Given that it’s been cloudy here since May 13 another nice way to explore the sky is with some good reading. Aside from the obvious monthly magazines (which take a month to produce and a day to read) such as Astronomy Magazine or Astronomy Technology Today, there are some really good books out there. For starters, The Backyard Astronomers Guide is one of the most complete “get started” books I have found. It’s written for the layperson and contains a wealth of information. From eyeball observation to binoculars through telescopes and the skies, this book has everything you need to get started with whatever you have. And you’ll be wanting what you don’t when you’re done with it…
A bit more technical (and more expensive) is an interesting book called The Handbook of Practical Astronomy. This book is actually a collection of technical essays which covers a variety of topics in gory enough detail to enable you to melt ears and faces at your next astro-meeting. During a trying experience where I dropped my secondary and needed to recollimate, this was amongst the first resource book to pick up.
As is evident with the Orion Nebula Reprocessing post, a good resource for dealing with images is also key to good astrophotography. Even old image files can suddenly explode with brilliance once you know which knobs to turn! Stefan Seip’s Digital Astrophotography is a stellar (pun intended) resource for getting started. It will help you better understand why you need those flats to reduce vignetting, darks for your bad pixels, and of course balancing color and improving image contrast. There’s a lot of pictures to help understand different configurations as well.
And of course, there are web sites for the book disinclined. Cloudy Nights ranks high on my list of frequently visited forums. An active, helpful community provide a great environment for all. Discover Magazines Bad Astronomy blog provides a friendly read, and of course Alan Boyles Cosmic Log is also worth checking out. Clear or cloudy, there’s always plenty to read!