Astronomy Stuff for the Holidays – 2012

By Bill Pellerin
Houston Astronomical Society
GuideStar Editor

It’s that time of year, again. You may be the one looking for a (relatively) inexpensive gift for an astronomy enthusiast. Or, YOU may be the astronomy enthusiast, and you may be asked what you’d like to receive as a gift. Fortunately, there are lots of possibilities. I wrote a similar article for the Astronomical League web site in 2011, and there are no items on this list that were on the 2011 list, so check them both out.
Happy holidays to all and clear skies in 2013.
Astronomical League — Membership in the Astronomical League is often associated with membership in your local astronomy club. Go to the organization web site,, click on the ‘member societies’ tab and see if your club is part of the AL. If so, being a member of your local club makes you a member of the AL.
You can also become a member of the AL as an ‘at large’ member. Click on the ‘join’ tab for more information on this option.
Your local astronomy club – Being a member of an astronomy club is great – you can discuss your observing projects with others, attend presentations and meetings, and learn about astronomy related events in your area. Clubs often do outreach programs, introducing the public to the joys of amateur astronomy. The club may offer other benefits as well – an observing site, loaner telescopes, or classes.
American Association of Variable Star Observers – if variable stars are (or could be) your thing, you’ll want a membership in this organization. The AAVSO provides a lot of information to observers, and collects their observations into a database for use by other amateurs or professionals.
Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers – an organization of astronomers who observe solar system objects including the Sun, Moon, the planets, asteroids, comets, and meteors.
International Dark Sky Association – an organization whose mission is to preserve and enhance dark skies by promoting environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. Become an activist in your area for dark sky.

Books always are a good choice for a cold, winter night. Be sure to specify the format – hardback, paperback, e-book, or audio book.
Coming of Age in the Milky Way – By Timothy Ferris is my all-time favorite astronomy history book. This one has been out for a while (published 1988) but the story is so good and so well told you won’t be able to put it down. An abridged audio book is still available, so you can listen to it read by the author while driving to and from your observing site.
Binocular Highlights, Gary Seronik — the book you want to have when you want to observe, you’re in dark skies, and you have your binocs handy. Contains 99 objects with maps showing you how to find them with your binoculars.
The Observer’s Sky Atlas, Third Edition (Springer), E. Karkoschka — a remarkably compact (and not well known) atlas guides you to unaided eye, binocular, and telescope objects. You can throw this compact guide into the glove box of your car and always be ready to find some new and interesting objects in the sky.
The Day We Found the Universe, Marcia Bartusiak — The history of scientific discovery leading to the determination that the universe is larger than the Milky Way. It tells about astronomers who were close to establishing the size of the universe but who never put the pieces together and about Edwin Hubble, who did.
Cosmic Challenge (Philip Harrington) — Challenge your observing skills with this book. For any size telescope. Can you see the Horsehead nebula with binoculars? Phil says you can.
How Old is the Universe (David A. Weintraub) — How did we come to know the age of the universe with such certainty? Available as a paperback, an e-book, or an audio book.
The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide (Terence Dickinson & Alan Dyer) — anything by either or both of these guys is going to be good.  This one’s a comprehensive look at amateur astronomy from just getting started to sophisticated astro-imaging

The Inexplicible Universe: Unsolved Mysteries (The Great Courses) – DVD—Neil deGrasse Tyson—six lectures on things we don’t understand in the universe — great for a cloudy night.
The Journey to Palomar (PBS Home Video) – A very enjoyable video detailing history leading to the construction of the Palomar observatory, the largest telescope in the world at the time.


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