If you know a beginning astronomer, either a child or an adult, why not help them delve into their new hobby with an astronomy book for Christmas?
The most useful kind of astronomy book for newcomers of all ages is a viewing guide. Some excellent choices include:
1. "NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe" by Terence Dickinson ($35). This book is the standard against which other guides are judged! Its spiral-bound pages abound in beautiful photos taken by amateur astronomers, and include information about light pollution, constellations, pronunciation of star names, and choosing the best telescope. "NightWatch" should be the first book on any new astronomer's shelf!
2. "Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope-and How to Find Them" by Guy Consolmagno, Dan M. Davis, Karen Kotash Sepp, and Anne Drogin ($27.99). An essential guide for all small-telescope users, or any home astronomer who has to fight against city-light pollution, "Turn Left at Orion" offers tips on viewing the planets and hundreds of other relatively bright objects.
3. "Celestial Sampler: 60 Small-Scope Tours for Starlit Nights" by Sue French ($24.95). It sounds like an herbal tea gift set, but actually this book is a collection of Sue French's "Small Scope Sampler" articles from Sky & Telescope magazine. She highlights such finds as double stars, Messier objects, and other sights- all findable with scopes of 4" aperture or less.
4. "A Constellation Album: Stars and Mythology of the Night Sky" by P.K. Chen ($34.95 from Sky and Telescope books). This book shows 55 constellations in the northern hemisphere sky. The coolest feature of Chen's book are nifty transparencies that overlay actual photographs of the night sky, showing both the stick-figure outlines and full mythological figures associated with each constellation. The album also provides background information about the Greek and Roman legends behind all those fanciful star patterns in the sky.
There are also a couple of good books written specifically for children who are interested in astronomy.
1. "A Child's Introduction to the Night Sky: The Story of the Stars, Planets, and Constellations-and How You Can Find Them in the Sky" by Michael Driscoll and Meredith Hamilton is perfect for the eight and up set ($19.95). It includes a wealth of information such as star-finding tips, brief stories of the mythological figures associated with constellations, maps of the night sky, an explanation of what astronomers and astronauts do, and the achievements of some famous astrophysicists. Best of all, the book comes with some of those glow-in-the-dark stars for your child to stick to their bedroom ceiling!
2. "There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars" by Bob Crelin ($17.95) is a Sky and Telescope book about the wonders of the night sky, and the increasing problem of light pollution (plus how kids can help to reduce it). The author is really serious about this issue, so he has created a night-sky friendly type of outdoor light fixture. A portion of the proceeds from sales of this book go to the International Dark-Sky Association.
Young or old, any beginning astronomy nut will be thrilled to find one of these helpful and fascinating books under their tree this Christmas!