With Christmas soon arriving I am usually bombarded with emails enquiring, what is the best gift this season for a budding Yukon amateur astronomer?
The first suggestion would be to recommend a subscription to Sky News Magazine.
This magazine can be purchased at the local book store. Full of helpful star charts and easy-to-understand descriptions, it’s loaded with great information for amateur astronomers of all ages. It also discusses what’s happening in the astronomical community.
Sky News Magazine comes out every two months, and is written by Canadians for Canadians.
The companion websitewww.SkyNews.ca is also full of helpful observing tips and reviews.
Another fantastic source of information and star charts is a computer program called Starry Night Enthusiast. This is a very powerful, yet easily used, computer program designed to be used indoors or outdoors.
If you just load in your longitude and latitude, it will keep you updated on a daily basis as to what is happening in the night sky.
Starry Night Enthusiast will keep you entertained on cloudy nights. Plus, it lets you tour the universe and see amazing sights – like star clusters and planets – from a spaceship point of view, which is very cool.
The program also includes a feature that lets you view past and future cosmic events, like the passing of comets and supernova, from any vantage point in our solar system.
This is a very impressive program with fabulous graphics and an endless amount of detail and information. I have had Starry Nights Enthusiast in my house for about four months and I don’t think that I will ever get bored.
I can actually print star charts that are for viewing night skies in my backyard, with as little or as much detail as I want! And as sophisticated as this program is, it is still easy to use.
Next on our Christmas shopping list we have the Observers Handbook. Published by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, this handbook has been published continuously since 1907, and can be purchased online.
I received my first copy a few years ago, and I can assure you it is definitely a “must have” on every astronomer’s bookshelf. Every awesome cosmic event is laid out within every month of the year, in a quick reference style.
There is also a bounty of information about all things astronomical, such meteor showers, eclipses and conjunctions.
Now, if that budding astronomer on your shopping list is ready to get started, what equipment is the best way to begin?
A pair of good binoculars is one of the most important companions an astronomer can have. Galaxies, nebula, star clusters, planets and the moon will present endless hours of observing if you just have a pair of good binoculars. The preferred size of binoculars for astronomy would be 10×50 or 9×63.
Binoculars are a good investment because they require little or no maintenance other than cleaning the lenses twice a year. As well, they are portable enough to bring wherever you go. Add a small photo tripod and a chair and you are all set.
At a cost of only $200 to $300, binoculars make a wise investment indeed.
The greatest shopping for astronomy gear such as telescopes, binoculars, eyepieces and accessories can be found online at Canada-Wide Astronomy Buy and Sell (http://www.astrobuysell.com).
This website is an all-Canadian extravaganza of astronomy gear, all second-hand and very affordable. You can buy an eight-inch Dobsonian telescope with a couple of eyepieces and a finder for a mere $250. This is enough telescope to keep you touring the night sky endlessly – it has enough aperture to give you astounding views of the cosmos.
The site requires no registration, and no fees for shopping. All you do is click the listing, email the person back and away you go. I have purchased about half of my astronomy gear from this site over the last few years and have found people to be friendly, helpful and polite.
So remember to take some time this busy Christmas season, grab your binoculars or telescope, a chair and a hot drink, head outdoors and look up.