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 2016 edition, as there have been several changes over the last few years, and this is a very special edition (my last as editor, read on). 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 9000 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 was passed to me, and it was a huge responsibility, but I received enormous support 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.
Nothing is 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. We have been entrusted with maintaining tradition while embracing new technology, all the while seeking the right balance between the two.
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. I ascended a steep learning curve (actually several distinct learning curves!) and found unexpected challenges. It was a huge learning experience, but it is time to move on after 5 editions! In particular, my wife is strongly hinting that she’d like us to have “normal” summers that other retired people enjoy. I’m really looking forward to that, whatever it is!
There are a few small changes this year, and a significant addition: the 2016 TRANSIT OF MERCURY. We give thanks to Arne Henden, retiring co-author of VARIABLE STARS; he is succeeded by Stella Kafka, the new Director of the AAVSO. Farewell, with many thanks, to Bob Garrison, who led the effort on THE BRIGHTEST STARS for 31 years; Toomas Karmo continues, joined by Chris Corbally and Richard Gray. To all the new contributors—welcome aboard!
This is my last of five Handbooks as editor, and I have arranged some special details that combine my current passions: First Nations’ sky lore (including the Moon) and the Keji Dark-Sky Preserve (in Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada, in southwest Nova Scotia). At my request and to my specification, photographer Chris Green captured a glorious image of the summer Milky Way (Spirit Road) over Kejimkujik Lake, from the site of an ancient Mi’kmaw settlement along the shore. Mi’kmaw artist Gerald Gloade created the stunning “Wandering Moon” for the back cover. My Mi’kmaw Moons project partner Cathy LeBlanc (who I met at Keji) recounts her discovery of the night sky on the facing page, and helped curate the First Nations’ content of this edition. Finally, I persuaded regular contributors Chris Beckett and Randall Rosenfeld to expand their view to include the entire summer Milky Way as this year’s FEATURE STAR FIELD.
I have learned much during my tenure, and I have enjoyed working with the entire Handbook team—what an amazing and successful enterprise! I am deeply appreciative of the support and wisdom of the Assistant Editor (and current RASC President) James Edgar—may he live long and prosper as the next editor!
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
2015 August 26