Atlas of Deep Sky Splendors

Jack Kramer

Most astronomy-related books become obsolete pretty quickly. That's due to a constant flow of discoveries and to new instruments available to professional and amateur astronomers alike. Many fine old books on observing are dated simply because amateur astronomers now have telescopes and accessories that increase our capabilities way beyond what the authors of those old books ever anticipated.

So why would anyone review a book that's fairly old (as astronomy books go) and out of print? Today there are so many more current publications from which to choose. Well, there were some good observing guides written years ago, and while certain aspects may not be current, there's content that is as timeless as astronomy itself. One example is Vehrenberg's Atlas of Deep Sky Splendors. There were four editions published in Germany and produced for the U.S. market in cooperation with Sky Publishing. Hans Vehrenberg was an amateur astronomer and accomplished astrophotographer. His Atlas is basically a photographic guide to all the Messier objects and a large number of NGC and IC galaxies, nebulae and star clusters. There are also brief descriptions of the main objects along with some observatory images.

At first glance this large book may look like a "coffee table" artifact, but it's a serious deep sky observing guide for amateur astronomers. Among its important advantages is that all Vehrenberg's photos are printed to the same scale, which provides the observer with a reference point as to how the object will look. As Vehrenberg states in the preface, "I felt there was a need for a photographic representation of all the Messier objects on a uniform scale, and pictured in an adequately large star field." The large field makes a great star hopping guide because you're looking at real stars with their relative brightness, albeit on a printed page. Also included is a small chart-like locator guide (which I never found really helpful). At the back of the book are three large-scale foldout photographic maps of the Milky Way with major objects identified.

I have the 1971 edition with black-and-white photos. From what I recall, the final printing in 1988 had full-color images. But there's an advantage to seeing the objects as they actually appear in our telescopes. We don't see them in vivid color - rather, in white and various shades of gray. I used Vehrenberg's photos extensively in a quest to complete the Messier list.

While the Vehrenberg Atlas is no longer published, I did find several used versions on Amazon. No doubt there are others available elsewhere in the used book marketplace. A couple of people have offered to buy my copy, but it's not for sale. I still refer to it now and then. That's saying a lot for an astronomy book that's over thirty-five years old!

Published in the August 2008 issue of the NightTimes