"If you were to own only one book on amateur astronomy, this is it.”

Sky & Telescope magazine

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Co-authored with Terence Dickinson, with sky tour chapters by guest author Ken Hewitt-White, our classic print book describes ...

• All you need to know to get into the hobby of backyard astronomy, including a thorough survey of telescopes and other gear for aspiring stargazers.

• How to find your way around the sky, and what to expect to see when you look at the Moon, Sun, planets and deep-sky objects.

• How to photograph the sky, from simple techniques to guided, long-exposure images through telescopes.

The new 416-page Fourth Edition will be published in September 2021.

In this new edition, not a page goes without major updates and re-writes of text. Many chapters have received complete overhauls.

• The book has been beautifully and completely redesigned, but retains the basic format and all the content of the earlier three editions.

• The Fourth Edition is even bigger, with 32 more pages than the 2010 Third Edition. Almost every image, of the sky and gear, has been replaced with new ones.

• All equipment and software recommendations have been updated to products available as of 2021.

• Tests of specific binoculars and eyepieces have been included.

• Tutorials have been added for setting up popular GoTo telescopes.

• Astrophotography has been expanded into two chapters.

• Image processing tutorials have been revised.

• We've added three new sky tour chapters: Deep Sky tours for binoculars, and tours of the Moon and Deep Sky highlights with a telescope. 

Chapter Contents

PART ONE: Getting Started

Chapter 1 sets the scene and provides an overview of the state of the hobby. A new addition is our illustrated Aah! Factor scale, a "life-list" of amazing sights.

Chapter 2 explores the vast array of sky sights and phenomena you can see with no more than your unaided eyes. No telescope is required, and no money need be spent!

Topics • Getting to Know the Sky • The Day Sky • The Sunset Sky • The Darkening Sky • The Dark Sky • Auroras • The Milky Way

Chapter 3 discusses a topic many guidebooks neglect—selecting your observing site. Dark skies are great, but most of us have to make do with brighter, urban sites. There's still lots to see under less than perfect skies.

We include a system for rating your site.

Topics • The Eroding Sky • Seeking Darkness

Chapter 4 is about getting to know your way around the sky. New to this edition, we include seasonal star maps for both the northern and southern hemisphere.

We illustrate how the sky moves, when and where to see the Milky Way, and how to star hop. We recommend star atlases, from simple to advanced, print and digital.

Topics • Learning the Northern Sky: Seasonal Sky Charts • Learning the Southern Sky: Seasonal Sky Charts • How the Sky Moves • Where Is the Milky Way? • Star-Hopping • Printed Star Atlases • Digital Star Atlases

Chapter 5 delves into binoculars, the best tools to start exploring the sky with optics. We discuss what you can see with humble binoculars (a lot!), and what to look for in specifications and features.

We provide our buyer's guide to our recommended models from 42mm to 56mm aperture.

Topics • Consider the Humble Binocular • Our Binocular Buyer's Guide

Chapter 6 is all new. Guest author Ken Hewitt-White takes you on a tour of ten top deep sky sights for binoculars, in the northern and southern sky.

We provide finder charts and instructions on how to locate the sky's best nebulas and star clusters, with most objects visible even under suburban skies.

Topics • Where We Are Going • Northern Winter Sky • Northern Spring Sky • Northern Summer Sky • Northern Autumn Sky • Southern-Hemisphere Sky


PART TWO: Choosing and Using a Telescope

Chapter 7 contains the favorite content for many readers of the three earlier editions. We've updated all the models and our marketplace survey, and provided a new set of telescopes we can recommend to buyers, though still with our emphasis on simplicity and portability as the traits to look for.

A new section illustrates what you can and cannot see through a telescope.

Topics • What Can You See? • A Brief History of Telescopes • Choosing the Best Telescope • Surveying the Telescope Market • Recommended Telescopes • Making the Purchase

Chapter 8 is all about buying the most important and essential accessories—eyepieces and filters. As with earlier editions, the topic gets its own chapter, but now with updated brands and models.

