Rumors have been flying around for months, but now it's official. Starting today, we're taking orders for The Complete Sky & Telescope: Seven Decade Collection.
This set of eight DVD-ROMs includes every issue published from November 1941 through December 2009, plus a unified index for the complete set with full text search for every word ever printed.
I don't know if you're excited, but I sure am! For anyone interested in the history of astronomy, the back issues of Sky & Telescope are a goldmine. That's why the 3-by-6-foot bookcase containing bound volumes of all of S&T is the most precious resource in our offices — even more valuable than the thousands of books that have been acquired over the years both by the magazine as a whole and by the individual editors.
Here's modern astronomical theory starting when the expanding universe was a new, exciting theory. Read about the discovery of quasars, pulsars, and gamma-ray bursts as they happened, and the huge debates that raged (and still rage today) over the nature of these enigmatic objects.
Here's modern professional astronomical technology from the inauguration of Palomar Observatory to the latest space telescope, from glass photographic plates to photomultiplier tubes to CCD cameras.
Here's all of spaceflight blow-by-blow, starting years before Sputnik. Everybody knows about Neil Armstrong's first footprints on the Moon, but do you remember when Ranger 7 sent back the first genuine close-up pictures of another celestial body? Read all about it in the September 1964 issue!
Here's amateur telescopes from World War II surplus optics to Unitron refractors to commercial Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. When were the first Go To telescopes sold? How long did they take to catch on? You can find the answers in S&T. Just browsing the advertisements is an exercise in history and nostalgia.
Don't think that those old articles are just for nostalgia, though. Hardly a week passes here at S&T when we don't get a call or an e-mail sounding something like this: "I remember reading about a clever design for a binocular mount sometime in the 1960s, and it sounds like just what I need in my backyard. Do you remember that article?"
Anybody who's been to a "dark-sky site" knows that an unpolluted, moonless night sky is actually bright enough for you to walk around comfortably with no flashlight. But where does the light come from? Is it starlight, airglow, or something else? The best concise exposition of the subject that I know is an article called "The Sky and Eye" in the February 1958 issue.
Almost all the observing articles are timeless; the solar system and deep space have changed hardly at all in the last century. Sue French is writing wonderful Deep-Sky Wonders columns today, but before her the column was penned by the equally brilliant — and very different — Walter Scott Houston. Going out at night to observe all the objects in a Deep-Sky Wonders column is always rewarding, whether the column was written in 2010, 1975, or 1955.
It will be great not to have to go over to that 3-by-6 bookcase whenever I want to look up an article. But you know the best thing about the DVD set? The fact that it's full-text searchable. I've listed above some of the treasures that I know exist in S&T back issues. I can't wait to find out what other treasures lie hidden there that I've never been able to find. Thumbing through 818 separate issues to find what I'm looking for isn't a very practical option!
Click here to read all the details of The Complete Sky & Telescope: Seven Decade Collection — and to order your copy!