We all have that friend who seems more interested in the rest of the universe than our home planet. They're glued to space documentaries, they're awed by every new image from the Hubble telescope, and nothing makes them happier than a clear, cloudless night. If there's someone on your list fascinated by the stars, here are some great suggestions to help get your shopping done early.
The best place to see the stars is far away from the bright lights and smog of a big city. But instead of hauling an expensive piece of gear designed to permanently sit on a tripod, Celestron's 70-millimeter travel scope folds away into an easy-to-transport backpack. And while it won't automatically pinpoint objects in the sky, with an included app running on a laptop anyone should be able to track down even the most obscure constellation in the night sky. £50 from Amazon.
Unfortunately the weather isn't always conducive to gazing up at the stars. When it's rainy, snowy, or just a little overcast, this miniature planetarium will project the constellations and other celestial bodies on the ceiling, letting your friend continue their astral explorations while they drift off to sleep. £120 from Firebox.
This 90-millimetre telescope might look tiny, but it has enough resolving power to leave anyone breathlessly as they stare at the night sky. And if you don't know Leo from Capricorn, or Saturn from Uranus, a tethered remote has a database of over 4,000 celestial objects and will automatically alter the telescope's position to focus on whatever heavenly world you want to spy on. £613 from Amazon.
Of all the things the iPad can do, one of the most valuable could be serving as a personal astronomy tutor. Using the tablet's gyroscope, accelerometer, and your location, it provides detailed information about the stars and other objects on screen when pointed at the night sky. It will even let you know when the ISS is over head (and we promise there'll be no final exam). £2 from Apple.
Particularly well-suited to amateur astronomers who want to learn more about their hobby, the SkyScout works like a handheld night vision scope for the heavens providing detailed information on whatever part of the sky it's pointed at. Using GPS it can also locate and direct you to over 6,000 stars, planets, and other constellations. £224 from Amazon.
Hobbies aren't just for amateurs. Eventually even a beginner astronomer is going to outgrow their basic telescope and want something that looks deeper into the heavens. Meade's top-of-the-line 20-inch observatory class telescope will most definitely fill that void. It might cost as much as a nice car, but who cares about a comfy ride when the entire universe is waiting to be explored? £22,370 from Meade.