Okay, let me confess that the night sky and I have never quite understood each other. I can admire its beauty, but when it comes to identifying anything other than the moon, I am hopeless. So when I had the chance to review The Classical Astronomy Celestial Almanack, I had a choice...face my astronomical deficit head on, or run screaming in the other direction! I chose enlightenment :-).
The Celestial Almanack is published monthly and is available from CurrClick. Each month's Almanack focuses on the night sky and celestial events specific to that month. The one I received was for this month, February 2012.
First, I should admit that after committing to review this and thereby committing to learning for myself about the heavens, I promptly tried to pawn it off on my husband. Classy, I know. But he LIKES stargazing, and I figured he would have a better knowledge base to start from. Alas, God had a different plan, and we have had a solid WEEK of cloudy evening skies (which is profoundly uncommon here in the Sunshine State). So no real lessons in stargazing for the children and I, but lots of reading for me in the Almanack.
Let me start by paraphrasing from a Disney song- I learned things I never knew I never knew! On the first page alone, I learned why February has less days than than the other months, and that before the popular moniker "leap year" was introduced, the year with the extra day was known as the "bisextile". I learned the sun actually makes a figure 8 like pattern in the sky called an "analemma" and that the sun really only rises in the (due) east and sets in the (due) west on the vernal equinox. And after explaining the daytime, sun related phenomena, the Almanack shifts to the night skies. I think I have learned how to find Orion's Belt and look forward to searching out Taurus's red eye (Aldebaran) when we finally get a cloudless night. But what I really am looking forward to the most is following the tracking of Venus and Jupiter. I got some nighttime pictures a while back of Jupiter when some other celestial event happened that they chatted up on the news (it would have been good to have this Almanack then so I would have understood it) , and you can actually even see a moon or two of Jupiter's. So now that I have the Almanack, and know what to look for, and where to look, (and have a remote shutter trigger so I don't blur the pictures when I press the shutter) I look forward to getting pictures this month of Jupiter and Venus.
The Pros: Because it's published monthly, the information is very timely. Pictures are included to show where to look and what to look for. And tons of detail is given to explain everything. Activities are suggested for all ability levels, so if you already can spot Orion, don't dismiss this as unnecessary. In fact, I would think the more you know, the better this resource would serve you. It really is "celestial" encompassing both the day and night skies and the activities of the planets too. The Celestial Almanack is Christian, which I love, but is completely usable by anyone of any faith background, as way more of the information pertains to the skies than to anything faith based.
The cons: This is the part where I get to admit my ignorance. Remember how I said you'll learn things you never knew you never knew? Well, maybe "learn" is wrong. "Learn OF" might be more correct in some instances. I read the whole thing, but I understood about half. I'm a visual learner, but I also prefer to have someone physically show me something in lieu of reading something totally foreign to me and trying to figure out what it means. Sometimes, I just didn't "get it". And sometimes I think I got it, but I'm not sure. Being totally unfamiliar with terms like the sun's azimuth and declination, I could have used a "dummy's guide" or at least a glossary. Several times, I just needed to ask someone what the thing I just read actually means (for example, "the Sun doesn't keep perfect time like an artificial clock, but 'runs fast' at some times of the year, and 'runs slow' at others"- how does the object WE revolve around "run fast" or "run slow" when we are the ones moving?), but of course, being a printed reference, there is no one there to ask.
The bottom line: The Celestial Almanack is only $3 to download, and is packed with WAY more than $3 worth of information. Even with all that I didn't understand, I think it's a worthwhile reference and I did learn a lot. While I might not check out every month until I am willing to commit to astronomy being our course of study, I would probably use it selectively for months with big celestial events in them. Jay Ryan, who creates the Celestial Almanack, also has a homeschool astronomy curriculum called Signs & Seasons and I am certain the Celestial Almanacks pair nicely with that curriculum.
To download The Celestial Almanack from CurrClick, click HERE. For other astronomical resources from Classical Astronomy, go to their website. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.
Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a download of the February Celestial Almanack for free for the purpose of providing this review. That download is the only compensation I received.