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By Vernon Whetstone
Amateur Astronomer

Well, the hoped for grandeur of Comet ISON during December will not happen, so what else do we have to look at? A lot actually. But before we get to that, we have some unfinished business; what to get our grown-up astronomer for Christmas.
Since the more experienced astronomer is likely to already have a lot of the basic equipment to pursue his or her avocation, what would make a nice gift for them?
There is always more the average astronomer wants to learn or know, so how about we explore the area of information. First, we will start with books.
There is a plethora of books about astronomy. Here are a few that I have enjoyed using over the years. One of my favorites is “365 Starry Nights,” by Chet Raymo, published by Fireside Books.
The book goes through the year one day at a time giving information about what there might be to observe or some very interesting background or other information about astronomy. It is one of my favorite “cloudy nights” book when there is nothing outside to look at.
Another favorite is “The Monthly Sky Guide” by Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion, published by Cambridge Press. It is the book I used when teaching my astronomy classes. The eighth edition (which I have) provides information through 2014, and I am sure later editions will carry the years forward.
Another rather informative book is “Patterns in the Sky, an Introduction to Stargazing” by Ken-Hewitt-White. It is a small book but will provide a good foundation. This book might even work for the younger astronomer.
Lastly, there is probably the premier book for new and seasoned astronomers alike, “Nightwatch,” by Terrance Dickinson, published by Firefly Books. It contains a wealth of information, charts, diagrams, and directions.
All of the books mentioned are available on
Probably the most “giving” of any gift for an astronomer is a gift subscription to a magazine. The two basic astronomy magazines provide monthly information, charts, and articles to keep even the most seasoned up to date.
There are two that I would recommend and on-line subscription information can be found at; or
Lastly there is the creme de ‘la creme of astronomy information sources, planetarium software for the computer.
The program I use most is Starry Night Pro, but currently a learner version—without most of the bells and whistles—is on sale. It can be found at When the page comes up click on the center option and look for Complete Space & Astronomy Pack.
There is another program that is almost as nice but (at least for me) has a rather high learning curve. It is called “Stellarium,” and is available free for downloading at
I use Starry Night Pro because it has the capability to control a telescope.
SKY WATCH: First quarter moon, Monday, Dec. 9; full moon, Tuesday, Dec. 17. Moon near Pleiades, Saturday, Dec. 14, look east about an hour after local sunset. The next night, Dec. 15, the almost-full moon will be smack in the middle of the face of Taurus, the Bull, very near the bright planet Aldebaran with the stars of the Hyades star cluster all around