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Book Reviews

Far Out – A Space-Time Chronicle
Author: Michael Benson

Publisher: Abrams

ISBN: 978-0-810-94048-5

Price: £30 (Hb), 328pp

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It’s fair to say that these days we are spoiled with the choice of large-format coffee table books which show gorgeous astronomical pictures but from the very outset I was aware that this book is something special. Measuring just under 12 inches square and quite weighty this is a collection of some of the best deep space images ever shown in a single volume. The print quality is absolutely first rate as is the layout, giving a book that is very easy to dip into and marvel at the beauty of the deep sky.

The author adopts a strategy that groups objects by distance from Earth so Chapter 1 features well known targets within 450-700 light years such as the Pleiades star cluster, the Helix nebula and the gorgeous colours of the mysterious Rho Ophiuchi nebula. Many appropriate images are spread over two pages which looks great in a book of this size. Also, I really like the way that the author has selected many famous objects to be displayed in close-up detail, so following on from perhaps a two-page spread we are treated to exquisitely detailed views of, for example, the cometary knots in the Helix nebula that almost become new objects in themselves.

Accompanying each chapter are short sections detailing what was happening on Earth when the light first set off from these objects. For Chapter 1 and the nearby objects the author writes about Galileo and Giordano Bruno and I found these little asides worked very well.

As the book progresses we travel further and further away from Earth. Chapter 4 is illustrated with beautiful wide-field images of the Milky Way, many taken by leading amateur astronomers, and some spread over a glorious unfolding four pages. We later arrive at the realm of the galaxies at a distance scale of millions of light years. The author does not hesitate to show ultra-wide field images of famous galaxies which really places them in context as tiny islands in the vastness of intergalactic space before moving on to more detailed images. Galaxy NGC 253 gets special treatment with a lovely four-page spread and then another showing the amazingly intricate dust and stars in high resolution. Now of course the light travel time is many millions of years and again we learn about the conditions on Earth then and what the primitive life forms were that may have looked into the night sky.

As we continue our journey ever outward we encounter clusters of galaxies, many interacting, locked in a gravitational and tidal embrace. The final chapter illustrates the Universe at cosmological distances using Hubble Ultra Deep field images and views of gravitationally-lensed galaxies billions of light years away.

As I came to the end of my journey from coffee table to the edge of the visible Universe I can only say what a remarkable book this is. The images are reproduced to the highest standards. The choice of pictures from amateurs, ground-based telescopes and orbiting space telescopes is superb, especially the use of wide field and complementary high resolution. Although not text-heavy, the author writes beautifully. Happily, this isn’t just a collection of cold descriptions but text that is moving and poetical, a perfect accompaniment to the remarkable images.

And, amazingly, the online price for this hardback gem is only £17.14, which must make it just about the best value book on the market. It should be on the bookshelf of every person who has looked up at the night sky and wondered.

Nik Szymanek

2009 Yearbook
This 132-page special edition features the ultimate observing guide for 2009, a review of all the biggest news stories of 2008, in depth articles covering all aspects of astronomy and space missions for 2009, previews of International Year of Astronomy events and much, much more.

Infinity Rising
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.

Exploring Mars
Astronomy Now is pleased to announce the publication of Exploring Mars. The very best images of Mars taken by orbiting spacecraft and NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers fill up the 98 glossy pages of this special edition!

Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.


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