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by Dave Chapman, Editor, Observer's Handbook


Before I proceed, if you are an RASC member who regularly receives the Handbook as benefit of membership, and if you haven't cracked it open for a few years, I invite you to have a good look at the new edition, as there have been several changes over the last few years. You don't know what you have been missing!

The Observer’s Handbook is one of Canada’s oldest scientific publications, having first appeared in 1907. It soon became a regular publication and now enjoys an annual print run of 8500 copies. The Handbook has earned a reputation as a solid reference for amateur and professional astronomers alike, even in this Internet age with information literally at our fingertips. As a benefit of membership, every RASC member receives a copy in the autumn of each year. To some, it is just another book, but to many, the receipt of a new edition of the Handbook is a happy day indeed.

The number of Handbook editors has been surprisingly few, as some served for many years, and I am only the seventh! Now we serve very sensible terms of five years. I feel that a tremendous legacy has been passed to me, and it is a huge responsibility, but I am encouraged by the support I have received from my fellow RASC members, including two previous editors who I count as my friends and who are less than one hour’s drive away. On top of that, over the Internet, there is a large and diverse team of contributors, copy editors, assistants, and proofreaders—all of us volunteers, by the way—who have been doing their jobs for a while, and for the most part know exactly what they have to do. Producing the Handbook every year is truly a community effort, and I am pleased to be a part of that community.

The labours of this large team frees the editor for other pursuits, such as deciding what content is appropriate, sometimes recruiting new contributors for new articles (or as replacements for those who have moved on), thinking about the direction of the publication, choosing cover illustrations, and so on. Apparently, the editor is also ultimately responsible for assembling the whole darn thing into a single document, a job that is supposed to be made easier by a computer software package. Last year I ascended a steep learning curve (actually several distinct learning curves!) and found unexpected challenges. This year (touch wood) there has been less learning, and more planning, and the entire enterprise seems a lot more manageable. 

There are only a few changes in the 2014 edition. I am pleased to welcome Paul Maley with his section "Observing Artificial Satellites" and Dave XI Turner, who co-authors "Astronomical Precession" with long-time contributor and former editor Roy Bishop. Chris Beckett has created the new section "Featured Constellation: Auriga," which we are giving away as a freebee. I am also evolving the content in small, almost unnoticeable ways. Michael Gatto has joined us as Graphics Consultant and James Edgar is now Assistant Editor. If you haven't cracked open your Handbook, give the 2014 edition a look!

Nothing is being altered without consultation, and the overall guiding principle is that the Observer’s Handbook is a handbook for observers. The Handbook is your handbook, and we welcome suggestions, comments, and the occasional pat on the back. As aptly expressed by the editor of the Journal of the RASC, we have entered a new era of publishing. We have been entrusted with maintaining tradition while embracing new technology, all the while seeking the right balance between the two.

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

2013 September 24