Finished reading on October 17, 2013
As probably every person who keeps up with astronomy news knows, comet ISON is getting closer. That was the reason why I wanted to read this particular book. Luckily I got access to this book via netgalley.com .
This book is all about comets. Eicher starts with recounting possibly all of the most important comet observations in history, which there are so many that it was even somewhat surprising to me, as I thought I was pretty well acquainted with history of astronomy etc., but now I do find that it makes sense to read more about particular astronomical objects, as not all of them would fit in a simple story about astronomy, where a lot of pages would be given to biographies of astronomers anyway.
Now the part with historical comets gives the basic data – who observed it, where, when, how did they describe it etc.
Then there’s a part about the great comets, or the ones that are/were really bright. There’s not much to say about that except that one might get the urge to travel back in time just to see some of those comets, let’s hope time machine’s are possible and will be available in the near future…
Then after all of those accounts of historical comets there’s a different view – while the first chapters deal with observations of comets then the next part dealt with theory and ideas about comets in history. This was a really entertaining part, as one might guess when you know that comets throughout the history have been considered bad omens. So then reading about how in China there were more than 20 classifications for comets according to their appearances that foretold a certain kind of event – for example a long war, or illness, or death of someone in the royal family…
Now after all of the history and culture part we finally arrive at the physical and chemical characteristics of comets – depending on where they come from and how long are their orbits etc. And then there’s also that always exciting part of what kind of part might the comets have played in enabling life to exist on Earth.
It’s all quite theoretical this far, with a lot of accompanying pictures throughout though, but the last few chapters of the book are the cherry on top of a cupcake – they’re about observing comets – how to hunt them down, how to sketch them and how to take images of them.
There are some books that have those kinds of practical advice parts in them and they make you think “oh, well, that’s nice, but I wouldn’t do that, not quite that interesting…” and then you trail off somewhere, maybe even lose interest in the book or lose the book… but this is not one of them.
Reading those last chapters it made me want to become a huntress, go out in the darkness of the night just before dawn and hunt for small fuzzy balls of light, or maybe go out and start sketching or take photographs. And it’s all helpful information, almost step-by-step guides on how to do everything, so it’s really nice.
And now we come to the end. I rated this book highly, and as such I recommend it to any amateur astronomers who wants to know more about comets. Now as far as young readers might go – it’s not particularly difficult to read and there’s a glossary at the end, but there’ the danger that young reader’s might be possessed by this book and want to stay outside looking for comets for the rest of their lives, so be careful!