Christmas gift ideas for stargazers

  • By Mike Lynch
  • Thursday, November 14, 2013 10:57am
  • Life

Got someone on your holiday gift list who loves astronomy and stargazing? There’s much to choose from: books, magazine subscriptions, software, and of course, telescopes.

Here are my recommendations for astronomical gift giving.

Books

“The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide” by Terence Dickenson is a great overall book for the hobby of amateur astronomy and stargazing.

Along with star maps and charts it has useful information on observing with or without telescopes, celestial photography and visible universe.

My new book, “Stars, a Month by Month Guide to the Constellations” and my first book, “Washington Starwatch” have user friendly star maps for every month of the year as well as detailed individual constellation charts, the locations of clusters, nebula, galaxies and other celestial delights.

There’s also telescope information, star lore and more.

“Stars” by Mary Lyn Ray is a great book for kids in early elementary school that really explains the basics.

Magazines

Astronomy Magazine or Sky and Telescope magazine have news, articles and columns, with star maps and accompanying websites.

Apps

You can load “Sky Walk” to your iPad or iPhone, hold it up into the night sky and it will display with good accuracy what stars and constellations you’re gazing at. It plays celestial music and it’s it’s only 99 cents.

Telescopes

Avoid telescopes at retail stores and general shopping websites. There are a lot of junky scopes out there that often find their way onto their shelves and websites.

The best brands in my opinion are Meade, Celestron and Orion and all have their own websites where you can buy them.

The main mission of your telescope is to gather as much light as it can, because the more light that enters your scope, the clearer the image is going to be.

Magnification or “power” is controlled by which eyepiece you use. Most telescopes come with two or three eyepieces. Usually 100 to 200 power magnification is just fine for galaxies, nebulae and star clusters.

You’ll use the higher magnification eyepieces on planets and the moon.

There are three basic types of telescopes; reflectors, refractors and Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes.

Refractor telescopes gather light with the objective lens, the one where light enters the scope. The wider that lens is the more light gathering power. The minimum you’d want is a 60mm refractor, which means it has a 60mm objective lens.

Reflector telescopes gather light with a concave parabolic mirror and the end of an open tube. The image gathered by the mirror is sent to the eyepiece with a flat mirror that bounces the image outside the tube to the eyepiece.

Minimum diameter on reflector scopes should be at least 6 inches, but my suggestion would be 8 inches for only a little more money.

Schmitt Cassegrain scopes are basically a design combining the optics of both the reflector and refractor scopes.

They are more expensive, but if you ever want to do serious celestial photography you need this kind of scope.

The Celestron AstroMaster 90 EQ refractor relescope is great for a serious beginner. It has a large 90mm objective lens that brings in a lot of light and has a wonderful mount. It retails around $400. www.telescopes.com.

The Orion Eight Inch SkyQuest Intelliscope has an 8-inch wide mirror and is easily portable. A computerized navigation system can really help in locating faint objects.

It retails for less than $650. For about $1,000 you can get the same model with a “go-to” and tracking motor; www.telescope.com.

The Celestron CPC 1100 GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain has a precise GPS “go-to” tracking navigation system. It’s good for astrophotography.

It’s about $3,000. If you purchase it online from Starizona in Tucson you will also get information on upgrading with an add-on “hyperstar” lens that makes astrophotography much easier. Their website is www.starizona.com.

Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations.” Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.

The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org

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