Book of the Month March 2020

Goldilocks and the Water Bears: The Search for Life in the Universe 

by Louisa Preston

Review by Goodreads:

Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe from its origins to its evolution into intelligent sentient beings. All life as we know it is carbon-based, reliant on sources of liquid water and energy for its survival, and as far as we are aware, exists only on Earth.

Our planet occupies a unique spot in the solar system. It is just the right distance from the Sun–within the so-called Goldilocks Zone–to be not too hot or too cold for liquid water to be stable on its surface, which, together with a protective shielding atmosphere, allowed the four-billion-year journey from a single-celled organism to an upright humanoid species. Most of primordial life, if seen today, would be classified as “alien,” as it bears little resemblance to anything that currently exists.

We can learn much about the possibilities of extraterrestrial life by studying life forms from our planet’s history and by exploring organisms still present in harsh environments on Earth that mimic those on other worlds. These organisms, called “extremophiles,” are directing our search for alien life throughout the solar system and beyond. Could we one day find Earth’s toughest animal, the microscopic water bear, living under the surface of another world? Goldilocks and the Water Bears is an accessible introduction to the most fascinating of all the astro-sciences–the quest to learn whether we are alone in the universe.

Louisa Preston is an astrobiologist and planetary geologist whose research has included the search for signs of life that could survive the harsh environments of Mars. She has a Ph.D. in astrobiology and planetary geology from Imperial College London and has completed two postdocs, working on space-mission simulations and the creation of a global database of Martian and lunar analog environments for the European Space Agency. Preston lives in London, England.

This book will be available at the conclusion of the March 9th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.


Book of the Month February 2020

Rainbows, Halos, and Glories  by Robert Greenler

This month we have a guest review by our member Alister Ling. Read on!

When I was a teenager I had been content coming across the occasional jewel of a rainbow or 22-degree halo, but suddenly a window into the treasure room of the skies swept open before me. Four years into my RASC membership, this book was reviewed in Sky & Telescope, and my jaw dropped like someone seeing the Moon through a scope for the first time.

But an older book in today’s click-click world? Sure you can find out a fair bit on the internet, specifically at Les Cowley’s Atmospheric Optics website, but you miss out on the author’s story-telling of his journey of personal discovery, one that will soon be yours too. He maps out in detail how most halos change shape as the Sun (or Moon!) rises (sets) in the sky. All this with clear diagrams and no equations. Also, when you’re on the internet, it really helps to know what you’re looking for! If you are like I was at the beginning, you will appreciate a guide to show you what is even possible.

Thanks to Greenler’s explanations, I have seen segments of halos behind me, from a plane, on the grass at the golf course, in the fog, under a pollen-filled flow, and in a spray of precious stone flickers on a snow-covered driveway. Some halos last all day, yet rare arcs come and go in a matter of minutes. I figure on average I see some form of halo every 3 days, a lifetime total so far of about 8000.

In addition to the subtle variations in the extra arcs below the rainbow’s violet curve, coloured rings around the Moon, and the wide range in ice crystal halo forms, Greenler takes the reader through the play of light in clouds, the red of the sunset, and the purples in the belt of Venus shortly after. He finishes off with the mechanics of mirages, the twinkling of stars, and the formation of the famous green flash.

Follow this up (or start) with Marcel Minnaert’s “The Nature of Light and Color in the Open Air”. You won’t believe the number of marvellous things happening all around you that you’ve never noticed before. The more you know, the more you see. What a fantastic universe we live in, and it’s all the better when you get a buzz from appreciating every little lick and flicker of light. 

This book will be available at the conclusion of the February 10th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.

Book of the Month January 2020

Astronomical Sketching: A Step-by-Step Introduction by Richard Handy, David B. Moody, Jeremy Perez, Erika Rix and Sol Robbins

This month we have a guest review by our member Sherry Campbell. Read on!

I was pleased to review this book from our library and at 195 pages and mostly pictures, it did not seem very daunting. I can say that after reading through the book, I came away thinking that this is indeed a very valuable resource and mostly well put together.

Why sketch in this day and age when there are numerous astrophotographs of everything you may see and so many talented people (many of whom are members of our local club) that can produce amazing detail and stunning photographs? The answer is written in the preface of this book. We sketch for many reasons; insufficient time/resources to produce these photos on our own, a feeling of connection to the night sky when we spend the time drawing an object, or training the eye to detect subtle detail.

The book is divided into 7 chapters. Each one focuses on techniques to help you sketch the Moon, comets, the Sun, planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. There are also 3 appendices that list online resources (although seeing that this book was published in 2007, some of the online references may not be valid anymore), some drawing templates and a much needed glossary. Being an artist, I already knew the tools used to obtain these drawings, but for someone that is not familiar with the tools artists use, the glossary has helpful descriptions (and even comes with more pictures!). Although I feel the Saturn drawing template to be useless as the tilt of the rings change, there are Saturn drawing templates that can be found online. In fact, here is a link for many drawing templates, provided by one of the authors:

Each chapter walks the reader through step by step on how to create realistic, accurate representations of what you see in the eyepiece. At the beginning of each chapter, the authors list the tools required to complete the drawings, give simple, easy to read instructions on how to complete each phase of the drawing and also provide pictures of each step. Some chapters, like the Moon for example, detail step by step instructions on drawing the Moon using different mediums, such as pencil, charcoal, stippling with pens and white chalk on black paper.

One of the major points to sketching that is not made obvious to the reader is the amount of time one must spend at the eyepiece to achieve this level of detail. While that may be fine for deep sky objects, when sketching a crater on the Moon, the shadows and highlights will change quickly over time. The authors do mention to rough in the details of the crater before fine tuning, but they also say that one should expect to spend an hour on each sketch. Given the amount of detail for the Moon crater done in charcoal, more than an hour would be spent on that sketch until you became very proficient.

