Most advanced astronomers already have star-gazing guides on their bookshelves. Furthermore, they know the sky like the back of their hand! So, what kinds of books make appropriate gifts for the advanced amateur astronomer? Here are some suggestions.
“Video Astronomy, Revised Edition” by Steve Massey, Thomas A. Dobbins, and Eric J. Douglass ($24.95) is a great guide to making videos of the night sky. If the astronomer in your life is into astrovideography, he or she will really appreciate this book, with valuable tips on filming the planets, supernovae, galaxies, nebulae, and comets. Those on a budget will also be happy to see the guide at the end: “Build Your Own Video Camera from Parts Available at Radio Shack”!
“Astronomy Hacks: Tips and Tools for Observing the Night Sky” by Robert Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson ($24.95) shows your favorite techno-astronomer how to really get the most out of his or her telescope with electronics upgrades. “Hacks” includes topics like “Upgrade Your Optical Finder,” “Clean Your Eyepieces and Lenses Safely,” and “Photograph the Stars with Basic Equipment.” Perhaps most importantly, it provides instructions on dark-adapting laptop computers and other gadgets; ask any observational astronomer about the sheer frustration of getting your eyes adjusted to the dark, only to have a screen light up and ruin your night vision! This book is the ultimate guide to the high-tech side of amateur astronomy.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the darling of Comedy Central’s late-night hosts, and a best-selling author. His newest book, “Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries,” ($15.95) isn’t an astronomy book, strictly speaking, but its clear, witty explanations and deep-thoughts musings will be of interest to anyone with the cosmos on their mind. What better topic to think about than “What would happen if you got too close to a black hole?” as you gaze at the center of a spiral galaxy, site of a monstrously massive, light-swallowing singularity? Tyson also discusses relativity, Van Oort Cloud objects, quasars, and intelligent design in this wide-ranging and thought-provoking work.
“Hubble: The Mirror on the Universe” by Robin Kerrod and Carole Stott ($35.00) celebrates the story of “one of the most amazing scientific instruments ever made,” as Kerrod himself terms it. The Hubble Space Telescope has revealed details of our universe undreamed of before its launch in 1990: stars developing in stellar nurseries, the smoky remains of supernovae, comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 preparing to smash into Jupiter, and the birth of planets from swirling disks of matter around distant stars. This book includes not only dramatic full-color photos of such phenomena as the Pillars of Creation and the Tarantula Nebula, but engrossing text to explain the physics behind the scenery.
Finally, for a historical look at observational astronomy, consider getting your astronomer “Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star-Gazer” by Leslie C. Peltier ($19.95). This long-treasured autobiography has been out of print for years, but it was reissued in May 2007 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Leslie Peltier’s birth. In his 60-year career, and using telescopes of only 2-12 inch apertures, Peltier found a dozen new comets and six novae, and also made over 100,000 observations of variable stars. This autobiography not only recounts the story of his observations, it also contains his musings on nature and the meaning of observational astronomy. Bonus feature: the introduction is by modern-day comet-finding king David Levy!
Any one of these books is likely to put a smile on your favorite advanced astronomer’s face this Christmas morning!