Great gift #1: Deep-Sky Wonders by Sue French
I recently picked up a copy of Sue French's new book, Deep-Sky Wonders, and it has more than exceeded my expectations for an observing guide.
The book is a beautiful hardback production with high quality paper. All of that is justified as the pages are full of Sue's experienced narrative, sky charts that illustrate the positions of the objects, and color photos by some of the world's most renowned astro-imagers. The variety of objects is rich and the artistry is enticing.
There is more to this suggestion than just the book though. Plan files are being completed now for use with Deep-Sky Planner that go along with the book. These plans contain essential information for hundreds of objects mentioned in the book, along with page reference numbers from the book. Together, the book and the plans equip Deep-Sky Planner users to work through observing and logging many of the finest observing targets in the night sky.
This project would not have been possible without the help of Sue French and Deep-Sky Planner user John Sillasen. Thank you both for your gracious help.
Great Gift # 2: SkySafari 3
I recently got a copy of SkySafari 3 for Mac OS X to test importing of plans produced by Deep-Sky Planner. DSP's plan files can be converted to the observing list format needed by SkySafari.
Testing went well on the Macbook running Mac OS X, but what really got my attention was playing with SkySafari on a smartphone. The import feature isn't ready yet for smartphones, but the application itself is amazing! I don't feel that the small device platform will completely supplant use of planetarium apps on a desktop or laptop, but it is a useful aid for observers on the go.
Southern Stars says they will have SkySafari out for Android ASAP, perhaps by the end of December. You couldn't go wrong giving this app to an astronomer that uses a smartphone or tablet.