If you have a stargazer in your family, there are lots of spacey gifts to educate and entertain.
With today’s 21 Century Santa’s List being fulfilled with lots of cyber-shopping, it’s easy to get anything a budding space scientist desires—from an expensive telescope to a simple star chart.
All the usual Internet shopping sites will have lots of ideas and price ranges for some of the “must-have” gifts at some stage of a stargazer’s life.
And Christmas is a great time to invest in a young mind interested in astronomy and space travel by purchasing an educational science kit to bring home the basics.
Here’s some of the logical gifts that will make Santa go “Ho, ho, ho!”…
ROCKET SCIENCE KIT—There are all kinds of levels, from young student to experienced model launcher. But something that teaches the basics of rocketry can be found at a good hobby store for $15-20, and the options are greater by googling the Internet sites. Understanding how to get satellites and humans off the Earth using rockets is a first step in following the growing private space industries vying for aerospace business.
OPTICS AND TELESCOPE KIT—And, of course it is essential to understand a little bit about how light from celestial objects is captured and magnified for visual seeing. The principles of the spectrum of colors and how light can be bounced around are taught in an understanding of dual nature of light: the wave and particle properties of light. The refractor, lens telescope built by Galileo in 1609 and the reflector, mirror telescope designed by Newton in, can be built from kits by the ambitious amateur astronomers.
APOLLO 11 VR EXPERIENCE—Yes, you can land the Eagle moonship on Tranquility Base just like Neil and Buzz did in July 1969. Using real audio and video from the Apollo 11 Moon landing, the Virtual Reality experience is available on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Playstation VR for a $10 download.
STOCKING STUFFERS—I found a couple small and Christmas-worthy little “something” that can be given as a gift from that admirer or a stocking stuffer. How about a flashlight that projects an image of the Full Moon for under $2 (4M Kids Labs Moon Torch), a good bedside light for middle of the night noises. And there are several night lights that project images of the Solar System or Earth on the ceiling, available at many “Big Box” stores. An issue of the latest magazine “Astronomy” or “Sky & Telescope” available at bookstores is a terrific quick gift.
ASTRO BOARD GAMES—Of course there is standard for any interest, Monopoly, and there is an Astronomy edition. One new board game that is quite educational is called Destination Neptune where currency is used to develop technologies and manage resources necessary to populate other planets. MORE ASTRO BOARD GAMES
STAR CHARTS, DVDS AND MAPS—There are all kinds of aids that show you the constellations and positions of deep sky objects like galaxies, star clusters and gas nebulae. While there are some great, free downloads of planetarium programs (Stellarium and Celestia), you can purchase more detailed sky atlases on DVD that can also operate a remote telescope. And you need some hard copies to study at night beside the telescope in forms of charts or booklets of maps.
ANYTHING WITH A RED LIGHT—Because red light does not dilate the pupils of the eyes, this color is the only light allowed at star parties, lest important night vision be adversely affected by white light. So red light on any kind of flashlight, bulbs and LEDs is always need and a welcome gift that will keep giving.
BOOKS, BOOKS, or MAGAZINES—Always a meaningful gift whether a kid’s primer on constellations or a beautiful coffee table book of Hubble space images. A subscription to “Astronomy” or “Sky & Telescope” (about $27) is a gift that last all year.
T-SHIRTS, TRINKETS & TINSEL—Always a special gift is a T-shirt with any astronomy or space theme. How about one with the new Pluto photo? Or Einstein is always cool. There are astro key rings, mugs, ‘fridge magnets, patches, ball caps, etc., etc. All available on the Internet, just google “space stuff.” There are even Christmas ornaments to be had—I have all the Star Trek commanders dangling from my tree!
TELESCOPE AND BINOCULAR ADVICE—The main thing to remember: you get what you pay for. A quality telescope and binoculars are scientific tools that are a life-time investment that can be passed on to other family generations. The inexpensive telescopes at the department stores are inferior in optical quality and have lots of plastic that may break in the cold weather. But they are good for a curious youngster who may or may not take to the hobby. Maybe one in 10 will ask for a better telescope after learning on a cheap instrument. If a serious telescope in the $1,000 and above price point is desired, the two main companies will gladly help—Meade and Celestron. There are dealers all over the country. And many other telescope makers can be found in a small industry of stargazers. Check out AstroMart and Cloudy Nights websites for more ideas of the many custom telescopes like Obsession, JMI, Explore Scientific, etc.
COMFORT STUFF—Hey, it’s Christmas and cold outside, so winter stargazers need gloves, hats, scarves and most important warm socks! And if there’s a star or moon on that stuff, all the better. To matter what kind of weather, a new lounge chair for meteor watching or a portable radio would be welcome from Santa.
THE NEAT STUFF—You can get a 12-inch globe with surface features of the Moon and many planets for around $100. An authentic autograph of most of the 12 Apollo moonwalkers is around $100 (Neil Armstrong is around $1,000 and John Young, Gus Grissom, Ed White in the $500 range). How about a $500 vacation at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama?
The fun is in the giving, so be grateful for what you do receive. And don’t forget to leave Santa some Moon Pies with a glass of Tang. And say your prayers.