A first-rate science-writer (The Whole Shebang, 1997, etc.) delves into his lifetime passion for stargazing, and the result is essential reading for kindred spirits and all would-be astronomers.
The heavens, with all the myth and majesty the term implies, are accessible to one and all, asserts Ferris (Emeritus/Univ. of California, Berkeley). Giving the reader a tour of everything from our Solar System’s companion planets to the Milky Way, distant galaxies, and baffling giant clouds of dust or gas, he emphasizes what to look for, whether with naked eye, binoculars, or telescope. Throughout, Ferris interweaves the latest scientific information and speculation in a way that further whets readers’ appetites. His visits with other amateur astronomers, some of whom have become legends in their own time, are equally inspirational; these people’s dedication and visual acuity have led to important discoveries overlooked by the institutional professionals. “Patience and the desire to see are the most important things,” states Barbara Wilson, who helped establish Houston’s George Observatory, where amateurs have discovered scores of asteroids. Ferris advises that we’ll need all the eyeballs we can get, amateur and professional, to identify and track potentially thousands of comets and asteroids whose orbits may be “randomized” by some future near-encounter with a larger body and cocked toward a potentially fatal collision with Earth. In perhaps the ultimate adventure in “remote seeing” today, Ferris walks the reader through the process of e-mailing a request for a slice of observation time and getting back the crisp digital image of the desired coordinates delivered via Internet direct from the charge-coupled device (CCD) attached to a massive institutional telescope formerly accessible only to qualified professional astronomers willing to queue up and wait.
Mysteries, menaces, and thrills for the skyward eye.