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Posted: 18 September 2011

image Astronomical Spectroscopy for Amateurs
by Ken M. Harrison
Springer Practical Astronomy Series

When I was an astrophysics undergrad student at Indiana University back in the late 1960s, I took a class in spectroscopy (taught by Dr. Benjamin Perry, for those who might be interested). It was somewhat overwhelming and I didn't get that excited about spectroscopy. However, I still have the textbook we used for the class:


Beginning in 2004, I started receiving examples of spectroscopy done with various ETX models. The results were pretty amazing. That got me a little more interested in spectroscopy, but I never really went any further than just admiring the accomplishments of other amateurs. After I set up my observatory in mid-2009, I began to wonder whether I should I pursue doing some spectroscopy with my 8" LX200-ACF, but I never did more than just holding a diffraction grating over an eyepiece and looking for spectral lines in bright stars. When I heard about this book, I decided I would have to get it and see if I could convince myself to get more serious about doing spectroscopy. If you are interested in doing spectroscopy with your telescope, hopefully this short book review will be beneficial.

The book, published in 2011, has 238 pages of content (not counting the Table of Contents and Index). The Table of Contents provides a good overview of what the book covers:

PART ONE - Introduction to Spectroscopy
Chapter 1 - Early Experiments in Spectroscopy
Chapter 2 - A History of Astronomical Spectroscopy
Chapter 3 - Theory of Spectra
Chapter 4 - Prisms, Gratings, and Spectroscopes
Chapter 5 - Types of Spectroscopes
PART TWO - Obtaining and Analyzing Spectra
Chapter 6 - Setting Up the Spectroscope
Chapter 7 - Using Spectroscopes in the Converging Beam
Chapter 8 - Reflection Grating Spectroscopes
Chapter 9 - Cameras and CCD's
Chapter 10 - Processing Spectra
Chapter 11 - Amateur Spectroscope Projects
PART THREE - Spectroscope Design and Construction
Chapter 12 - Design Basics
Chapter 13 - Prism Spectroscope Designs
Chapter 14 - Transmission Grating Spectroscope Designs
Chapter 15 - Reflection Grating Spectroscope Designs
Chapter 16 - Guiding, OAG, Beamsplitters, and Flip Mirrors
Appendix A - Suppliers of Spectroscopes and Acccessories
Appendix B - Useful Spectroscopy Forums and Other Websites
Appendix C - Selected Bibliography
Appendix D - Extras

Part One, the introductory section, provides an excellent overview of the history and use of spectroscopy. Just reading these chapters might get you excited about doing spectroscopy. They will certainly give you an excellent background on the science of spectroscopy and the basics of spectroscopes. Part Two starts out by showing a simple to make (if you have the necessary components) camera mounted spectrum imager. Chapter 6 immediately got me thinking about how to use the prism from a very old and no longer used Kalimar 7x50 binoculars (a birthday present from my dad in 1966; although I have yet to figure out how to get it disassembled) and the 500 lines/inch diffraction grating that I have. Chapter 10 is an excellent tutorial on processing spectra images using various (Windows) programs. If you use any of the programs discussed, studying this chapter will be invaluable to get the best data from your images. Part Three gets you into actually making a spectroscope, using commercial available components. Using the tables and equations (yes, there is some math involved for the best designs), you can make as simple or as advanced a spectroscope as desired. The book also includes information on complete commercially available spectroscopes. The book ends with a link to a web site that includes color versions of many of the images, files mentioned in the book, and links to the URLs in the book. Very handy.

The book includes a lot of useful information and tips for doing spectroscopy, from the simple to the more advanced. There is a nice blend of basic and very technical information throughout the book, and it should satisfy every level of amateur astronomer. I do have one minor complaint about the book. At the end of each chapter, there are one or more web sites listed where you can get further information about the topics discussed in the chapter. That is very good. But the sites listed are just URLs. It would have been better to include a page title for each URL. As it is, unless the URL includes specific text identifying the topic, you have no way to know what the URL is for, other than it is somehow related to the chapter contents.

If you think you might be interested in getting into spectroscopy with your camera, ETX, or other telescope, this book is an inexpensive way to get started. I look forward to expanding my astronomical tools (or is that "toys"?) based upon what I've learned from the book. I'll report any successes on my Cassiopeia Observatory web site.

By clicking this link to purchase "Astronomical Spectroscopy for Amateurs" from Amazon, a portion of your purchase will go to support the "Mighty ETX Site". Thanks.

Go to the ETX site.

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