Happy Holidays everyone!
Yes, it’s that time of year again when everyone struggles with what gifts to buy their family and friends for their holiday-of-choice. Whether you are hoping to foster a love of space and science in a young child, or want to surprise that special adult “Super Space Nerd,” we here at Universe Today are here to help our readers out with ideas and recommendations to fit virtually any budget, experience level, and area of interest, including telescopes, books, and other items that the “space/science geek” in your life would love to receive!
Note, this isn’t an ad, we don’t make any money if you buy any of this stuff, these are purely our honest recommendations.
The cardinal rule when purchasing a beginner scope is never, Never, NEVER be tempted by that $39 “500X” no-name telescope special from your local department or grocery store! Celestron and Meade both make good quality beginner scopes starting at well under $100 that are suitable for both young and old alike – so you don’t have to break the bank to give someone a quality piece of hardware.
Here are a couple of our favorites:
- Galileoscope [$50–$60 USD]
This 2-inch refractor is a perfect beginner’s scope, particularly for young children, since it is made from plastic. It comes as a kit and requires assembly (no tools required) which also serves to introduce basic optical concepts. Once assembled, it can be mounted on a camera tripod and used for quick cell-phone astrophotography, and is ideal for observing the moon, crescent Venus, bands across Jupiter as well as its moons, and even the rings of Saturn, including the gap in the rings!
- AWB OneSky Telescope [$200.00 USD; available in the United States ONLY]
Available directly from Astronomers Without Borders and manufactured by Celestron, this Dobsonian scope is an ideal step up for someone looking for a bit more performance without depleting your entire holiday budget. Small cameras can be mounted to it for astrophotography, and is an ideal way to learn to star hop.And as an added perk, a generous portion of each sale goes to support AWB programs.
Astronomical Binoculars [~$70 USD and up]
Another affordable observing option is a pair of astronomical binoculars. A good set of 15x75s or 10x50s is perfect for getting a good overview of the sky, learning how to star hop, and for observing the moon and larger-area targets such as nebulae and some galaxies. Depending on size and weight of the specific model selected, you may also want to invest in a good tripod/monopod since larger binoculars can be heavy. Of course, you can always bring out a blanket and lay on the grass to do your binocular observing!
Although the Moon looks great through binoculars and they provide a good overall view of the night sky, if you are interested in observing the planets, this is not your best option and you will need the increased resolving capabilities of a telescope.
There are a number of great binocular manufacturers from which to choose, including Celestron, Nikon, and Orion, and they are available through many photo and astronomy retailers, both online and in-store.
Who doesn’t love a good book? And whether your Space Nerd loves space history, speculative fiction, photography, how-tos, good old fashioned Science Fiction, or even coloring books, there is a book out there to match their interest.
Note that many authors have numerous books in print, so be sure to research what other titles might be available for gift giving.
- NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terrence Dickinson
- The Total Skywatcher’s Manual from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
- Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA, by Amy Shira–Teitel
Although available in Europe, this is currently only available as a pre-order in the US and will be released on January 12, 2016.
- Coloring the Universe: An Insider’s Look at Making Spectacular Images of Space, by Travis Rector, Kimberly Arcand, and Megan Watzke.
- Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond, by Megan Watzke and Kimberly Arcand
- The Stars by H. A Rey
- Philip’s Astronomy Series
- Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno, Dan M. Davis
For the science fiction lovers out there, the list of titles goes on and on, and is also dependent on each individual’s specific interest. But to get you started, here are a few of our recommendations:
- Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
- 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
- Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
- The Martian by Andy Weir
Just for Fun
- Color the Cosmos: A Stress Relieving Adult Coloring Book, by Daniela Licalzi, Caroline Licalzi, et al.
Magazine subscriptions always make a wonderful, 12-month gift for your science-loving family and friends. Popular titles we recommend include:
Software is another great way learn about the universe in which we live while simultaneously having fun. Many are available as online applications or can be downloaded for free. And for those of you who are doing astrophotography, there are several image processing packages that are available for creating awesome images.
Here are some of our favorites games and apps, as well as some new online simulators that we have found:
- Kerbal Space Program [$40 USD]
Players create and manage their own space program. Build spacecraft, fly them, and try to help the Kerbals to fulfill their ultimate mission of conquering space. According to Fraser, KSP is:
… the most realistic recreation of space flight that is also super fun… I learned more about the mechanics of space flight in playing Kerbal Space Program for a couple of hours than I did in 15 years of space reporting and journalism.
- Civilization: Beyond Earth [$40 USD]
- EVE [30-day free trial available; monthly/annual subscription plans available]
Free, downloadable planetarium software that shows exactly what you see when you look up at the stars. Available for OSX, Windows (32- and 64-bit), Linux, and Ubuntu.
- Universe Sandbox 2 [$25 USD]
Interactive space and gravity simulator.
- 100,000 Stars [online application]
An in-browser simulation of our closest 100k stars.
- Mars Trek [online application]
Mars Trek is an application that allows you to view imagery and perform analysis on data from the planet Mars.
iTelescope is a network of Internet connected telescopes. Subscription rates vary.
- Space Engine
A free, downloadable Space Simulation program that allows you to explore the universe in 3D. Currently available for Windows OS (Win7 recommended)
An online black hole simulator.
Image Processing Applications
Unique/Hand Crafted Items
If you are looking for unique, handmade items, ranging from custom-printed wool scarves, to retro space posters, to handmade ceramics with a space and science flair, be sure to support the artists at the following Etsy sites:
Another great resource to consult when looking for those awesome gift ideas is the STARtorialist Blog. Editors (and Ph. D. Astronomers!) Emily Rice and Summer Ash do the legwork and “share the all the space-y fashion we can find and highlight the style of our fellow scientists and space enthusiasts.”
If you are looking for that unique gift for someone, be sure to visit Uwingu – they’ve got several different projects that are JUST THE THING!
Local Astronomy Clubs
One of the best gifts any amateur astronomer would truly appreciate is a membership to their local Astronomy club. Memberships often include benefits such as access to club equipment, guest speakers, group discounts, and access to local observatories. Add to all that the priceless resource of regularly chatting one-on-one with folks who share the same passion, and this is one of those gifts where the value far exceeds the cost.
If you need help finding your local astronomy club, the following sites can be of assistance:
Here are some of our favorite organizations and blogs/websites that receive support/funding from memberships and/or direct public donations:
- Planetary Society [memberships begin at $37 USD]
- Astronomical Society of the Pacific [memberships begin at $55 USD; Student/Senior discounts available]
- Astronomers Without Borders [3 membership levels available]
- Universe Today [via Patreon; numerous support levels available]
- One Universe at a Time [via Patreon or Square; numerous support levels available]
2016 Year In Space Calendar
Last, but CERTAINLY not least, is one of our favorite items every year – the 2016 Year In Space Calendar.
Available as either a wall-calendar or a spiral-bound desk calendar, each is jam-packed with images and information about all space exploration, history, astronomy, and upcoming astronomical events. You DON’T want to miss ordering this year’s calendars – either format is sure to please anyone on your list.
From everyone here at Universe Today, I would like to wish everyone a very healthy and happy holiday season!