OH then and now

The RASC Observer’s Handbook—Then & Now

RASC’s authoritative guide to annual astronomical events—here’s where it all began.

The 2020 Observer’s Handbook is the 19th edition I have been involved with (so far). The Handbook has had only eight editors, and six of us are still alive! It’s humbling to be in such stellar company—pun intended.

My first was in 2002, when I served as a proofreader for then-Editor Rajiv Gupta. Soon he “promoted” me to editor’s assistant and proofreader, where I continued under Patrick Kelly’s leadership until becoming assistant editor to David Chapman for the 2014 edition. Following in Dave’s footsteps, I’m now the editor. 

Now, I have my own assistant editor in Chris Malicki of the Mississauga Centre. Chris has a keen, fastidious eye, and a talent for teasing out anomalies in tables and inconsistencies between sections. It is a pleasure to work with him and I hope we can continue this journey for years to come.

The first edition, published in 1907 with C.A. Chant as editor, began, as he wrote, “with much diffidence.” I suppose he thought it wouldn’t be well received. Well, here we are, 112 iterations on, and not only going strong, but getting better with each passing year.

For the first 49 editions, the Handbook had a rather bland blue-grey cover. Then, starting in 1957, there was a succession of various pastels. The 1979 issue featured a globular cluster on the cover. From there, a photograph or sketch became the norm.

In 2017, RASC Executive Director Randy Attwood proposed the creation of a U.S. edition, a plan that could be accomplished quite easily. So, we proceeded to publish the 2018 edition in both a “standard” edition (used worldwide) and a U.S. edition. 

I’m often asked what distinguishes the two. To give the publication an authentic feel for our new audience, we asked Astronomical League President John Goss to provide the guest editorial for the first U.S. edition, and one of its members, Robert Kerr, wrote an article on league activities. That is now a tradition, having gone to three editions. To fit these items in, we pared down the Light Pollution section.

The U.S. edition naturally uses American spellings. For observing data, such as sunrise and set times, moonrise and set times, and the solar ephemeris, we use only American cities. The Observatories, Star Parties, and Planetaria section feature American locations, while Holidays and Special Dates are American. 

With these changes, we essentially make two complete Handbooks. The task, nonetheless, is worth it as we sell almost the entire 11,000 copies each year.

The Handbook is a team effort, and credit is due to the many contributors—more than 75 of them—who provide the content. I also want to thank the production team of Roy Bishop, Michael Gatto, Bruce McCurdy, and Betty Robinson. 

James S. Edgar is editor of the Observer’s Handbook and a past president of the RASC. He is also production manager of the RASC Journal.

Get your copy of the Observer’s Handbook 2020.