While Santa Claus is trying to decide if you stargazers are naughty or nice, it’s time to write down your gift wishes. And there are plenty of starry items and gadgets to satisfy any stargazer on your gift list.
First, a word about telescopes. Basically, you get what you pay for.
Any scientific tool priced cheaply, whether a telescope, microscope, metal detector, etc., might be a good introductory item for a youngster, but pales in comparison to a quality instrument.
In other words, those $100 bargain telescopes will show craters on the Moon and Saturn’s rings, but they suffer in durability and workmanship of the gears, lenses and optics that make them a mere scientific toy.
Quality instruments from Meade, Orion, TeleVue and other optical companies can be bought for a price point of $300 and up. And with weeks until Christmas, there should be plenty of time for shipping.
Always true about telescopes is the bigger the better. But there is a limit in size that can be carried in a vehicle and set up by one or two people. Most telescopes have a DVD explaining how to use it, and there are always forums on all types of telescopes on the Internet at websites like CloudyNights.com.
And don’t be afraid to buy a quality telescope on Internet sites like E-bay or Amazon as you can check the instrument out by doing a product search. There are some good bargains to be had!
The 21st Century marketing feature of all quality telescopes is a “go-to” computer that will automatically move the telescope to any chosen object in the sky after a simple setup procedure. Those telescopes start in the $300-500 price point.
Rather than tell you the difference in telescopes, it is easier for you to see for yourself by surfing the Internet for the website catalogs. Just put “retail telescopes” in a search engine and surf around.
A quality telescope and its accessories are a lifetime investment—many amateur astronomers still have their first serious telescopes…I do!
You might consider a quality pair of binoculars, particular if your stargazer doesn’t have a pair. Of course, they can be used at ball games, the lake or nature watching. In fact, birdwatchers are the largest consumer group of binoculars, and many turn them skyward at night. Observing with binoculars is one of the joys of stargazing whether a beginner or pro as there are many objects best seen at the low power.
A subscription to either of the two popular magazines, Sky and Telescope or Astronomy, is a great gift for about $45 a year with cheaper discounts available. Buy the latest issue for under the Christmas tree after subscribing and it will surely be read before the day is done. Looking up the websites of these two magazines will harvest more gift ideas, like globes of the planets, T-shirts and stargazing gear.
Another idea for that hard-to-buy-for amateur astronomer on your Christmas list is a piece of the Moon, or name a star after them. Just google “buying the Moon” and you’ll find several places that will sell you property with a deed and fancy papers to show off. There are even “space realtors” selling acreage on Mars, Venus and Mercury—though the property claim is probably worth the paper it’s printed on. Still, owning a piece of the Moon is a novelty item that shows off one’s enthusiasm for their hobby. I own a few acres in the lunar Sea of Vapors!
Just five years ago I wrote about stuffing a stocking with a “sophisticated devices that rely on GPS to identify a star or planet when pointed to the sky.” Those hand-held star identifiers were a little pricey in the $200 price range, but in less than a decade they are obsolete because any Smart Phone can download a free application for the same sky maps. Or just buy a traditional planisphere wheel with the constellations for any date in the year for around $10.
Maybe there’s a stargazer on your gift list that prefers “armchair astronomy” as opposed to braving the winter cold. Well, of course, there are many books, star charts and software to buy.
A cruise through the local book stores may find the unexpected astronomy treasure. One year I found packaged in a tin oversized postcard replicas of an 1832 set of constellation artwork for just $10. Other ideas that will make as stargazer smile include a digitized set of the 1980s PBS Cosmos series of the 1980s, or a DVD set of the HBO From Earth to the Moon would also make any stargazer smile. And such astro video sets are a bargain on Amazon for either new or gently used copies. I’ve bought several beautiful coffee table books of space imagery for two or three dollars plus $5 shipping.
There are some recent books on the Mars rovers and orbiters that are proving the planet was once drenched in oceans, lakes and rivers. Space history and NASA’s 50th anniversary are also popular books for the holiday season.
There are so many free planetarium programs out there for your Smart Phone and computer (like Stellarium.org) that any purchased software is for serious amateur astronomers most likely into astrophotography and guiding their telescopes.
Some amateur astronomers with a decent telescope are ready for a digital astro camera, which begin at the $100 price point and are actually simple to use. Astro cameras come with software and complete instructions, and there are always forums on the Internet to help the new “deep sky” photographer.
As for my gift list to Santa, I’ve always told gift-givers that anything with a star or moon on it will make me happy. And I have a house full of blankets, tables loaded with coasters and candle holders, and shelves covered with knick-knacks that all have an astronomy motif.
Starry-eyed friends and family on your holiday gift list are easy to buy for—and the sky is the limit!