After an introduction by author Mike Lynch, “America’s Master Stargazing Instructor, the book begins with “Quantitative Meditation” in Chapter One. This is the big picture chapter where facts and figures about the size of our sun, power of our sun, how it orbits a black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and will take over 225 million years to circle it once, and other interesting facts and figures. Depending on the light pollution in your area, on average, the distance you can see with the naked eye are stars 100 light years out.

Chapter 2 titled “What’s A Star” explains what a star is and also awe inspiring pictures of newborn stars emerging in the Eagle Nebula, M16, in the constellation Sagittorius. How stars are formed and born, live and die are discussed as well as why stars are different colors, variable, doubled or even tripled and how distance to the star is measured.

“A Sky Full Of Constellations” is the heading for Chapter 3. This short chapter covers in detail how stars and constellations are named, how the brightness level is determined and other interesting information.

Chapter 4 “Stars On The Move” explains how the stars move around Polaris (the North Star) each night as well as the seasonal shifts due to the earth’s revolution around the sun. The author explains the Celestial sphere, the seasonal motion of the stars, the ecliptic, and the zodiac in the same dry and somewhat technical way all of the information is presented.

“Using Star Maps” marks Chapter 5 which explains how to use the 12 Texas based maps found at the very back of the book and various items in the night sky to really look for when using the enclosed maps. The idea behind the “Messier Objects” is explained along with brief explanations of such things as various types of nebula, star clusters and galaxies along with numerous pictures of all items discussed. 

Chapter 6 “Northern Constellations” covers the biggest and brightest such as “The Big Dipper, Ursa Major and Minor, Cassiopeia,” and other items of nightly interest.

“Autumn Constellations” marks Chapter 7 and does the same thing. This time it is “Pegasus, Perseus, Aries” and numerous others. In each case, as was done in chapter 6, there is a wealth of statistical information on the constellation, a star map of the area, and other items in the intermediate area to look for.

Chapter 8 “Winter Constellations” does the same thing with “Canis Major and Minor, Orion the Hunter” and numerous others.

“Spring Constellations” are covered in Chapter 9 with sections on “Leo the Lion, Virgo the Virgin” and other stars and objects.

“Summer Constellations” is the title for Chapter 10. It looks at many including “Cygnus the Swan, Lyra the Lyre” and “Draco the Dragon” along with other points of interest for this time of year.

“The Marvelous But Mischievous Moon” is the title for Chapter 11 which is all about, you guessed it, the Moon. Beyond the obvious idea that the Moon is the enemy of stargazing when full, the author delves into concepts about where the Moon came from, what is the surface like, the orbit, the phases and why we see it the way we do from earth, among other topics. Also included in this chapter is information about solar and lunar eclipses (which always seem to happen when the skies are at best heavily cloudy here).

The planets finally make their appearance in Chapter 12 “Planets, Wanders Of The Sky.” Movement and basic info on each planet is covered as well as depicted in pictures.

Chapter 13 “Celestial Extras” is devoted to such things as the Aurora Borealis (very rarely seen in Texas and primarily only in the Panhandle), comets, shooting stars, and meteor showers. Meteor shows are barely covered despite the fact that both the Leminds and Perseids are usually easily seen here even in the cities.

“You And Your Telescope” is the topic of chapter 14. Each chapter contains references to items you can see with the naked eye as well as with a telescope depending on its power level. This chapter goes into some depth on the various types of telescopes available as well as what are the equipment needed to be able to purse astrophotography. Learning to use your telescope requires patience as it is a skill that has to be developed to get the most out of it. That point is made clear here but is also somewhat minimized.

The book concludes with various appendices and an index. Appendix A is a “Planet Locater” chart for “Venus, Mars, Jupiter,” and “Saturn” showing dates of opposition the next couple of years, best months for viewing the same time period and whether it is best seen in morning or evening.

Appendix B “Brightest Stars In Texas” lists various stars, what constellation they reside in, luminosity (brightness), size and other interesting info.

Appendix C is a resource guide regarding some Planetariums and Observatories, clubs, software, magazines, and websites. This leads into a two page index that seems very inadequate based on the material covered in the book.

Finally, Appendix D “Monthly Star Maps” contains 12 star maps, one for each month of the year. Prominent features are listed on each map so the maps are not overly complicated for those new to stargazing.

With a title of “Texas Star watch” one would expect detailed information from a Texas viewing perspective. Certainly with a back cover statement “You won’t find a better guidebook to our night sky than Texas StarWatch!” one would expect a book that would be uniquely Texan and a good value for the money. Instead, the only thing that really works with this book is the spiral design inside of a hardback cover which allows the book to lay flat for easy reading. A good design idea with the cover does not make up for the stuff inside.

The book is a real disappointment and has very little to do with Texas based night sky viewing. It also isn’t easy to use or understand despite what the author claims in the introduction. What is here is dry and often technical mainly consisting of facts and figures with zero inspiration behind them. Instead of inspiring folks to go out and look at the night sky this is the kind of book that makes it hard work and takes all the joy of it away. Space should be inspiring and the idea of what is out there should provoke thought, speculation, and appreciation of what we are as human and what the possibilities are out there. Instead, this book is as inspiring as a manual on how to wash dishes.

It is fairly clear that Mike Lynch, “America’s Master Stargazing Instructor” (a claim with zero explanation of how that title came about and one that is NOT used on his website) has never spent time in Texas because if he had, he would know about how increasingly severe the light pollution around our major cities is these days, that Aurora Borealis is very rarely seen here, etc. The only real Texas based stuff in the book is the 12 maps located at the very back of this hardbound spiral book. It would appear that with a word choice change here and there and 12 new maps the same book could be released with a new title for any state in the union or any country in the world. Based on a little looking around at bookstores online, that might be what was done because the same cover was used on multiple state versions. The Texas part of this 160 some odd page book consists of a sum of 12 pages which is the same as slapping four American made tires on an import car and claiming the car was made in America.

The technical dry text is some what offset by the wonderful pictures. However these same pictures are the classic ones used over and over by every other author. These are not new or exciting for the most part and because they are so common, little to enhance the value of the book. Considering the wonderful photographs produced by the Hubble Space Telescope it is unfortunate some of them were not used instead of old classic pictures that have been in circulation for decades.

This disappointing book does little to attract new folks to the joy of stargazing and does nothing to interest anyone who has been stargazing for any length of time. With the ready availability of star maps on the internet from any location, the maps in this book don’t do anything to really help the book either. The result is a book that doesn’t really help its intended audience and isn’t relevant for the topic.

Texas StarWatch: The Essential Guide to Our Night Sky

Mike Lynch

Voyageur Press


ISBN# 0-7603-2843-9


160 Pages

Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

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