Turkey day has come and gone, and we’ve started getting a few requests for gift ideas for astronomy enthusiasts. This year, in addition to the usual tips about books, gear, and gadgets, we’ll have a special section devoted to the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017.
Our advice doesn’t really change much from year to year. Check last year’s post Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast on your list, Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast from 2014, Picking a gift for the astronomy buff from 2013, and Choosing a gift telescope from 2012. Too busy to scrape around in the past? A few quick tips:
Visit the Seattle Astronomy Store. It’s packed with our favorite gear, books we’ve read from authors we’ve interviewed, cameras, gadgets, and accessories.
The best telescope
Smart-alecky astronomy types always say that the best telescope is the one that gets used. We tend to go with a Dobsonian reflector for outstanding bang for the telescope buck. Our personal model is the eight-inch Orion XT8 classic Dob. It’s nice on planets, super on deep-sky objects, but not so hot for photography, if that’s your thing. Dobsonians are pretty easy to set up and operate. For beginners, a good pair of astronomical binoculars can be a great tool for learning to find your way around the night sky. Get one that is at least 10×50—that’s ten times magnification and 50mm lenses. We have the Orion UltraView. Best yet, for great advice about how to choose the telescope that is right for your personal observing situation and interests, grab a copy of the classic The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide (Firefly Books, 2008) by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. It’s a great reference, offers fantastic advice, and makes a fine gift in and of itself. The guide helped me get started, many moons ago, and I still use it often.
Your local experts
Cloud Break Optics set up shop in Ballard last year, and has a fantastic showroom full of astronomy gear. They have an online store, but why non pop in and do some hands-on shopping and take advantage of their expertise and advice. Check their website for some great holiday deals. Support your local small business!
Eclipse info and swag
Next summer’s total solar eclipse will be the first to touch the continental U.S. since 1979. It’s not too early to start getting ready. That means that eclipse-related items will be welcome for most everyone. Michael Zeiler’s website The Great American Eclipse has an outstanding store through which you can purchase his fantastic eclipse maps and posters, as well as shirts, caps, sun-oculars, and other eclipse items. Get a 10-percent discount through Monday, November 28 using the code SAVE10. (Check out our article and podcast with Zeiler from earlier this year.) Eclipse glasses or viewers would make the perfect stocking stuffer this year; find them at Zeiler’s site or at the Orbit Oregon store.
Orbit Oregon has just published a children’s book called The Big Eclipse, written and illustrated by Nancy Coffelt. It and an accompanying activity book are aimed at kids from ages five to 11. These would be perfect for getting the younger set interested in the eclipse, and in science in general. It’s the only such resource we’ve encountered geared toward kids. There are a number of other books out there. Zeiler penned See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017 (Great American Eclipse LLC, 2016). The book is packed with maps and information about the eclipse. We reviewed these two books earlier this month; watch for our upcoming article and podcast with Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler. In addition, Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, has a number of eclipse books out, including Get Eclipsed: The Complete Guide to the American Eclipse (American Paper Optics, 2015) and several others shown below.
Author, astronomer, artist, and night sky ambassador Tyler Nordgren has designed some fantastic travel posters about the eclipse, from generic nationwide posters to ones specific to some of the interesting viewing sites along the path of totality. You may have seen Nordgren’s travel posters for astronomy in National Parks and for visiting other places in the solar system. The eclipse posters are in a similar style, they’re a steal at $20 each, and they’re suitable for framing. Get them here.
Our friend Sorin this year started a business called AstroBox; you can read the article we wrote about it in August. AstroBox is a quarterly subscription collection of cool and unique items based on a space theme. The theme for December is New Horizons: Discovering Pluto, and the box includes a cool Pluto t-shirt, a fine art print, an inflatable Pluto globe, mission patches, the AstroBox magazine filled with mission news and activities, and other goodies. Order here and use the coupon code PLUTOSA and you will get a nine-percent discount just for being a friend of Seattle Astronomy! (The coupon is good through November 30.) Plus, in the spirit of giving, for every subscription sold AstroBox will donate $1 to help restore the Pluto Discovery Telescope at Lowell Observatory. The winter AstroBox will ship in early December, so order soon!
Here are a few of our other book picks for this year:
Tyler Nordgren’s new book Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets (Basic Books, 2016) is a delightful read. It is part travelog, part primer for the eclipse, but the best part is the history of eclipses and Nordgren’s thoughts about the development of scientific thinking. We’ve just finished it; watch for our full review soon. Nordgren will speak at Town Hall Seattle on January 14, 2017. Tickets are available online now.
Scientist Amanda Hendrix and writer Charles Wohlforth have surveyed the solar system in search of the best place for a human colony away from Earth. Their conclusion: Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is the place to go if we have to leave the home planet. Titan has an atmosphere, suitable shielding from radiation, near limitless, cheap energy, and Earth-like features that the authors say makes it the best bet for colonization. They explain their choice in their book Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016). It explores the economics and ethics of a move off-planet as well. The pair spoke about Beyond Earth at Town Hall recently; check our recap.
Another author paid a visit to Town Hall this year; astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke about his book The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), a volume aimed at children trying to overcome their fears. Hadfield himself was afraid off the dark as a little kid, which could have been detrimental to a career as an astronaut had he not overcome it. Hadfield is a most engaging and entertaining speaker. Our recap of Hadfield’s talk includes a link to a music video he created in support of the book.
Julian Guthrie penned How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016), a book about the SpaceShipOne project that won the XPRIZE competition. The tale is an interesting one about the renegades and entrepreneurs who dreamed of getting to space without the help of the government. The book includes a preface by Richard Branson and an afterword by Stephen Hawking. It’s a thrilling tale of adventure and new space.
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