‘Tis the season for gift giving, and Seattle Astronomy gets its fair share of requests for advice on what to give to those who are interested in astronomy and to those who might be.
Back in October a friend asked my recommendation for a telescope to give as a birthday gift for his 10-year-old godson. My friend had done some research and was leaning toward the Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope. That’s a perfectly good choice, but I suggested he consider the Orion SkyQuest XT6 Classic Dobsonian at the same price. Two reasons: the Dob gives you great bang for the telescope buck, and it’s super easy to operate. Just drag it outside, point, and look. Dobsonians, with no computer drive, are not so useful for photography, but they’re great for looking at stuff. I’m a Dob guy, and have owned the eight-inch version of this Orion for many years.
I wrote about choosing gift telescopes two years ago, and that advice still stands. Astronomical binoculars make a good gift for someone just starting out in astronomy. The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer is a must-have book for those trying to figure out what would be the best telescope for them, and it will remain a valuable reference for years to come.
There are all sorts of gadgets astronomy buffs will love. There’s a selection of ideas, some of our personal favorites, in the Seattle Astronomy Store. Check it out.
When you visit the store you’ll notice there are a lot of books there. Given Seattle’s propensity for cloudiness, reading about astronomy and space is often more possible than actually going outside and looking at the night sky. We cover a great many author talks, and highlight their books here on the blog. Some of the best of the last year:
Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program, by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek. As a journalist and public relations practitioner, I was especially interested in this account of the PR effort behind the Apollo program and the race to the Moon in the 1960s. You don’t have to be a part of the space or journalism industries to enjoy this marvelous volume; any space nut will find the stories and examples of Apollo memorabilia fascinating. Our review.
Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, by Lynn Sherr. Author Sherr, who was part of the space-reporting team for ABC television, spoke about the book at Town Hall Seattle this summer, and we covered the talk and wrote about it here. Ride’s story is a fascinating one, and it’s interesting to ponder why it took the U.S. more than 20 years after its first “manned” space flight to send a woman along for the ride. It’s not unusual for women to fly in space now; Sherr’s book is a marvelous biography of their groundbreaker.
The Edge of the Sky: All You Need to Know About the All-There-Is, by Roberto Trotta. Another author who came through Town Hall this year, Trotta did a thought experiment that turned into a book: Could he explain what he does—he’s a theoretical astrophysicist—using just the one thousand most commonly used words in the English language? This was a tall order, given that he couldn’t use such words as universe, galaxy, and planet. The answer to the question is yes, and he does it without dumbing down the content. Trotta also is a funny and engaging speaker. Our recap of his talk is here.
Stars Above, Earth Below: A Guide to Astronomy in the National Parks, by Tyler Nordgren. Nordgren, a professor, author, photographer, and artist, keynoted the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society in January and talked about his book, something of a travelogue for stargazing in national parks. Nordgren spent time in a dozen different parks over the course of 14 months, and came to realize that the preservation of the land that prevents development in the parks also, almost by accident, preserves the precious resource of truly dark skies. It’s a growing part of the appeal of the parks, articulated by the slogan “Half the park is after dark.”
Finally, The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, by Paul Bogard, has been out for a couple of years now, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read recently about astronomy. It’s not so much about the science as it is about the spiritual aspects of our connections to the night sky. It’s a travelogue, it’s poetry, and it’s a thought-provoking essay on our use of artificial light. I recommend the book as well as Bogard’s blog most enthusiastically. It is a pleasure to read his stuff.
If you’re looking for space-themed books for kids, Emily Lackdawalla at the Planetary Society recently blogged a review of 14 possibilities. A classic she didn’t mention is The Stars by H.A. Rey, the author of Curious George. Not just for kids, really, this book, originally published in 1952, is a great help in learning about the constellations and other celestial objects.
Find more gift ideas for space and astronomy enthusiasts in the Seattle Astronomy Store.