Included are the results of our shootout of 82° and 100° premium eyepieces, comparing a dozen models from 10 brands.

Topics • Eyepiece Basics • Eyepiece Designs • Our Eyepiece Shootout • Eyepiece Recommendations • Choosing Filters

Chapter 9 covers all the many other accessories available to tempt telescope owners. Some are essential, others not so much. We sort them out, and provide buying advice for what you need, what you might like to have, and what you can live without.

We cover optical aids and digital add-ons, all updated to the current market.

Topics • Almost Essential • Nice to Have • Luxury Items • Not Essential

Chapter 10 explains how to set up a typical beginner's telescope. We answer that most common of questions—why won't it focus?

Of all the chapters, this one has changed the least from earlier editions because the same challenges still befuddle new telescope owners.

Consider this the "missing manual" for your telescope.

Topics • Your First Telescope • The Optical Tube Assembly • The Equatorial Mount • Some Assembly Required • Motor Driven • Daytime Adjustments • Nighttime Use • First Light • Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions

Chapter 11 is a major re-working and updating of content in earlier editions, providing tutorials on setting up, aligning and getting a "GoTo" telescope going. We cover the common errors that result in scopes aiming at the ground!

We provide detailed tips for Celestron, Meade and Orion/Sky-Watcher telescopes, and cover how to connect your scope to a laptop or mobile device for app control.

Topics • GoTo Tips • Meade Audiostar/Autostar Telescopes • Celestron Telescopes • Sky-Watcher/Orion Telescopes • Getting Connected


PART THREE: The Telescopic Universe

Chapter 12 explores the Sun and Moon and their interaction in eclipses. We illustrate the many types of features that can be seen on the Moon and on the Sun, including in hydrogen-alpha light.

We explain the filters needed for safe solar viewing. As with most chapters, all illustrations and images are new to this fourth edition.

Topics • Observing the Moon • Observing the Sun • Observing Lunar and Solar Eclipses • Eclipses 2021-2030

Chapter 13 is new to this edition. Guest author Ken Hewitt-White takes us on a night-by-night tour along the terminator of the waxing Moon, focusing on selected areas with the most dramatic and varied features, all visible in even the most modest telescope.

Images are by renowned lunar imager Robert Reeves.

Topics • Our Sample Moon Tours • 3-Day Crescent • 4-Day Crescent • 6-Day Crescent • 7-Day Quarter • 8 Day Gibbous • 9-Day Gibbous • 10-Day Gibbous • 11-Day Gibbous • 12-Day Gibbous • 14-Day Full

Chapter 14 is all about the planets. What can you expect to see through a telescope? And how can you get the best view? We also cover comets, past and recent, as of 2020.

All text and photos have been updated, with stunning planet images by renowned photographer Damian Peach.

Topics • Observing Mercury • Observing Venus • Observing Mars • Observing Jupiter • Observing Saturn • Observing Uranus and Neptune • Observing Dwarf Planets and Asteroids • Observing Comets

Chapter 15 takes us out into deep space, to explore the vast realm of deep sky objects—double stars, star clusters, nebulas and galaxies.

We head south to survey the southern hemisphere sky, and provide Milky Way mosaics of the galactic core and southern sky wonders.

Even in this chapter, text is greatly updated, and all the images are new, with many from expert astro-imagers from Canada and the USA.

Topics • The Deep Sky Menagerie • Making Sense of the Sky • Diving into the Deep Sky • Inventories of the Sky • The Stars • Star Clusters • Where Stars are Born • Where Stars Die • Beyond the Milky Way • The Other Side of the Sky

Chapter 16 is another all-new chapter to the fourth edition. Our sky guide Ken Hewitt-White provides 20 tours of selected deep sky targets, 4 for each northern hemisphere season, and 4 for the wonders of the southern hemisphere sky.

We provide charts to star hop, stopping at many other interesting objects along the way.

Completing our tours will make you an expert star hopper and deep sky observer.

