Book Review - Star Mentor
Posted: 24 July 2022
Hands-On Projects and Lessons in Observational Astronomy for Beginners
Dr. Daniel E. Barth
$35 (paperback), $27 (ebook)
Dr. Dan Barth sent me a copy of his new book, Star Mentor, published by Springer in the Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series. Dr. Barth has a PhD in Secondary Science Education, has been a teacher for over four decades, is a professor of STEM Education at the University of Arkansas, and loves astronomy. He frequently gives astronomy talks on the Explore Alliance Live shows. The book is described as a "hands-on guide for both the budding astronomer in need of a mentor and the seasoned observer who wants to learn how to effectively share their knowledge with newcomers." The book contains 50 "activities" broken down by subject (see the Table of Contents).
Table of Contents:
Becoming a Star Mentor
The Earth and Moon
Exploring Size, Distance, and Motion
Teaching the Visual Sky
The Bowl of Night - Spring and Summer
The Bowl of Night - Autumn and Winter
Introducing the Inner Planets
Welcome to Mars
Discovering the Outer Planets
Star Clusters and Nebulae
Telescope Equipment for Beginners
Binoculars for the Beginner
Each activity begins with a brief description. It then has "Facts You Need to Know" about the subject of the activity. Next is a description of the needed basic equipment and materials for day or night activities. Some activities include instructions for making a model and how to explore the model. The next step in learning is "Observation Time" and a discussion of "What Have We Learned". Many activities end with suggested follow-on activities and ideas for further investigation. The activities follow an orderly pattern (see the Table of Contents), but as the author points out in the Introduction, you do not need to read the book in that order. You can use the activities as appropriate depending on the conditions (Moon phase, time of year, etc.). The book emphasizes using the Scientific Method of hypothesizing, creating a model, matching observations to the theory and model, and documenting observations and results.
A nice benefit for readers of the book is "Electronic Supplementary Material" to assist with doing some of the activities. Thanks to Dr. Barth for making this material available.
The first publication of any book is likely to contain a few errors, mostly grammar and typographical. A factual error I found in Star Mentor is on page 93; it is stated that 1 lightyear is 6 trillion kilometers. Oops. One lightyear is actually 6 trillion miles (9.5 trillion kilometers). The error extends to the mentioned distance to our nearest star (not counting the Sun). A notable oddity (to me, at least) is Activity 19 and 20 that talk about Scorpio. I have always learned that the accepted name of this constellation is Scorpius. At least, that is the accepted name for astronomers. Scorpio is the name used by astrologers. So I always call the constellation Scorpius, just like shown in Fig. 5.7 of the book (although the caption calls it Scorpio). Another factual error is on page 185 where it is stated that the closest the two gas giants Jupiter and Saturn get during a conjunction is never less than 650,000 kilometers. Actually, their closest orbital separation is several Astronomical Units (AU), even at a conjunction. A minor oops in the book will be noted by fans of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Table 10.1 has a couple of errors in the list of globular clusters; I'll leave it to the reader of Star Mentor to find them. Overall, these errors do not detract from the content or usefulness of the book.
Throughout Star Mentor, Dr. Barth shares his enthusiam for astronomy with his readers. This type of enthusiam is just one of the many tools that a "star mentor" will use. The other tools are the 50 activities in the book that Dr. Barth discusses with a very personal and easy-to-read approach. The information and activities in the book are understandably most useful to Northern Hemisphere readers; the author lives in the southern United States. However, the book will be useful to Southern Hemisphere readers as well; much of the information is still applicable and the techniques described in the activities can be used in either hemisphere. Personally, I recommend reading Star Mentor straight through the first time. That way you will become familiar with the material in the book and then be ready for more detailed study to prepare for your "star mentoring" sessions.
When I became serious about being an amateur astronomer as a teenager in the early 1960s, I had no "star mentor" to guide me. My older brother who got me interested in astronomy as a six year kid in the 1950s had moved away. There was no astronomy club or even a teacher interested in astronomy in my small hometown. So I read the very few astronomy books in my local public library, the monthly Sky and Telescope magazine (my subscription began in 1962; I still have all the magazines up to the current month), technical astronomy books I bought from Dover Publications (which I also still have), and Norton's Star Atlas and Telescope Handbook (1959 edition, which I still have). As I gained experience with my new 3" reflector telescope and I learned more from my reading, I wanted to share the views and knowledge of our Universe. Unfortunately, very few of my teenage friends tolerated my passion. (Fortunately, my mother did!) Or maybe I went about that sharing in the wrong way. Afterall, I had no immediate experience from a "star mentor". It was not until I went to college in 1966 to get my Astrophysics degree that I found like-minded people who shared my love of astronomy. I did not became a "star mentor" until 30 years later when I launched my ETX telescope web site and began widely sharing my experience and knowledge. I wish I'd had Star Mentor (the book) back in the early 1960s!
I encourage everyone who is excited by astronomy to read Star Mentor. Let Dr. Barth be your personal "star mentor" and you will learn about the night sky. You will be given basic knowledge of astronomy and the techniques and tools that will make you a "star mentor" to excite others about our Universe.
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