The Expert's Bible; Books/gazette

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PATRICK MOORE selects COMET OF THE CENTURY by Fred Schaaf, Copernicus [pounds sterling]21 Patrick Moore, Britain's best known astronomer, was 11 when he became a member of the British Astronomical Society, of which he was elected President 50 years later. He still owns the bicycle he had when he was a boy, and started wearing a monocle when he was 16. Now 74, he believes he is pretty much the same person he was when he was 18.

I have long since lost count of the number of astronomical books I have read. The first was The Story of the Solar System by GF Chambers, published in 1898, price 6d. I read it in 1929, when I was aged six, and from that moment I was captivated. But if I am to give you a current choice, I am going to be slightly eccentric and select a book which must become partly out of date in a few weeks time!

At the moment we have a great comet in the sky: Hale-Bopp, which has come from far beyond the main Solar System and is paying us its first visit for several thousands of years. It will be thousands of years before we see it again, but meantime it is putting on a grand display; it has a bright head, a curved dust-tail, and a long, ghostly bluish gas-tail stretching across the sky. It has been the subject of several books, and my choice is Comet of the Century by Fred Schaaf (available from Copernicus, tel 01483 418822).

The book is not about Hale-Bopp alone. Its main merit is that it gives a comprehensive survey of the whole subject. …