Best Books for Stargazers - "Astronomy Hacks"

By: Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson
Review by: Brian Ventrudo
May 11, 2017

Discuss this article in the forums

Astronomy Hacks
"Astronomy Hacks" by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson.

Learning what to see in the night sky is one thing. Learning how to see it is another. New stargazers find out soon enough that looking through a telescope is easy, but seeing much detail in most celestial objects can be a challenge. And even experienced stargazers spend a lot of time and money searching for the right equipment and accessories to get the best performance out of their telescopes. There's a lot of expert advice on astronomy forums, and you can learn by asking a lot of questions of the most experienced stargazers at star parties. But these approaches can take a lot of time. That's the value of the book Astronomy Hacks. This detailed and engaging guide makes it easy to access a huge amount of stargazing expertise in one place.

Written by the husband and wife team of Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson, who each have decades of observing experience, Astronomy Hacks goes through 65 detailed tips and strategies to help amateur astronomers get the most out of their equipment and valuable and all-too-rare observing time. While the term 'hack' sometimes implies some nefarious activity, the authors reclaim the original meaning of the word as a strategy or technique for managing one's time or activities more efficiently.

Astronomy Hacks is organized into four main sections. The first, called 'Getting Started', is packed with good ideas and suggestions for getting started as a hands-on stargazer. It goes through the usual suggestions about how to stay warm and safe while observing, choose binoculars and a telescope, and join an astronomy club. It also explains the basic (and not always obvious) etiquette of attending a star party so you don't embarrass yourself! The second section gets into 'observing hacks'. These include the ins and outs of using star charts and understanding how to find the stars and constellations. There are also excellent sections on star hopping, organizing and planning your stargazing sessions, keeping and organizing observing notes, and seeing the maximum amount of detail in celestial objects, no matter how modest your telescope. The tips on how to approach a visual observing session by slowing down, looking carefully, and taking your time (instead of racing through a pre-planned observing list) are invaluable advice that can help new and even more experienced stargazers get the most enjoyment out of observing the night sky.

Section 3 then gets into do-it-yourself 'scope hacks', a series of simple modifications to make your telescope work better. That includes optical collimation, increasing image contrast, and improving the motion and bearings of a Dobsonian scope. And if there's one quibble about this section, it's that it is almost entirely focused on Dobsonian reflectors and makes little mention of refractors and compound scopes like Schmidt-Cassegrains. But of course, a simple Dobsonian is the telescope that most lends itself to these DIY hacks and improvements, so in this sense the authors' approach is reasonable.

The final section covers a wide range of 'accessory hacks' such as cleaning your eyepieces, aligning and upgrading your finder, choosing and using filters, dark-adapting your computer, and determining the true magnification and field of view of your eyepieces. These topics may seem a little more advanced, but the authors' engaging writing style and clear explanations make these hacks accessible even to relatively new amateur astronomers.

Astronomy Hacks makes for an excellent reference for beginning and advanced amateur astronomers. It's a fun book to read and it's packed with valuable information to help you save time and see more with whatever telescope and accessories you have at hand. In the past, new stargazers came across many of these tips over the course of months or years. This book puts them all in one place. That makes Astronomy Hacks one of the four or five most essential guides for all amateur astronomers. It's an excellent addition to your astronomy library and a resource you will turn to often.