Picking a gift for the astronomy buff

Come this time of year Seattle Astronomy often is asked for advice about good gifts for either the beginning stargazer or the avid amateur astronomer who has everything. We’ve created the Seattle Astronomy Store to make it easier than ever to shop for the Astro-minded on your list.

The question we receive most commonly is which telescope to choose for the first one. We wrote about that last year, and our advice still stands. For those new to astronomical observing, binoculars are typically a great choice. You can spot a lot with them, they’re easy to operate, and they’ll always be used even when the amateur astronomer has moved on to a big, complicated telescope.

Backyard Astronomers GuideChoosing a telescope is a bit trickier. A lot depends on one’s observing interests and circumstances. Last year’s article suggests some plausible starters, especially for kids. For the adult beginner, perhaps the best gift is The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. This is the volume that got me started, and it still serves as a handy reference. It’s loaded with how-tos, descriptions of the various types of telescopes and accessories, their strengths and weaknesses, and solid advice about how to pick the one that’s right for your interests. It’s a can’t-miss gift for someone new to the hobby.

The End of NightSeattle-area stargazers are always happy with books as gifts, given our area’s propensity for cloud cover. One of the very best of late is Paul Bogard’s The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light. We wrote about Bogard’s talk when he visited Town Hall Seattle in October, and have since finished the book, which was Amazon editors’ pick for best nonfiction book back in July. It’s a marvelous read, showcasing the author’s love for the beauty and mystery of the night sky as well as the health, safety, financial, ecological, and aesthetic reasons for reversing light pollution. Bogard takes us on a great trip to some of the world’s lightest and darkest places. Highly recommended.

Other top space and astronomy books of the year include An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by astronaut Chris Hadfield, who spoke in Seattle last month, and Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer, a title by astronaut Jerry Ross, who spoke at the Museum of Flight back in March. Other books on the Seattle Astronomy list are in our store.

Finally, if you’re looking for a gift for the astronomer who has everything, check our October post about Jon Bearscove’s Star Party in a Box. Bearscove, proprietor of the Galileo Astronomy Unclub, has cooked up this clever, always-ready-to-go kit that contains just about all of his stargazing essentials, save the telescope. The list of kit items, and links for purchasing them, is on that post, and it has a special section of its own in the Seattle Astronomy Store. Visit it today to find some great gift ideas for the amateur astronomers you know.