High-Tech Christmas on a $100 Budget

As Christmas approaches I am frequently asked, “What do you get for that special someone at Christmas who is interested in astronomy without spending a small fortune?”

For the beginner, I recommend the classic 10×50 binoculars and a subscription to Sky News magazine. If you can’t find binoculars in this price range, grab your computer and go to amateur astronomers’ favourite online shopping mall: www.astrobuysell.com.

Everything at this website is used but very affordable. There is literally everything that someone interested in astronomy can ask for. I have gone shopping there for several years and always have a positive experience.

Another excellent choice is a membership to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. This membership costs around $70 Canadian and is a treasure trove of useful information about all things astronomy in Canada, from observing tips and star charts, to our professional observatories around the world.

They also give you membership access to their extensive website, which lets you explore all the previous issues and journals, as well as what’s happening in the night skies at home.

You will also receive a one-year subscription to Sky News, a $41 dollar value, along with the Observers Handbook, a $26 value.

This handbook is the quintessential book of all books to own. It has month by month special events, and every table and chart that you need. Six current journals are also shipped to your computer throughout the year.

People with a passion for toys and a love of astronomy are special challenge for those who have to try and find that perfect gift. However modern technology comes to the rescue once again.

There is a company called SteadyPix that makes a special photo adaptor for attaching your iPhone to your telescope for taking pictures.

You have to admit, that is pretty cool at a cost of $60. Imagine the things you could do, including streaming live video or still pictures to everyone. For a lunar eclipse or shots of planets, this could be a whole new dimension of fun.

At about $64, Starry Night Enthusiast is a computer program for the needs of astronomers. Generally I hesitate in recommending computer programs as there is usually a steep learning curve involving a fair amount of time figuring out all the little tricks. However this powerful program is intuitive and the graphics are exceptional.

You can view your sky, day or night, many years into the future or past, and see cosmic events in real time. This means that you can look ahead in time to see if future events are visible from your location and where in the sky they will be located.

If you are an armchair astronomer interested in all the wonders of the universe and going for virtual tours, then endless voyages of discovery await you. Descriptions, fabulous photos, and smooth video make the universe your playground.

For example, you could view the comet Shoemaker Levy crash into Jupiter from one of Jupiter’s other moons or even Saturn. Makes your head spin thinking of the possibilities!

For the practical astronomer, Starry Night Enthusiast offers star charts, past, present and future that are designed for your personal viewing preferences. Click on any object on your computer screen and you have information, pictures and real time distances of planets from the Earth and Sun.

This is the ultimate deep sky observer’s tool. I have seen more expensive programs that are far less friendly. I have been using this program for about two years and am always impressed with the simplicity and the power. It is a steal for its price.

As you have probably noticed, most of these gift ideas revolve around preparing for a night of observing. Better preparation and more information make for a successful observing session.

If you know where and when to look in the night sky, you will find your observing sessions are much more enjoyable. Spending the entire evening hunting for deep sky targets and not finding anything can be very discouraging.

This is one of the first mistakes most beginners make. Take your time and make sure you have some idea of the local constellations in your night skies. It is also helpful to have a target list of galaxies, nebulae or star clusters you are looking for.

So if you have some free time this holiday season, step outside, look up and check out those amazing Yukon night skies.

Clear skies!

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