Let's call 2015 the year of space. "The Martian" was a box-office sensation, NASA captivated us with a closeup of Pluto, and seasonal water was found flowing on Mars. That's a lot to absorb for a space enthusiast.
And yet shopping for an amateur astronomer can be tricky because there's just so much out there. Whether it's some new art, a great read or a starter set of tools for exploring the night sky, our holiday gift guide has something for all the space and astronomy fans on your list.
The Perfect Telescope
A great telescope can be a pretty big investment, but there's a broad range of products to choose from. When buying a telescope, focus on the aperture -- the size of the mirror or lens -- which will affect how you can see distant objects, according to Michael Brown, associate professor at Monash University.
Brown has a great telescope buying guide that explains the importance of choosing between a lens and mirror, the type of mounts to use, and even what eyepiece to get. Space.com has a review guide that has telescopes starting at under $200.
The Celestron ExploraScope line of telescopes is a great gift for beginners, and three models are under $100. After buying your telescope, check out the apps you can use to hunt for stars or planets. "NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe," by Terrence Dickinson, is also a great reference.
Space and Astronomy Books That Are Absolute Page-Turners
Books about space aren't limited to science-fiction and technical tomes. Space non-fiction is full of fascinating insights, and many of these authors are compelling storytellers. The list does not include classic works by Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking or contemporary hits by Neil deGrasse Tyson, but those titles are essential to any science library.
Lisa Randall is a terrific science writer whose previous works have been New York Times best-sellers. In her latest, "Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe," the Harvard University theoretical physicist proposes an interesting theory for what killed the dinosaurs. "Randall tells a breathtaking story that weaves together the cosmos’ history and our own, illuminating the deep relationships that are critical to our world and the astonishing beauty inherent in the most familiar things," reads the synopsis for "Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs."
"Spooky Action at a Distance" by George Musser takes a fascinatingly complex quantum theory and makes it immediately accessible. "Musser guides us on an epic journey into the lives of experimental physicists observing particles acting in tandem, astronomers finding galaxies that look statistically identical, and cosmologists hoping to unravel the paradoxes surrounding the big bang," reads the synopsis.
Hubble is synonymous with space photography. Every Hubble Space Telescope photo is met with equal measure of awe and wonder. National Geographic compiled 25 years of Hubble observations in a 224-page hardcover book that won't leave the coffee table any time soon. "The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space" also covers the history of the space telescope.
For the burgeoning space enthusiasts, Buzz Aldrin has written a children's book about Mars. Aldrin is a bit of an expert on space having set foot on the moon as a NASA astronaut and subsequent years as an advocate of space exploration. "Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet" could be the book that inspires a new generation of astronauts.
There have been so many women that have contributed to space and science that may not have been given the proper recognition. "Headstrong" profiles 52 women whose profound influences have changed how we view the world. Among those profiled are Annie Jump Cannon, who created the Harvard Classification Scheme that organizes stars by their apparent magnitude and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.
Some Space For That Blank Space On Your Wall
Tonight's Finale: The full moon rises over the only planet we have ever called home. pic.twitter.com/JWb4cbyc
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) February 18, 2013
Art prints are an easy gift for the space obsessed. The cosmos look beautiful on a wall. There are plenty of options on Etsy if you want some specific, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was a social media superstar during his time aboard the International Space Station. Hadfield's videos -- including his performance of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" -- and photos routinely went viral. His photography during his time in space would look perfect hanging up in anyone's home. Great Big Canvas has over 800 of Hadfield's available to purchase in a variety of styles and framing options.
Anagraphic's calendars are not only gorgeous, they tell a hypnotic story about the year. Anaptar's calendar covers all 365 days as well as the lunar cycle, solstices, equinoxes, sunrise, sunset, and the distance between the Earth and moon based on location. Anaptar has 2016 calendars for New York, London, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen and Budapest. If you're looking for something more celestial, they also have a Northern Hemisphere constellation map.
You'll see plenty of Hubble photos available on Etsy, but you can create your own framed work of art for a much cheaper price. The Hubble site has an easy-to-follow print guide that lets users find their favorite picture of the cosmos that can be brought to life.