Walter Scott Houston was a dedicated amateur astronomer whose monthly column, "Deep-Sky Wonders" appeared in Sky & Telescope magazine for almost 48 years, from 1946 to 1994. Though he passed away in 1993, his writings live on to educate and inspire both new and old generations of stargazers. Noted amateur astronomer and author Stephen James O'Meara compiled Scotty's monthly columns and edited them into book form, Deep-Sky Wonders (1999, Sky Publishing Corp.).
There is a chapter for every month of the year, with Scotty's engaging descriptions of the objects and how to find them. Many are challenging, with a brightness of 10-11 magnitude or less. Each chapter begins with O'Meara's personal comments and ends with a table of that month's objects, in ascending order by M- and NGC- number, showing the type of object, its RA and Dec, and page and chart numbers in the Millennium Star Atlas, Uranometria 2000.0 and Sky Atlas 2000.0.
Scotty blazed trails in amateur astronomy, never content with the status quo. This book illustrates his spirit for seeking out elusive objects and his love for the wonders of the heavens. He often asked readers of his column to submit their comments and observations. Many of those observations are recounted in this book. Scotty was a master, with vast knowledge of the realm of space, but was ever down-to-earth in his discussions with his readers. In the pages of this book you will find friendly, familiar Messier objects and exotic, hard-to-find challenge objects, all skillfully described in Scotty's own words, with anecdotes on how he came to see them.
O'Meara's preface to the book explains his relationship with Scotty on the S&T staff and as editor of Scotty's column in the 1990s. O'Meara idolized Walter Scott Houston, and attempts in his own books to emulate the nearly-poetic writing Scotty was famous for. Two other well-known astronomy figures, Brian Skiff and Dennis DiCicco added their comments in forewords to the book.
But Scotty's own colorful words make up the bulk of Deep-Sky Wonders. Here is a long passage from the first page of chapter one, "January":
"I learned my constellations in Tippecanoe, Wisconsin, a town that long ago vanished into the urban sprawl of Milwaukee. Back then Tippecanoe was a rather treeless tract of farmland bounded by the great clay bluffs of western Lake Michigan. The sky ran right down to the horizon and, with an almost irresistible force, called for you to look at it. In January 1926, after a midnight walk home from ice-skating, I wrote:
`Snow crystals sparkle like blue diamonds, but with a dreamy gentle radiance totally unlike the harsh gem. A rail fence as black as Pluto himself runs along the road. The forest is black in the distance. The landscape is a masterpiece in ultramarine and sable.
`As if in contrast, the heavens above blaze with a thousand tints. Incredible Orion leads the hosts with blue Rigel, ruby Betelgeuse, and bright Bellatrix. His silver belt and sword flash like burnished stellar steel. And more advanced is dark and somber Aldebaran, so heavy and gloomy. In fitting contrast are the delicate Pleiades, who sparkle "like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid".
`How can a person ever forget the scene, the glory of a thousand stars in a thousand hues, the radiant heavens and the peaceful Earth? There is nothing else like it. It may well be beauty in its purest form.' "*
*(Scotty referred to a stanza in the poem Locksley Hall by Alfred Lord Tennyson.)
Get the book, Deep-Sky Wonders, and get to know Walter Scott Houston. Let him inspire you with his timeless message to get out under the stars. Enjoy reading the book on cloudy nights, and use its lists on clear ones.