Topics • Our Sample Telescope Tours • Where We Are Going • Northern Winter Sky (M42; M78; M35; M46-M47) • Northern Spring Sky (NGC 2903; NGC 4565/M64; M51/M94; M5) • Northern Summer Sky (M13; M57; M27; M8/M20) • Northern Autumn Sky (M2/M15; M31/M33; NGC 7789/M2; Double Cluster) • Southern Hemisphere Sky (SMC; LMC; Carina Nebula; Omega Centauri)


PART FOUR: Capturing the Cosmos

Chapter 17 provides advice on how to take publication-quality astrophotos with the camera you might already own, from phones to the newest mirrorless marvels.

We cover nightscapes, sky trackers, and shooting the Moon through a telescope.

We suggest the best gear for guided deep sky images through a telescope, with the emphasis on buying a good starter setup for under $3,000.

We review the best practices for acquiring the finest images with the least noise and troublesome flaws that so often plague a beginner's first attempts.

Topics • Getting Started: Phone Photography • Choosing a DSLR or DSLM Camera • Step One: Capturing Nightscapes • Step Two: Tracking the Sky • Step Three: Through a Telescope • Focusing the Camera • Choosing Deep Sky Gear • Step Four: Using Deep Sky Gear • Advanced Astrophotography

Chapter 18 provides all-new step-by-step tutorials for processing nightscapes and deep sky images, with the workflow we used for all our astrophotos shown in our book.

We use just Adobe Photoshop for all steps, employing functions in Photoshop often unknown to astrophotographers, and to implement a professional non-destructive workflow that allows any setting to be changed at any time.

Topics • Our Workflow • Other Workflows • Step One: Developing Raw Images • Step Two: Stacking Images in Photoshop • Step Three: Processing Nightscapes • Step Four: Processing Deep Sky Images • Advanced Deep Sky Processing


Our book ends with an Appendix containing detailed tutorials for:

• Polar Alignment — using polar scopes, apps and new polar alignment cameras, with instructions and charts for both the northern and southern hemisphere

• Cleaning Optics — eyepieces, lenses and mirrors

• Collimating Optics — Newtonians and Schmidt-Cassegrains

• Testing Optics — how to perform critical star tests to evaluate optics

• To Learn More — includes a bibliography of recommended reading to explore each chapter's topic further

Fourth Edition Revised 2021

To be published September 2021

ISBN 978-0-2281-0327-1

Available at most retail and on-line book sellers. 

Retail Price $49.95 

For more details please visit the book's website at  

Praise from the reviewers:


“Guide books for amateur astronomers abound, but none is more up to date than the heavily illustrated third edition of Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer’s The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide. It’s an indispensable aid for amateurs wading into the ocean of modern telescopes, eyepieces and accessories. And the section on astrophotography with digital cameras is among the finest we’ve seen...If you were to own only one book on amateur astronomy, this is it.”


“This lavishly illustrated hardback is a comprehensive guide to practical astronomy, covering every conceivable facet of the hobby. Its 368 pages range from what there is to see in the sky, both night and day, to advanced techniques like astrophotography and collimation...We recommend it to absolutely everyone.”


“...The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide is an excellent guide to practical amateur astronomy. Any aspiring astronomer would benefit strongly by reading this beautiful book. The authors have laid out technical details and tips that will save a neophyte telescope user many hours of frustration...In short, I highly recommend this thoughtful and thorough exposition of the practical aspects of our hobby.”

Praise from the readers:

"Exceptionally well done and illustrated."

"I read it cover to cover in about 2 days and go back to it quite often. I would give it 10 out of 10 if I could."

"What a good read! and best of all, this makes a GREAT coffee table book. I get all kinds of, "Wow! Cool book!"

"This book is great for someone just starting or interested in astronomy. Easy to read and it provides the basic knowledge needed to get you going."

"This book will serve as a reference guide ... You won't be disappointed in this purchase."

"Excellent book to get started on astronomy. Provides in depth reviews of the equipment and techniques we need to learn if we want to enjoy the hobby."

"I wish I had seen this book a long time ago. It would have saved me a lot of trouble."

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