Surprise your favourite astronomer and give them something astronomical this Christmas! Here are some ideas and suggestions of presents to give to enthusiastic stargazers, both young and old, for Christmas 2018 including the best telescope to buy for beginners (including children), astronomy books, stargazing experience vouchers and stocking fillers!
If you have any questions or seek further advice feel free to send us an email to [email protected] and we’ll be happy to help. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and clear skies for 2019 from the Go Stargazing team!
Telescopes make an ideal Christmas present particularly for younger astronomers however with such a variety on offer it can be tricky to choose which one is most suitable — ultimately the best telescopes are ones that are used regularly and do not spend most of their time in their box!
The best advice we can give before buying a telescope is to first visit your local Astronomical Society or Astronomy Club who will be happy to help you choose a suitable instrument — many will be able to offer hands on practical experience with a variety of telescopes explaining the pros and cons of each design. For your nearest Society or Club check our events map or the Federation of Astronomical Societies website.
In summary telescopes work by gathering light — the more light they gather combined with the quality of the optics used to gather that light determine how good the image that can be seen through them. Equally important is the mount that the telescope is fixed to — there’s no advantage having a good quality telescope mounted on a poor quality, wobbly and difficult to use tripod. A telescope that is difficult to use won’t get used much!
An ideal telescope is therefore one that has good light gathering area, quality optics and a solid mount that is easily operated and portable. For these reasons we highly recommend a particular type of telescope known as Dobsonian telescope for use by beginners as these are sturdy, have good quality optics and come with larger reflective surfaces (mirrors) that gather more light. A Dobsonian telescope is of simple design involving a tube that is easily moved up and down and mounted on a rotating base so to access any part of the sky and is ultimately good value for money.
Sky-Watcher Skyliner 150P Dobsonian Telescope
This entry-level dobsonian telescope comes with a 150mm (6 inch) mirror, two eyepieces and a finder scope. It is perfect for beginners and offers amazing views of the moon, planets and brighter galaxies and star clusters. Price ~£209.
Purchase a Sky-Watcher Skyliner 150P Dobsonian telescope from First Light Optics
Sky-Watcher Skyliner 200P Dobsonian Telescope
This telescope is the slightly bigger brother of the 150P and comes with a 200mm (8 inch) mirror, eyepieces and accessories. Again it is perfect for beginners with the larger light gathering area affording better views of fainter objects. If you can afford a little extra budget that money goes a long way! Cost ~£275.
Purchase a Sky-Watcher Skyliner 200P Dobsonian telescope from First Light Optics
Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P Telescope
This table top Dobsonian is great for young astronomers with good views of the brightest objects achievable from the 100mm (4″) mirror. It’s extremely portable so ideal for taking on stargazing holidays. Price ~£90.
Purchase a Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P telescope from First Light Optics
Red dot finder accessory
Most telescopes come with a “finder scope” which is a small telescope mounted on the side of the main telescope and is used to help locate objects in the sky. It can be tricky to find objects and point the telescope at them using a finder scope so a suggested replacement is a “red dot finder” which makes things much easier. There is a variety available costing ~£25 and are a useful and worthy upgrade. Check if the telescope you are purchasing comes with one first!
Purchase a red dot finder from First Light Optics
Turn Left at Orion
Ask any astronomer which book they might recommend as to how to find objects in the sky and the majority will suggest Turn Left at Orion. With easy to use guides covering all of the constellations in the Northern hemisphere this book is the perfect accompaniment to any telescope helping beginners learn their way around the constellations, identifying the brightest and most interesting deep sky objects and observing them through their telescope. Much better than any phone or tablet app! Cost ~£20
A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky
Aimed at astronomers aged from about 7 to 12 this book is a wonderful introduction to the practical side of astronomy. Follow Felicity the Cat as she guides you around the constellations learning everything from the phases of the moon to how to see the Northern Lights. A perfect Christmas gift for any child interested in space! Available in bookshops. Cost ~£12
Life Through Time and Space
This book by Wallace Arthur, Emeritus Professor at the National University of Ireland and published by Harvard University Press, offers a deep and fascinating exploration into the Universe and the possible likelihood of finding life elsewhere. It covers a wide range of topics and is a perfect gift alternative to the many mainstream astronomy books. Cost ~£12
Philip’s 2019 Stargazing Guide
This pocket guide is an excellent resource and great stocking filler. Cost £3.
