Skip to main content

How We See the Sky

A Naked-Eye Tour of Day and Night

Gazing up at the heavens from our backyards or a nearby field, most of us see an undifferentiated mess of stars—if, that is, we can see anything at all through the glow of light pollution. Today’s casual observer knows far less about the sky than did our ancestors, who depended on the sun and the moon to tell them the time and on the stars to guide them through the seas. Nowadays, we don’t need the sky, which is good, because we’ve made it far less accessible, hiding it behind the skyscrapers and the excessive artificial light of our cities. 

How We See the Sky gives us back our knowledge of the sky, offering a fascinating overview of what can be seen there without the aid of a telescope. Thomas Hockey begins by scanning the horizon, explaining how the visible universe rotates through this horizon as night turns to day and season to season. Subsequent chapters explore the sun’s and moon’s respective motions through the celestial globe, as well as the appearance of solstices, eclipses, and planets, and how these are accounted for in different kinds of calendars. In every chapter, Hockey introduces the common vocabulary of today’s astronomers, uses examples past and present to explain them, and provides conceptual tools to help newcomers understand the topics he discusses.

Packed with illustrations and enlivened by historical anecdotes and literary references, How We See the Sky reacquaints us with the wonders to be found in our own backyards.

224 pages | 66 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Earth Sciences: General Earth Sciences

Physical Sciences: Astronomy and Astrophysics


“[Hockey] gives us descriptions of the motions of the sun, the moon, the stars and the planets over a night, over a month, over a year, even over millennia. If you’ve ever wondered about the phases of the moon or the movements of the planets, or wondered why Polaris—the North Star—appears stationary, you can find that information and much more packed in here.”

Mike Brown | Wall Street Journal

“Images of the Horsehead Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope are more familiar to most of us than the sight of the sky above our heads. So argues astronomer Thomas Hockey, who urges us to gaze unaided at the Universe. Starting with a scan of the horizon, Hockey takes us through the science as well as a host of cultural references, from Pink Floyd to the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. He explores the astronomical sky, the 88 constellations and the Milky Way; orientation through azimuth to zenith; lunar and solar motion, solstices and eclipses. A heavenly and often humorous journey.”


“In a book that considers the appearance of the heavens from the point of view of naked-eye observations on the Earth’s surface, Thomas Hockey writes about the practical astronomy that anyone can do without using a telescope - and, of course, that is how astronomy was done throughout most of human history. . . . I would happily put this book on a reading list for newcomers to elementary astronomy who are curious to know more about the night sky.”

Simon Mitton | Times Higher Education

“All in all, a charming book, and if it drives you out of your office to look at the sky, well that is what astronomers are supposed to do.”

Virginia Trimble | Observatory

“Unlike Consolmagno and Davis, above, the only special equipment required here is your eyesight. Hockey introduces you to today’s language of astronomy and the essentials about our celestial globe as we encounter it every day-and night.”

Margaret Heilbrun | Library Journal

“Entertaining and very readable, How We See the Sky presents an up-to-date approach to what a dedicated visual observer can hope to understand by carefully monitoring the sky. In addition, it provides a wealth of information that informs the reader about celestial phenomena. In this respect, it follows in a long tradition of astronomical handbooks and celestial viewing guides, many of which are now dated.”

Jay Holberg, University of Arizona

“Appreciating the power of the unaided eye and becoming aware of the astonishing accomplishments that reward patient, repetitive observation: two potent takeaway points of first-year astronomy students taught well. How We See the Sky is the ideal text for all who would learn well, whether through instruction or by themselves. It responds to the questions most asked about the everyday world, such as why day and night, and when and where can we see the moon, the planets, and the constellations of the zodiac. Thomas Hockey’s book gives further meaning to naked-eye astronomy by relating it to other human endeavors, such as history, archaeology, and architecture.”

Anthony Aveni, Colgate University

“Hockey provides a new and vigorous way to introduce the sky to new observers. . . . [A] worthy source for anyone seeking familiarity with the sky and its motions. Recommended.”

A. R. Upgren, Wesleyan University | Choice

Table of Contents

1. Bowl of Night

2. This Big Ol’ Wheel Keeps Rolling

3. A Globe of Stars

4. Of Precession, Planispheres, and Patience

5. The King of Day

6. Solstices, Equinoxes, and More

7. Around the World with the Sun

8. Many Moons

9. Living Month to Month

10. Facing Up to the Moon (and the Sun, Too)

11. Eclipses

12. Placing Planets

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press