Book Review –

Deep Sky Companions The Messier Objects

By Clay Kessler

Author: Stephen James O’Meara

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Publish Date: 1998

Pages: 304

Cost: $34.95 (hardcover)

From the cover you might expect this to be "just another Messier guide". If so you would be doing this book an injustice! Yes, this book will tell you how to find all of the Messier objects and it includes finder charts. The departure from "just another" guide comes in the "readability" of the information presented. Mr. O’Meara presents these objects as a combination of historical information and his own impressions and experiences at the eyepiece. The author is methodical in his observations. He uses the same telescope for all of them and he operates from an enviable site in Hawaii. All of the objects are examined at length at low power, medium power and high power. A complete description of the authors’ impressions is recorded and to top it off, a pencil sketch of each object is included.

This pencil sketch is important. It gives an idea of what to expect to see in the eyepiece (given the fact that you are observing under pristine sky in Hawaii!). I was especially taken with the patterns of stars in open clusters. Mr. O’Meara’s sketch shows precisely why M18 is also known as the "Black Swan" cluster, and adds many more like this. I now find myself looking harder at all of these objects, taking not just a glimpse but a long hard look before moving on to the next one.

Every object includes a pencil sketch, a high quality astrophoto of the object, the author’s impressions, the discoverers’ comments (Messier did not find them all!) and the NGC description. Also included is a finder chart for the object and the relevant size, position and brightness data that you would expect.

The author includes chapters on Charles Messier (written by David Levy), Spectacular non-Messier objects, "Objects Messier Could Not Find", "Messier Marathons" and "A Guide to Navigating the Coma-Virgo Cluster". Add to this a forward by David Levy and this book is truly a treasure.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The information presented was interesting and understandable. Mr. O’Meara’s writing weaves a spell that made me feel I was there, observing with him. While I have never been a "Messier Maniac" the descriptions, sketches and photographs in this book have me itching to set up a scope and look, really look, at these celestial treasures. I can recommend this one without reservation.