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“Like a 21st-century greatest hits from Burnham’s Celestial Handbook
Tania Burchell, Sky & Telescope
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Continuously in print since 1984, this book has established itself as the standard guide to the wonders of the night sky for amateur astronomers of all ages. Although the UK and US reprints are not always in step, their contents are identical as they are printed from page layouts produced by me on Quark XPress. All star charts and line diagrams are by Wil Tirion.

It is now in its 4th edition, completely reset and with improved colour charts and Moon maps. This edition made its appearance in the UK in 2007 September and in the US in 2008 January. The UK edition was reprinted with a new jacket design in 2011 but the content remains unaltered.

The first US edition was published by Universe books under the title Universe Guide to Stars & Planets, but that has now been completely superseded by the Princeton University Press edition. A German translation is published by Kosmos of Stuttgart under the title Der Kosmos Himmelsführer.

The book is squarely aimed at keen observers who want to know the best celestial objects within easy range of binoculars and small to medium-sized telescopes (up to about 200 mm aperture). Separate charts for each of the 88 constellations are accompanied by descriptions of their main features, with a guide to the size of instrument needed to observe them. Preceding this, a section of all-sky charts shows the sky as it appears in mid-evening each month from northern and southern latitudes. This book is usable throughout the inhabited world.

Following the star charts comes more general text on stars and nebulae, galaxies, the Sun, Moon and planets, and information on instruments and observation.

One innovation for the 4th edition was online charts showing the positions of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn against the stars for a 5-year period. These are available on the Collins website along with other topical information on matters such as eclipses, transits, daylight saving time, artificial satellite predictions, and a BASIC program for calculating the separation of binary stars.


Note: Do not confuse these books with Dorling Kindersley’s Handbook of Stars and Planets (published in the US as the Smithsonian Handbook of Stars and Planets), which is a more basic introduction. The books are entirely separate, although Amazon mixes reviews of the two on its website.