BOOK REVIEW: Treasures of the Southern Sky

Treasures of the Southern Sky

BOOK REVIEW by Steve Crouch

Treasures of the Southern Sky by Robert Gendler, Lars Lindberg Christensen and David Malin (Published by Springer)

Given that it’s been almost 25 years since the publication of “Exploring the Southern Sky” and almost 20 years since David Malin’s “A view of the Universe”, a new coffee table book featuring the southern sky is probably long overdue. There have been many advances in imaging techniques in the last 25 years and quite a few new telescopes, including HST, which often image southern objects.

Treasures of the Southern Sky is the first book about the southern sky that I’ve seen for a long time and in general it compares well with its illustrious predecessors but I do have one mild complaint which I will get to later.

The book opens with a comprehensive section entitled “The Discovery o f the Southern Sky” in which the pioneering work of such people as Halley, Lacaille, Dunlop and Sir John Herschel is described. Not surprisingly, given that two of the authors are famous astrophotographers, there is a good coverage of early photographic efforts. There then follows a series of images of the various southern objects by season, starting with summer. Many of the images are presented in both wide field and narrow angle versions and a good feature is that the frame coverage of the narrow angle shot is marked on the wide field image. Each image is accompanied by the astrophysical explanation for its appearance. One difference with “Exploring the Southern Sky” is that every image is in colour (sometimes narrow band colour) whereas the older book had plenty of black and white. This book also includes some spectacular infrared shots too which would have been impossible 25 years ago. The quality of the images is extremely high and it’s easy to see the advances that have been made in 25 years. Finally there is a fairly comprehensive bibliography on books about the southern sky.

Now to my complaint: the choice of objects. In a book that is supposed to be about the southern sky I think the choice of “southern” objects leaves a bit to be desired. Sure the familiar stuff is here but I would have preferred to see many more objects from the far south. The beautiful globular cluster NGC 6752, the spectacular galaxy NGC 1566 in Dorado, the oddly shaped planetary nebula IC 4406 and Apus with its mixture of galaxies and galactic cirrus are all missing for instance. In fact Treasures of the Southern Sky has the look of a southern sky book written by a northerner. There is quite an extensive coverage of Orion for example and the cover of the book is actually a picture of the Orion nebula. Sure it’s a southern object (just) but hasn’t it been done to death already? If I was a northern hemisphere resident I would be buying this book to read about the objects that I can’t see, not the ones with which I am already familiar. There is also a fair bit about M8, M11, M16 and M17. Once again, they are southern objects but northern hemisphere people would already be familiar with them.

This gripe aside, I think that Treasures of the Southern Sky is well worth adding to your astronomical library. The images are quite spectacular.

Steve Crouch