The Steve O'Meara's Herschel 400 Observing GuideThe Herschel 400 is a list of 400 objects catalogued by the eighteenth century astronomers Caroline and William Herschel.

I put Caroline’s name first here because apparently she made a couple of new discoveries, that were not on Messier’s list, and this prompted William to start his own in-depth search for new “nebulae”.  Working together the search produced over 2,500 objects of which the most impressive 400 were chosen to create the Herschel 400 catalogue.  If you have exhausted the Messier and Caldwell catalogues, then the Herschel 400 may well be next on your list.

Before I continue, a word of warning: In my opinion this book just isn’t up to the high standard of O’Meara’s earlier work and it is also a lot more expensive.  But if you want a comprehensive guide on the Herschel 400 then it is a good book to have.

That said, Deep-Sky Objects in this catalogue include:

  • Galaxies
  • Open clusters
  • Planetary nebulae
  • Bright nebulae
  • Globular clusters

O’Meara has listed these deep-sky objects month by month for ease of observing.  He tells you clearly how to locate each object and gives a general [usually short] description.  Black and white images as well as wide-field and narrow-field star charts accompany the text to make locating the object easier. 

All the deep-sky objects are listed in Appendix A and there is an Appendix B checklist of the 400.  And finally, there is a good index. 

But I find the book is a let-down after the superb Messier Objects, Caldwell Objects and Hidden Treasures all written by O’Meara, and all incidentally also published by Cambridge.

So what went wrong?  In my opinion, if you have a winning formula stick with it!  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. 

Several things have changed from the winning formula, none of which I personally find an improvement.  The first and most important part that is missing as far as I’m concerned is the superb in-depth description of objects as given in his previous works. 

The general descriptions given in the Herschel 400 are short, accurate and clinical – not much “heart and soul” has gone into this work.  I have a feeling that this book was turned out rather quickly – although I could easily be wrong on this. 

Other small changes in detail also annoy. 

Although this is published by Cambridge just like Messier objects, Caldwell objects and Hidden Treasures, the book is a different format from the others (27.6 x 21.8 x 3 cm) and sticks out noticeably on the shelf from the others – why?  O.K. so it’s not in the Deep-Sky Companions series of books – but then you might ask, why again? 

Stephen James O’Meara has also become Steve O’Meara on the cover of the Herschel 400 – sorry, but none of these changes improve things for me at all. 

Finally the price!  This book is really rather expensive, even for a specialist readership.

So to summarise.  If you want a book of the Herschel 400 objects, how to find them, what they look like, and a general description of them – this is the book.  But be prepared for disappointment.  If you have enjoyed the Messier objects, the Caldwell objects and Hidden Treasures half as much as I have, then the Herschel 400 will leave you feeling let down.  I just don’t get the impression that O’Meara’s heart and soul went into this one.  And once again – the price!

You can purchase this book at Amazon or any other good book retailer.

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