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Book Reviews

Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters
Author: Wolfgang Steinicke

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

ISBN: 978-0-52119-267-5

Price: £90 (Hb) 660pp

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There are probably two catalogues well known to most deep sky observers; those of Messier and the New General Catalogue (NGC) of John Dreyer. Whilst the history of Messier’s catalogue has been well covered in numerous books the story of the New General Catalogue is not as well known. In this large tome Wolfgang Steinicke sets out to remedy this unfortunate state of affairs. Subtitled From Herschel to DreyerŐs New General Catalogue it sets out to chart the history of the discovery of nebulae from the pioneering catalogues of Sir William Herschel through to the last of the visual discoveries that made up the NGC. The book also touches on the contents of the two Index Catalogues (IC) as well. The main part of the book discusses the observations from all the great and not so well known observatories including those done at Birr castle with the 72-inch Leviathan and those done with small refractors from Europe. 

The stories covering the discoveries and controversies around variable nebulae are well told along with the evolution of instrumentation that went from the speculum metal reflectors of the Herschels and Lord Rosse through to the silver on glass reflectors via the refractors. The book also covers the history of several of the more interesting nebulae in the NGC, such as Hind’s Variable Nebula and the nebulosity surrounding the Pleiades.  There is also a large section on the discovery of the spiral nature of M51 and how it fitted into the cosmogony of the time.

This is not a book to sit down and read all the way through, at least not at one sitting. The book itself was originally published in German but I think it has been pretty well translated. The book is a must for anyone interested in the history of deep sky observing and Cambridge University Press are to be congratulated in publishing what may appear to be a very niche publication. The book does contain a number of appendices and a vast bibliography for readers wishing to delve deeper. The book itself is a snapshot in time as Wolfgang does keep a website at http://www.klima-luft.de/steinicke/steuer/start_e.htm which keeps the story updated along with more biographical information and images of the discoverers of the objects in the NGC and IC.

Owen Brazell

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