I felt that there should have been a chapter at the beginning of the book detailing the tips and techniques discussed in the book. There are 2 sections for tips, but the first one that talks about some of the materials required and how to create accurate drawings, does not appear in the book until page 39, and the second one on drawings techniques and how to use some of the tools described in the book, does not appear until page 153. Each of these tips sections are imbedded in their respective chapters on drawing comets and nebulae, instead of being given their own chapter. In fact, a tips and techniques chapter could have been expanded to show the reader how to use some of the more obscure mediums, such as Conté chalk pencils, charcoal and fixatives.

One of the features of the book that I do like is the pictures showing each step. If you do not feel comfortable drawing at the eyepiece quite yet, you can practice drawing in the comfort of your home and follow along with the step by step instructions. All of the accompanying photos are large and detailed enough that you can easily see the next step and develop your techniques before trying the real thing.

In summary, I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in getting into sketching at the eyepiece. Even though I have been sketching for years, I will probably be picking up a copy of this book for myself. As well as showing me some new techniques for solar sketches, it takes the guess work out of what paper to buy for each application and what tools work best on that paper type.

Happy sketching!

Sherry Campbell

This book will be available at the conclusion of the January 13th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.


Book of the Month December 2019

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dave Sobel and Neil Armstrong (Foreword) 

Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that “the longitude problem” was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day—and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution.

The scientific establishment of Europe—from Galileo to Sir Issac Newton—had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution—a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is a dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and Harrison’s forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clock-making, and opens a new window on our world.
This book will be available at the conclusion of the December 9th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.

Berta Beltran

Book of the Month November 2019

Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life beyond Our Solar System by Michael Summers and James Trefil 

The past few years have seen an incredible explosion in our knowledge of the universe. Since its 2009 launch, the Kepler satellite has discovered more than two thousand exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. More exoplanets are being discovered all the time, and even more remarkable than the sheer number of exoplanets is their variety. In Exoplanets, astronomer Michael Summers and physicist James Trefil explore these remarkable recent discoveries- planets revolving around pulsars, planets made of diamond, planets that are mostly water, and numerous rogue planets wandering through the emptiness of space. This captivating book reveals the latest discoveries and argues that the incredible richness and complexity we are finding necessitates a change in our questions and mental paradigms. In short, we have to change how we think about the universe and our place in it, because it is stranger and more interesting than we could have imagined.
This book will be available at the conclusion of the November 18th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.

Berta Beltran

Book of the Month October 2019

They Dance in the Sky: Native American Star Myths by Jean Guard Monroe, Ray A Williamson, Edgar Stewart (Illustrator)

From the Zuni of New Mexico, the Cherokee of the southeastern US, to the Iroquois Confederacy of the northeast, American native peoples saw in the night sky constellations markedly different than those mapped out by the Greeks and Arabs.  The stories told of these imaginative groupings are the basis of this 1987 book.  Individual chapters tell of the myths of first nations from a particular part of the North American continent.  At the conclusion of each chapter is a list of the tribe’s prominent stars and constellations and their western equivalents.  They Dance in the Sky takes us back to a time long ago when evenings were spent around a campfire with families marveling at these stories under black skies yet to be tainted with light pollution.
They Dance in the Sky will be available at the conclusion of the October 21st RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.

Mark Zalcik

Book of the Month September 2019

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

by Mike Brown


As a kid Mike Brown had a fascination with planets.  While at university in California, he went on a mission to discover new objects in the Kuiper Belt at the edge of the solar system.  At the outset the work was painstaking, with no success.   But the discoveries eventually came for Brown and his research team – the first was Quaoar, then came Sedna.  By 2005 the pace was fast and furious.  Learn about the stories behind the finding of “Santa” and “Easterbunny”.  And then there was Xena, the far-flung object that at the International Astronomical Union conference in Prague in August 2006 was poised to be called a full-fledged planet, with Brown as the imminently famous discoverer.  Yet he had always expressed trepidation with the planet designation.  There were now too many Pluto-like objects.  
As the resolution to include Xena and similar objects as planets was about to be passed, a revolt ensued among the Prague delegates.  Squarely in their sights was Pluto itself.  The fateful day was August 26th, the day when a group of scientists in a show of yellow cards changed the way we look at the solar system.  Brown tells the story lightheartedly, keeping the reader apprised with the birth and raising of his first child, Lilah, while the whole story was unfolding.
How I Killed Pluto will be available at the Lamplighter Library at the September RASC meeting!

Mark Zalcik

Book of the Month June 2019

Space Clouds – A Short Guide to Observing Noctilucent Clouds, and the Science Behind Them 

John Rowlands


How appropriate it is to highlight in the month of June a book about noctilucent clouds (NLC), that striking twilight phenomenon visible at our latitudes starting in June.  John Rowlands is an amateur astronomer on the northern coast of Wales.  Although about half a degree of latitude farther south than Edmonton, Rowland’s observing site is idyllic, with an expansive view north over the North Sea.  He is one of the most active European NLC observers, and in 2014 he published the e-book Space Clouds.  It can be found on Smashwords at:
In simple language, Rowlands explains the science behind the formation of NLC.  He goes on to instruct how to look for NLC and record details during a display.  A separate section describes how to photograph NLC.  Of interest is a section on an interesting aspect of NLC history: the possibility that the famous Angel of Mons seen by WWI British soldiers in 1914 could have been a bright display of NLC.
At a cheap price of $8.44US on Smashwords, Space Clouds is a great guide to help you get started on NLC observing!

Mark Zalcik