RASC Halifax Member John A Read Releases Guide to Observing Messier Catalog

By Lisa Ann Fanning

Three years in the making, and 110 Messier objects later, 2020 RASC Simon Newcomb Award Recipient and RASC Halifax Centre member John A. Read has published his 12th non-fiction title, and it is a must have for any Astronomy buff. 110 Things To See With a Telescope is a guide through Charles Messier’s famous catalog of deep sky objects. 

Read began penning the book in April 2018, beginning with M13 and ending with M24, the last object he photographed for the book. 

Reviews have been consistent, five out of five stars on amazon.com and amazon.ca, and it has earned accolades as #1 Best Seller in telescopes (amazon.ca) and #1 New Release in telescopes (amazon.com). Many of the reviews point out the book’s features, and design. 
The design team has thought of so many little format touches that make this book incredibly user friendly. Objects are organized by season to help the reader plan their observing sessions easily and the page edges are even color coded accordingly.

Each object has a brief description in simple terms, common and alternative names, object brightness, distance, a subjective rating for difficulty to see.  Additionally, each object is depicted to a scale of about 100x, similar to the size of the full moon. They are also depicted in relation to the easier to find objects (stars, constellations, etc.) that surround it, making it easier much easier to locate than other books which do not typically show this information. Diagrams even include a depicted Telrad ring to aid the reader.

Also helpful is space to record your observations, with prompts for information and space to sketch that is helpful whether submitting observing certificate applications or just maintaining a record of your sightings that you can look back on in years to come.
The book is geared towards observers of all skill levels, and contains comprehensive background information for beginners as well, with 20 pages of introductory information that is helpful in understanding concepts like types of telescopes, how to plan viewing sessions, how to record observations, and of course, history and background of the catalog itself. Want to take the book out in the field? The book is designed and printed to be used under red light as well, so no need to lose your night vision while observing.

When asked what motivated Read to write this book, he replied, “This is the book I want to use when I go observing, and it simply didn’t exist. Sure, there are other books on the messier list (most are out of print), but there are none that you can simply pick up, use to find your specific target, and record your observation, all without turning a page. I believe my method for creating a book containing customized star maps with only one target per page is unique.”

In Autumn, 2020, fellow RASCal, Chris Vaughan, joined Read in writing the book, after they teamed up with Outreach Coordinator, Jenna Hinds on the Mars opposition live-stream for the RASC. “In early 2021, I watched Chris doing a presentation on the Messier objects during another streaming session, and asked him to co-write the book with me shortly after. Chris has more dark-sky observing experience than I do, and the book needed someone who could speak to the finer details on the lesser known targets.” 

I had the opportunity to ask Read some Q&A and it follows below:

Q: Which object(s) would you say are the easiest to see (for beginners?)
JR: M13 (Great Globular Cluster in Hercules), M22 (Globular Cluster), M45 (The Pleiades), M31 (Andromeda Galaxy), M57 (The Ring Nebula) and M42 (Orion Nebula)

Q: Which object(s) presented you with the biggest challenge and why?
JR: I didn’t see Leo Triplet until recently. This is a springtime target, but is a challenge to see from the city. Most of my dark-sky observing is done in the late summer, when Leo is below the horizon. 

Q: Do you have a favorite / favorites ?
JR: I tend to return over and over to the ones that are easy to find. M57 (The Ring Nebula), M27, the Dumbbell, M13 in summer. M42 in winter, The Beehive (M44) in spring, and M31 in autumn. M81 and M82 are nearly circumpolar, so I check in on those quite often as well. 

Q: Do you have any interesting stories that happened while you were writing the book?
JR: After I first reached out to Tim Russ (Star Trek Voyager actor) to write the forward for the book, he responded quickly, and we began exchanging lots of emails. Several of my friends are Trekkies, and if it came up, I’d let them know I was talking with “Tuvok,” Tim’s character on the show. One of my friends asked me to ask Tim if he thought Captain Janeway was a murderer for killing Tuvix ( a character created when Tuvok and Neelix became one person in a transporter accident). I was too shy to ask.

Q: Do you have a favorite moment?
JR: Taking the photos for the “Eyepiece view” images was a lot of work, but probably the most fun, and most challenging. I had an excel file going to track which photos I had, and which photos I was missing. For consistency, I used robotic telescopes for about 80 percent of the images, but several were too far south, so I had to learn to use other robotic telescopes located down in the states. For wide field shots I ordered a wide field telescope (Sharpstar 61), but due to the pandemic, my order was delayed for months. Then Ray Khan from Khan Telescopes went to his store, found the display model, and shipped that to me. 

Q: Did you apply for both certificates?   
JR: I plan to re-observe the Messier objects over the next year, using the book to document my progress and apply for the certificate. 

Q: What/ when was your best night of viewing? (Most objects in a single session) + describe the evening
JR: It’s hard to say what my best night of viewing was, probably one of the evenings at a past Nova East Star Party. I LOVE doing mini-marathons, challenging myself to see how many objects I can see in a single session. I usually use my 12 inch dobsonian for this, hopping around from target to target. On a good night, I typically hit up about 30 different objects.  

Q: Were there any objects that made your family members or friends go “wow!” when you showed them?
JR: Only the brightest objects like M42 typically get the wows. The dimmer more obscure objects take time and effort to appreciate, so a wow is generally not the goal for most Messier objects. 

Q: Are your boys passionate about astronomy?  What do they love most?
JR: My boys love looking at the Moon, and different colored stars. I think they’re a little young to be passionate about astronomy, but I’m hoping that will come with time.

Q: How has the pandemic changed your viewing? Do you view more /less? Do you miss anything in particular? Have you gained anything from the pandemic?
JR: I still stargaze whenever I can. So I don’t think the pandemic changed the frequency of my observations. What I really miss is the hands-on work I did at the Burke-Gaffney Observatory; getting the 5 dobsonians on our school’s observation deck and helping dozens of students (per session) with their observing projects for SMU’s introductory astronomy course for non-science students. 

Q: Any new and exciting projects coming up?
JR: I have some projects with Formac publishing for the 6th grade science curriculum. For the next few months, I’d like to focus on creating helpful content on my LearnToStargaze YouTube channel to supplement the books. 

Q: Any advice you’d like to add for us newbies?
JR: Get the book and get to work observing! You’ll be surprised how much you can see, and how fun it can be to record your progress toward seeing all 110 targets. 

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