The Princeton Field Guide to Stars and Planets

by Ian Ridpath & Wil Tirion
3rd edition (2001)
Paperback - 400 pages
from Princeton University Press (Princeton Field Guide Series)

Stars and Planets is an excellent beginner's guide to observing astronomy. The bulk of the book is a constellation by constellation guide to the night sky with a small, but very clear, chart of each constellation by noted Dutch celestial cartographer Wil Tirion. Facing each chart is an accompanying brief description of the constellation's mythology and history as well as succinct notes on bright or notable stars, and binocular or small telescope targets such as nebulae, star clusters, galaxies, etc. At the end of Stars and Planets are clearly and simply written chapters describing different types of stars, nebulae, galaxies, the planets, telescopes and binoculars, etc.

This simple, but useful and informative, guide has been one of my favorite and most used books since its first incarnation almost twenty years ago (then titled The Universe Guide to Stars and Planets). Much of the enjoyment of observing is knowing something about what you see through the eyepiece. For instance, knowing that what you see is not just a tiny orange-white dot but a supergiant star 500 times the diameter of our Sun and 400 plus light years away or that the fuzzball of faint sparkles in the eyepiece is a globular cluster of a million stars that is 15,000 light years away. That kind of user-friendly observing enrichment is what Stars and Planets can provide the beginner with easily and succinctly.