H.A. Rey, Amateur Astronomer or, He’s Not All Curious George   Leave a comment

320px-Gemini_constellation_map.svg-2                  Gemini_constellation_map_visualization_1

Back in the sixth grade, I wandered into the school library to pick out a good read.  At the time, I had a serious crush on Encyclopedia Brown.  He was so cute, so smart, and he had a girl for a bodyguard.  As an added bonus, his Dad was the Chief of Police, giving him an edge to solve mysteries.  As I sifted through the shelves, I was horrified to discover that all of the EB books had taken leave with another student.  I felt betrayed somehow, as if he was cheating on me.  Brokenhearted, I rifled through the science section, thinking, “I’ll show him,” and selected a topic far and away from his range of knowledge.  If EB thought detecting was cool, I was out to prove that astronomy was much, much cooler.

At that age, I knew few constellations, mainly the standards like the Dippers (technically speaking, the Big Dipper is an asterism), Orion and a few others.  I had a really cheap telescope and stared at the moon when it passed by my bedroom window.  I did see all these gloriously illustrated pictures of people and things superimposed over stars.  Yet when I tried to find them in the sky, I had a better chance of solving EB’s mysteries a few pages in than I ever did figuring out where those group of stars happened to be.

Sticking out at an odd angle was a deep blue and yellow book.  Its spine said The Stars and was written by H.A. Rey.  Say, wasn’t he the “Curious George” guy?  The book’s colors were similar (think the man in the yellow hat).  I pulled it out and on the cover was the constellation Gemini, actually looking like stick figure twins.  I opened the book and there were many more constellations to choose from, all more or less resembling what they were meant to represent.

It was a revelation.

Rey’s many charts in the book redrew the lines connecting the stars and by doing so, revolutionized the way the average person sees the constellations.  To this day, I wonder why no one had thought of this before.  Thanks to his insight, many field guides have adopted his methods of presenting the constellations.  Even Albert Einstein noticed his work and said, “Many thanks for your lucid and stimulating book.  I hope it will find the interest it deserves.”

Every night I could, I’d go outside with my copy of The Stars and see what else there was hanging out in the heavens.  Before long, I knew them all, when they rose and set, what season they belonged to and how to find planets among them.  The stars became my friends.  Excited to see The Herdsman each spring, I’d ask him how things were since we last met.   The Scorpion, first rising at dawn at the end of January, makes me happy to know that summer’s not all that far away if it’s rising.  Aquarius, my sign, is a gorgeous constellation that spreads across the late summer and early fall sky, if somewhat dim.

Rey conceived this book for anyone sharing the love of the heavens as he did.  I highly recommend this book who wishes to embrace and further their love for the stars.  And when next watching your favorite sci-fi show or movie, you’ll know exactly where the Andromeda Galaxy is…clearly marked on the knee of the constellation for which the galaxy is named…as shown on Page 42.

The Stars: A New Way to See Them, (ISBN 0-395-24830-2)

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