Purchase Philip’s 2019 Stargazing Guide from Amazon
This A3 calendar features photos of the amazing observatories that collectively form the European Southern Observatory as well as fascinating images taken by their telescopes. It is THE calendar to have for any Astronomer! Cost £10 + postage
Purchase European Southern Observatory 2019 Calendar from ESO website
This is a great present for anyone interested in photography or even abstract art! Place a Solarcan facing Southwards and let it capture the path of the Sun’s light as our closest star moves across the sky! Excellent stocking filler! Specify the coupon code GoStargazing18 for a discount at checkout! Cost £11.95 with discount applied
Purchase a Solarcan
Stargazing experience vouchers make for a fantastic gift enabling your recipient the option of choosing when and where they go with the voucher being used to cover the cost of their event ticket. For our latest recommendations see our stargazing experience vouchers page.
Another great present for any interested astronomers is tickets to a local stargazing event. Print out the tickets after purchase and include them in a Christmas card for a simple and effective surprise gift. Have a look on our events map to see what is happening near you (or your intended gift recipient!).
Alternatively here’s some ideas:
Hidden Horizons at Dalby Forest (North East England)
Join the team from Hidden Horizons as they explore the dark skies above Dalby Forest with large aperture telescopes. Cost £15
Grizedale Forest in the Lake District (North West England)
Enjoy a break to the Lakes including a stargazing experience with astronomer Robbie Ince who runs numerous events across the region. Cost £15
Scottish Dark Sky Observatory (Southern Scotland)
Enjoy the dark skies above Galloway at the SDSO (purchase tickets on a date around a new moon so the skies are dark when your gift recipient visits!). Cost £16
Lime Tree Observatory (Yorkshire)
Located in the truly amazing surroundings of Nidderdale AONB the Lime Tree Observatory (near Ripon) is a must place to visit with an enthusiastic team of astronomers catering for beginners to experienced stargazers (event tickets available from the Nidderdale AONB website). Cost £15
Kielder Observatory (North England / Scottish Borders)
Visit the iconic Kielder Observatory located at the heart of the wonderful Kielder Forest Park (make sure you book dates around new moon for the best stargazing experience). Cost ~£28+
Solarsphere Astronomy Festival (North Wales)
Astronomy and music at this amazing value family friendly festival in Wales makes for a perfect family gift… The dates 9th – 12th August coincide with the annual peak of the Perseids meteor shower too! Cost £45 adults
Ordnance Survey are organising a nationwide “GetOutside Day” on the 30th September 2018 and what better way of enjoying the natural outdoors than to go stargazing! The skies on this date will be dark until around 23:30pm when a bright moon will rise in the East so if you are planning a day out you might think about the evening too! Check out our location map for ideal places to stargaze and for more details see the official Ordnance Survey National GetOutside Day website…
Before moon rise the skies from a dark sky site should reveal views of the Milky Way and the planets Saturn and Mars low towards the South. The bright stars of Deneb, Vega and Altair that form the “Summer Triangle” will be near overhead.
The International Space Station will also be visible from the UK with a bright pass at 20:34pm. The image below shows the path it will take across the skies as observed from Darlington, UK — the further South you are in the country the higher in the sky it will appear.
The second North Pennines Stargazing Festival takes place between 20th October 2018 and 4th November 2018.
With a variety of events taking place the festival is a celebration of the fantastic dark skies above the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and offers plenty of opportunities to stargaze.
The festival kicks off with a presentation by the wonderful Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE of “Sky at Night” fame and includes events suitable for all ages and abilities. Scheduled to take place during the half-term period also enables younger astronomers to participate! Why not book on several events and make a short break of it!?
We’ve featured below those events that incorporate some element of stargazing or observing — for a full list of events visit the official page on the North Pennines AONB website.
Clear skies!No Events
The Exmoor Dark Skies Festival 2018 takes place between 20th October 2018 and 4th November 2018. A wide variety of astronomically themed events are scheduled including everything from space-movies through to astrophotography tuition and public stargazing. Many events take place during half-term and are thus perfect for families with space-interested children!
The festival also celebrates the wonderful dark skies above Exmoor which lead it to becoming recognised by the International Dark Sky Association as Europe’s very first Dark Sky Reserve in Autumn 2011.
Below we have featured those events that include stargazing — for a full event listing and further details visit the official page at Exmoor Dark Skies Festival 2018.
Clear skies!No Events
For current details on where to see the Perseids meteor shower see gostargazing.co.uk/perseids.
