Monday, September 27, 2010

Pocket Sky Atlas: Great atlas, with one unfortunate drawback

Many reviews have already extolled the virtues of this atlas from Sky & Telescope: the wonderful look and feel (in the tradition of Becvar and Tirion's Cambridge atlas), the convenient size (take it on field trips or read it in bed), the spiral binding that allows it to lie flat, the hard thinking that has obviously gone into the layout. Constellation figures, tick. Clear constellation names, tick. Extensive inclusion of star names, plus locations of some nearby stars that didn't make the magnitude cutoff, tick.

Some reviews have called it your ultimate reference, but because of its one downside, this it cannot be. I purchased it to be something midway between Tirion's Star Atlas 2000.0 (1st ed. to mag 6.5, yes I know it's old now...) and the 3 volume Millenium Star Atlas (too heavy for anywhere but the desk). But despite covering more stars with a higher zoom than Tirion's atlas, it uses less star labels.

Take Leo Minor for example, hardly a constellation where congestion would be a problem. Tirion's map is about 50% smaller, yet I had to copy the following Flamsteed numbers from Tirion into Sinnott's: 7, 9, 13, 22-24, 27, 32-35, 38, 40, 43-44, 48, 50. It seems like more are omitted than included, and the fact that I was able to pencil them in means that there was plenty of space for the publishers to be a bit more generous. In the southern hemisphere, e Eri/82 G. Eri is a large, nameless dot (an important star, one of the closest to the Sun). This was extremely disappointing, and I considered giving only 3 stars (after all, these labels are one of the primary reasons to buy an atlas), but the other positives persuaded me, at length, to award it 4 . . . just.

To finish on a positive note, they did print Rho Aql correctly: it recently slipped into Delphinus, and now has to be printed with its constellation name as well as its Greek designation. Good one.

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