Posted on Saturday, August 31, 2013
By Kadri

Star Maps. History, Artistry, and Cartography by Nick Kanas

Finished reading on August 31, 2013

Rating 7/10

One of the first things an aspiring amateur astronomer to look at is the night sky. To look at all the stars and maybe planets and the moon that can be seen. After having taken all that in, one might start to wonder whether all these little points of light have a name or into which constellation does it belong to and so forth. So the natural next step would be to find your smart phone and open Google sky map and just find out what is what.

That is the modern way to do it. But there is a different way - to look everything up on a star map in an atlas or encyclopedia or night sky guide.

Nick Kanas' "Star Maps" lets you have a peek in some of the oldest and most famous star maps that were drawn and printed. It shows the different ways one might make a star map - having colorful pictures of the constellations with no coordinate systems and possibly the stars not even being in the right places. Or the modern atlases with computer-generated images for stars, and only the IAU agreed upon constellation lines running through the map as dashed lines, with just the 88 official constellations without a mention to anything that might have come before.

Since the main topic is star maps, then you can also find out about some of the constellations that astronomers added to their maps, or maybe find out about the constellations that were used in India or Egypt.

But that's not all. Star Maps also gives a short overview of the history of astronomy from it's beginning to the 20th century and also describes some of the earliest instruments that astronomers used - astrolabe, armillary sphere, volvelle. Would a modern amateur astronomer even know what to do with one, if they ever came across one, or even recognize what it was? I doubt it, and that's why this book is good.

And of course as is usual for fancy astronomy books - it has a lot of beautiful images, sure, they're not photos of galaxies or planetary nebulae taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, but there's a simple charm to all the constellation maps drawn by astronomers. The little lizards that look like dogs or dogs that seem to have been put together from Chihuahua's body and rotweiler's head do deserve to be seen.

If you're really into maps, then this is a cool book to read as well.

And you can find out what the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed did with the 200 copies of his star atlas that he bought (out of 300 printed), that were printed without his knowledge or consent.  Or you can ask that in the comments.

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