoyment and for increasing your knowledge of stars of all kinds and what they do in their lifespan.  I read mine while waiting for night to come after observing the night before and in between naps in June.  A keeper and one I am glad I purchased.

     Wow! Where to begin with this book.  I have to state upfront, that in my personal opinion, this is not a field book.  Much like Burnham's Celestial Handbook series, the first two books of this Annals show it to be a tremendous reference.  Volume 1 is a must in my opinion for anyone new to the hobby, needing to understand some basic things both about the hobby and about astronomy. Volume 1 delivers this upfront. I engulfed the first 121 pages of Volume 1, not because there was anything I had not read or learned about in the past, but because such a sheer volume of basic information was condensed into one hundred and twenty-one pages! So now I need to slow down and tell you that the authors are avid amateur astronomers and wrote together a wonderful book that I use called The Arp Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies in 2006.  They have hit a solid triple here, with my only compliant that I would be hard pressed to use it in the field.

     The beginning of the book begins with an explanation of how the book is organized when it comes to discussing each of the constellations that it goes through.  The next section provides a real basic introduction into astronomy. It begins by offering one of the best explanations of the Celestial Sphere that I have seen, then explaining how sky coordinates are determined in terms of Right Ascension and Declination. That section is a must for anyone new to the hobby or who has struggled to understand how Right Ascension and Declination work.  That slides naturally then into a discussion on Angular Momentum that rounds out this little section.   These terms, vital for an amateur as they always come up, are explained in such a way that a lay person new to the hobby will comprehend them.
     The next part of this section that I enjoyed was the part on stellar magnitude and apparent magnitude. For example, we always here that when Betelgeuse goes supernova, it will be of the same brightness of the full moon. On their chart in this section they show how an iridium flare comes in around magnitude -8.0 near the quarter moon's light of -10.0 and the full moon of -12.7.  Having watched enough iridium flares in my observing years, I can tell how fun they are to watch them brighten and then fade but I have never connected their total brightness for those few seconds, to being as bright as a close supernova (which will be 4.7 times brighter!).  It is a wonderful section again to go through.

     The last section here talks on distance and to be honest, I read through that relatively fast. I teach math and I was able to quickly understand distance and how it relates. However the authors did a excellent job relating light years, parsec, kiloparsec and megaparsecs to helping an amateur get a feeling for just how fast the Milky Way is, and how vast the universe is. It struck home to me just how far the light has traveled on the objects I observed and how I must never take that for granted and though that isn't the emphasis by the authors, they teach what the concept is, I extrapolated from there.

     The next section is called Descriptive Astrophysics and begins by reviewing who the notables or most notables or well known notables have been in astronomy starting with William Herschel. So I would call this a quick who's who of modern astronomy and what their major contribution has been to the science. From here the authors move to a section on stars, informing the reader of star types, and touching on spectra. The HR diagram is introduced next to provide a means for talking on how stars evolve. From here we get into variable stars, dynamic stars, cataclysmic stars like Type Ia and Type II supernova, double/binary stars, planetary nebula, supernova remnant and the list goes on. By the time you come to page 121, you have a well verse beginning to understand many of the terms talked about on Astronomy Forums and Yahoo Groups and Clubs, and a reference for going back if those conversations come up, and you sit back being quiet, nodding and simply acting like you can understand. Later, going back to this basic reference in one area, you can understand. This information provides enough of a base foundation for any amateur who is both new, or long term and has never learned the astronomical concepts related to the hobby.  The book is worth it for that alone in my opinion.

     The remainder of the book covers four constellations, Andromeda, Antila, Apus, and Aquarius.  In each constellation the authors pick objects that are common to that constellation, are most likely on one of the several lists (Messier, Bright Objects, Herschel 400, Herschel 400 II or Herschel 2500 etc.) and they tend to cover the object in detail. For example, in Andromeda they cover Abel 262 a well know galaxy cluster The same for NGC 891. They tell why it is considered to be very similar to the Milky Way, where it is located and how to get there, and interesting facts about the object.  For me, as a tool, this is not something I would read in the field.  Why? I am too busy observing the objects, sketching and taking notes and looking to grab all the detail I can to read this wonderful reference. It is a tool I might read before I go observing these objects, or after I have observed them to enhance my understanding of them. Then again, I have several sources that I use to do that on objects now and they are online.  I like books as I said in the beginning of this post, so having a book reference is something I really enjoy. Pay a one time fee like a book though to have access to the material in Volume 1 would also be an acceptable way to get this material and I see the future moving in that direction.

     In the last chapter/segment of the book, before the sources are listed, is a wonderful chapter on the evolution/history of Planetary Nebula. It's not a section that is required or needed, but it is an interesting section and I enjoyed reading it, picking up a couple things I had either forgotten and to be frank, a couple of things I did not know before.

   Criticism of the book is sparse. First, I don't think it is a field book, but a reference book and one that will give me a good read on a cloudy, winter night when I cannot go out observing. The writing is easy to follow, easy to comprehend and something I really enjoyed.  I know that others will enjoy reading these as well.  My next compliant is a personal one because I do not see the need to cover southern constellations in a book covering many northern areas.  I would separate volumes into the northern and southern hemisphere. I have to ask that at fifty, I will probably make one, perhaps two southern hemisphere trips where I get to observe in my remaining years. So for me, roughly 2 and a 1/2 of the constellations covered are not worth it to me. That is a lot of material and I have to ask myself moving  forward, IF paying for southern constellations is worth the money the books are priced at.  For example, in Volume 2, the Constellations covered are Aquila, Ara, Aries, Aurgia, Bootes and Caelum.  Ara and Caelum are not northern constellations out of the 6 covered. I would have preferred more northern objects in the constellations covered myself.

   My last compliant is in Volume 2 there is at the end, 70 pages of "Essential Terminology."  This Essential Terminology section though good, is yet another reference material. I would have preferred the reference material to be gathered into one book and sold, and that book probably would have made a killing.   Petty gripes to be sure as the quality of the information, the quality of the presentation and the quality of the volumes are quite worth acquiring.

     So overall I would recommend Volume 1 and Volume 2 for that matter. Realize not all objects are covered and realize that there are southern constellations covered and if you live in the southern hemisphere, realize you will have less covered than what the northern hemisphere has covered. However, the series is excellent, an outstanding reference material but something I'll read to enhance my understanding either before or after an observing session. Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the Annals of the Deep Sky are available for order from Willman Bell at this LINK.  They are priced at $19.95 each if your order before July 24th, 2015 (see the LINK) and you get a $5.00 off discount for ordering them early.  Regular price should be then $24.95 after the 24th of July.  When I got mine, I paid for normal shipping and got them just over ten days from the date of order. Again, both books I reviewed are outstanding and are recommended if your looking for a book or books to supplement your reading and understanding.  Both are reference books and well done.