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Book Reviews

Observatories of the Southwest
Authors:Douglas Isbell & Stephen E. Strom

Publisher: The University of Arizona Press

ISBN: 978-0-8165-2641-3

Price: £ 14.57 (Pb), 172pp

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The ‘southwest’ in the title refers to the United States (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas). This area is home to some of the great observatories of the World, including the historical 200 inch Palomar reflector, the twenty-seven radio dishes of the Very Large Array and the truly gargantuan twin 8.4 metre mirrors that comprise the Large Binocular Telescope. The subtitle A Guide for Curious Skywatchers, indicates that the book is aimed primarily at astronomers (and also the interested layman) visiting the area.

The eight observatories covered are: Palomar, Kitt Peak, Lowell, Fred Lawrence Whipple, VLA, Sacramento Peak, McDonald and Mount Graham. Between them they contain night-time instruments operating in the optical and infra-red bands, solar telescopes, a gamma-ray instrument and radio telescopes.

Each chapter follows the same structure: an overview of the observatory, its history, telescopes, website, address and telephone number; ‘For the Public’ details opening hours, how to get there, facilities, etc.; ‘For Teachers and Students’ covering the observatory’s educational programmes is really only of use to the American reader; ‘A Talk with …’ is an interview with an astronomer who has worked at the observatory, and finally ‘Science Highlight’ is an essay discussing a particular facet of astronomy with which that observatory is particularly associated. For example, Kitt Peak – ‘Dark Matter and Dark Energy’, Sacramento Peak – ‘The Complexity of Sunspots’. Much of this material will already be familiar to the average AN reader, but it puts the work of the observatory into context.

Strom is a respected astronomer and Isbell an award-wining science writer; the book is well-written reflecting these authors’ credentials. The book isn’t over-endowed with photographs, but the black & white images are of good quality. Also included is a list of abbreviations, and a ‘For Further Reading’ section.

This is not a comprehensive guide to every instrument at each of the observatories. But for the amateur astronomer heading to this part of the USA to visit one or more of the observatories, it is certainly worth packing into the suitcase. For those interested in professional observatories and telescopes in general it is a good read and similar volumes covering, say, Europe or South America would be welcome.

Nick Quinn

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