The annual Perseids meteor shower is possibly the most eagerly anticipated by astronomers. For several years now the Perseids have resulted in a great show with dozens of bright meteors being spotted per hour around the peak of their activity.
Each year as the Earth travels on its orbit around the Sun it encounters a vast swathe of cosmic dust left over by the comet Swift-Tuttle. As these tiny dust particles enter Earth’s atmosphere at great speed they burn up leaving a brief but bright trail — a shooting star!
Perseid meteors can be identified as they appear to radiate from the constellation of Perseus, hence their name. The shower takes place each year from July 14th through to August 24th with the peak in meteor numbers (the time when the Earth passes through the densest of the dust) on the evening of August 12th / morning of August 13th. The very best time to see them is the early hours of August 13th.
This year’s peak of the shower takes place during a new moon period and therefore with no moonlight illuminating the sky more of the fainter meteors will be visible.
For the best place to see the Perseids meteor shower the most important requirement is a wide open space where you can see as much of the sky as possible. If you can get away from local light pollution even better and finding a dark sky site will be well worthwhile. Even travelling only a few miles out of town would be advantageous.
If you’re interested in photography check this fantastic guide on how to photograph the Perseid meteors by expert astrophotographer Alyn Wallace.
Friday 27th July 2018 is set to be an awesome date for astronomy with a number of astronomical events taking place during the evening and throughout the course of the night including the appearance of a “blood moon”, three awesome planets to observe through a telescope and a bright pass of the International Space Station. We detail these events below, how best you can see each of them and where you might go if you’d like to join an official event run by astronomers. For further updates and notifications follow us on Facebook…
The full moon will rise during the evening appearing a dull red colour due to it being eclipsed by Earth’s shadow (umbra), an event also known as a “blood moon”… Due to it being summertime the skies will not be very dark at the time of the eclipse which will make the blood moon appear fainter however it’s still likely to be an awesome spectacle and well worth looking out for, such opportunities do not come along that often!
The time that the moon rises depends slightly on your location in the United Kingdom with observers in the South of England seeing the moon rise approximately 20 minutes before those in the North of England. All times below are given in British Summer Time.
South of England times:
20:50pm the full moon begins to rise from the South East appearing red in colour
21:21pm is the time of maximum eclipse when the moon will appear at it’s deepest red
22:13pm total eclipse ends moon starts to lose it’s red colour
North of England times:
21:10pm the full moon begins to rise from the South East appearing red in colour
21:41pm is the time of maximum eclipse when the moon will appear at it’s deepest red. 22:33pm total eclipse ends moon starts to lose it’s red colour
It’s well worth making plans in advance as to where you might see this from. The best locations are those with a clear South Easterly horizon without trees or buildings in the way so that you can see the moon as soon as it rises, perhaps up on a hill or anywhere along the East coast. Photographers might consider having terrestrial objects in view (e.g. buildings, trees, people) which will make the sight even more impressive due to the moon illusion.
Once the moon starts losing its red colour and as the skies begin to darken the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will become visible towards the South, all of which are well worth observing if you have a telescope. See the cloud bands on Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and the polar ice caps on Mars!
The planet Mars reaches “opposition” in the early hours of the 27th July, this the time when it is directly opposite the Sun as seen from Earth and therefore at its brightest. This means that during early hours of the 28th July the planet will be incredibly bright and thus makes for a great opportunity to observe Mars — the best time being 01:15am when it reaches its highest point in the sky due South.
Also on Friday 27th July 2018 the space station will be making a bright pass over the UK. The graphic below shows the path it will take across the sky as a white line (as seen from North East England) with the space station passing by the bright star Altair just seconds after 23:00 — note that the further South you are the higher in the sky it will be — use one of the many mobile apps to find out its exact path from where you are.
The map shows stargazing events that are taking place on the evening of the “blood moon” lunar eclipse.
Located at the heart of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park The Redesdale Arms is the perfect place to explore star-filled skies. Being away from light pollution during new moon means the skies are at their very darkest with the Milky Way easily visible arching overhead and thousands of stars to be seen with the naked eye alone. A truly stunning sight!
You’ll be spending the weekend with experienced astronomers who will take you on a tour of the constellations and locate fascinating deep space objects to observe using large aperture telescopes. There’ll be various astronomical-themed activities and presentations too…
This event takes place on Friday 6th April 2018 and Saturday 7th April 2018 with the prize including overnight bed and breakfast both of these nights for up to two people sharing one twin or one double room, a prize in total worth £240.00! All rooms are en-suite with spectacular views over the Rede Valley. You can expect the very warmest of welcomes from proprietor Carrol and her team along with great food and friendly company amongst fellow stargazers.
