Buying Astronomical Gifts for the family

A few times a year someone will ask me to make a recommendation to buy a telescope sometimes they will add a dollar limit, a few hundred dollars seems to be a popular amount.  This is not an easy question.  Questions about how the metrinization of time-space leads to the "General Theory of Relativity" and black holes is much simpler.  It is very easy to spend a lot of money and get a telescope that will only be used a few times, sometimes with the person using it not even finding the moon.  After all the moon is only up half of the time at night, and it is often cloudy at night.   Clever people join a local astronomy club like the National Capital Astronomers, NCA.   Students can join for $5 and non-students for $10 for a year; "Star Dust" the club newsletter can be e-mailed to you as an Adobe PDF ten times a year in color, the old people that get it mailed to their house only get a black-in-white copy, and quarterly you will receive a publications called the "Reflector" from the Astronomical League which NCA is a member of and helped form a long time ago; and for an additional $33 you get a subscription to "Sky and Telescope" through the club.  There are other astronomy clubs around, too, this is just the one that I belong to; and it has been around since 1937; and one of our former junior members did win the Nobel prize in Chemistry a few years ago; and another former junior member is a world famous women astronomer.  Four of our current members have minor planets, called asteroids, named after them.  NCA is a very unusual astronomy club in that it has a very diverse membership.  This particular club also has a group that grinds mirrors and makes their own telescopes if you are interested in that sort of thing.  By joining a club you will have lots of people to talk to and many of them own telescopes, a few have even built their own telescope; and most will let you look through their telescope. if they own one, during star parties; and they are likely to show you their telescope if you ask and may instruct you on the use of that telescope until you roll your eyes in boordom.   "Sky and Telescope" and "Astronomy" magazine have a lot of telescope and binocular advertisements as well as monthly star charts and information about what you might do with your telescope or binoculars.   Now days if you buy a telescope or binoculars you can go mail order, now mostly handled by buying over the Internet, or from a local telescope shop.   In the Washington DC metro area there are currently two telescope stores that do not sell junky telescopes that I am aware of:
A few useful links from "Sky and Telescope" magazine published about buying binoculars are included below:
Really good wide field binoculars may actually be best. You can also image stabilize your binoculars for almost no money and a short trip to Home Depot for very little wood.  See URL:   I know it goes on forever, just be glad you do not have to type it in.  See URL on binoculars from "Sky and Telescope"  Good luck on your family adventure with the universe.  Remember if you don't occassionally use it then you wasted your money. 

Montgomery College's Planetarium home page.

web page by Dr. Harold Williams, last modified 4:45P.M. December 3,  2010.