You can also attend this weekend stargazing event by booking via The Redesdale Arms directly. Both evenings are also open to the public at a cost of £10.00 per person for stargazing only. For more details and bookings contact The Redesdale Arms on 01830 520668.
Entry to this competition closed on 5th March 2018 @ 12:00 midday… Thank you to all of you who entered! If you’d like to attend the stargazing event you can book directly with the Redesdale Arms.
– The prize is overnight accommodation (bed and breakfast) for two nights (6th and 7th April 2018) for up to two people in either a twin or double room at the Redesdale Arms, Northumberland and includes all stargazing activities
– The competition is open to UK residents aged 18 and over
– all entries have been recorded in this Facebook post
– Closing date for entries is Monday 5th March at 12:00 midday
– One entry per person (duplicate entries will be removed)
– The winner will be chosen at random and announced on the Go Stargazing Facebook Page and via Facebook message within 24 hours of the competition closing
– The promoter is Go Stargazing, Darlington in association with the Redesdale Arms, Northumberland
– By participating in this prize draw entrants confirm they have read, understood and agree to be bound by these terms and conditions.
The popular TV programme BBC Stargazing Live 2018 is unfortunately not taking place this year, as confirmed by Dara O’Briain on Twitter. The show, along with the numerous associated stargazing events that take place to coincide with it, will be very much missed by stargazing enthusiasts.
The Go Stargazing Team supported the TV show in 2017 using our website as a resource to help interested people find their nearest stargazing event and we were really looking forward to doing the same in 2018! After all, encouraging people to go stargazing is what we do all year round!
So to fill the gap in 2018 we’ve decided to organise “Go Stargazing Live 2018” — a weekend of public stargazing events taking place across the UK. We’ve chosen dates around the 16th and 17th February as the evening skies will be dark and it coincides with the National Parks Dark Skies Festival 2018 with lots of activities taking place.
Note that this event is not associated with nor endorsed by the BBC.
As can be seen on the map below there’s loads of events happening during this period! So whilst Dara and Professor Cox have some time off we’ll still go stargazing!
For this to be successful we need your help… Please help spread the word by sharing this webpage on Social Media or sharing our event on Facebook. If you are organising your own stargazing event on these dates simply contact us and we’ll happily add it to the schedule.
Thank you for your support… Clear skies!
The 3rd annual National Parks Dark Skies Festival this year runs from the 9th to 25th February 2018.
The festival celebrates the wonderful dark skies that can be seen across a number of regions across our country including the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, South Downs and (new for this year) Northumberland national parks. During the festival numerous astronomy related activities take place, ranging from night time walks with Forest Rangers to stargazing evenings with experienced astronomers, all of which can be enjoyed by families, amateur astronomers of any level and even more experienced stargazers! The festival also includes a number of daytime events for children to take part in over the half term holidays.
Below we’ve listed a selection of stargazing events we know are taking place — check back frequently as more events will be added as they are scheduled — even better sign up to receive email notifications…
For more information about the festival including a comprehensive list of all of the different events taking place visit the official Dark Skies Festival website. A complete list of events for the South Downs is available on their site.
This article relates to the Geminid meteor shower in 2017 – see the article covering 2018 here.
This year’s Geminid meteor shower takes place from 4th December to the 16th December with peak activity on the evening of the 13th December through to the morning of 14th December. During the peak up to 120 meteors per hour might be seen with the best time to see them being from midnight through to dawn.
Named after the constellation Gemini from which the meteors appear to radiate this meteor shower is slightly different to others that occur throughout the year. Most meteor showers are caused by dust particles from comets burning up in the atmosphere, however in the case of the Geminids it’s caused by the debris from an asteroid named “3200 Phaethon”. Geminids are renowned for their bright display and sometimes appear as green flashes due to the material they are made of.
Peak activity coincides with a waning crescent moon meaning the moon’s natural light pollution should not affect observing. Darker skies mean more meteors might be seen and therefore it’s worthwhile travelling to a dark sky site to get away from man-made light pollution.
Hours of darkness on 13th December –
As always wherever you choose to go first tell someone where you are going, wrap up warm, take some hot drinks and be patient! Good luck spotting them!