November 29, 2023

Recommended Telescopes & Space Gifts for Christmas

Two telescopes and some solid space goods

Christmas is coming up, and each year I usually get a few messages asking about what telescope somebody should by for their kids and family.

It’s nearly a tradition at this point: a parent buys a $100 cheap-o plastic telescope that has a lotta hype on the box, but in real-world use is a huge disappointment. Trust me: do not buy these.

So, I’m here to help. Below, I’m going to list only two telescopes. One is if you already have a steady tripod and the other is if you do not.

They’re both able to get clear views of the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn. They’re both more expensive than the $100 cheap-o plastic telescope, but they’re not an insanely high cost, either.

If they’re out of your price range, I’ve listed a few other space gifts that are more affordable.

Celestron C90 Mak

$350 CAD

Buy at Maison d'Astronomie

Celestron C90 Mak being used by Trevor

If you have a tripod for a camera, go with this one.

This is the telescope that I use when I need to be portable for my workshops. It comes with eyepieces, a small backpack, and spotting scope.

Setup takes just a few minutes and gives great views of the Moon. You can also see Jupiter and its moons, and Saturn and its rings.

Orion Starblast 4.5

$350 CAD

Buy at Maison d'Astronomie

Orion Starblast 4.5

If you do not have a tripod, go with this one.

A major complaint I see with telescopes is that they are not steady and are difficult to point at things in the sky. You get what you want to see in the eyepiece, but then it quickly gets rustled and you have to infuriatingly re-find it.

That’s why for most beginners, I recommend a table-top design like this. It sits steady on a flat surface. Then, you point and it’ll stay in place. It makes the hobby much more enjoyable.

Also: with this design, there’s very little setup time. Just pop in the eyepiece, take off the front cap, point it at the Moon, and you’re good to go! Other designs can take 15 minutes to get going, and by that time your kid would rather run around the park instead of watching you fiddle any longer with the damn thing.

Although I haven’t tried this telescope specifically, this is highly recommended by many astronomy groups. It’s also the same telescope that is lended out by some Montréal libraries, if you want to give that a whirl ahead of time.

Solar Eclipse Glasses

$6 CAD. Available in bulk orders.

Buy at Plateau Astro Shop

Solar eclipse glasses

On April 8, 2024, day will turn into night over Montréal during the total solar eclipse. To see it, you’ll need eclipse glasses.

I sell these myself, either individually or in 5, 10, and 25 packs (so you could prep your entire visiting relatives, if you wanted!)

Buying these really helps support me and my business. It’s much appreciated!

Glow in the Dark Stars

$15 CAD

Buy on Amazon

Glow in the dark stars

Telescope out of your budget? Get some glow in the dark stars for your kid’s room.

I remember getting these as a kid and loving them. Legit: I was excited to head to bed and wait for the moment the lights turned off.

You can also use this as an activity to teach about some of the constellations.

Canadian Space Agency Patch

$10 CAD

Buy at Ingenium

Canadian Space Agency Patch

NASA patches are cool. But if you want your kid to stand out, get them the recently redesigned Canadian Space Agency logo patch.

Caveat: I thought they were going to be made out of thread, but instead it’s silicone. Hoping the CSA eventually gets these in higher quality material. Now, you’d think that Canada’s astronauts would have a higher quality patch? Nope! They wear this exact patch on their suits (at least from what I’ve seen in autumn 2023). Take a close look at the patch the next time you see Jeremy Hansen in his space suit.

RTL SDR Radio Receiver

$105 CAD

Buy on Amazon

RTL SDR Radio Kit

This is more fitting for a teenager who has an interest in electronics and physics. This kit will them to “tune in” to a wide variety of radio channels, including spacecraft that transmit back down to Earth.

I’ve used this kit myself to download weather imagery from NOAA satellites. It takes a bit of practice, but this is an insanely gratifying exercise which teaches your kid many skills.

The kid includes the USB dongle, wires, antenna, and little tripod. All you’ll need is a laptop and download the free SDR++ software to get going.

Plateau Astro Prints

Plateau Astro Print

OK, one more. If you want to support Plateau Astro further, I sell prints of photos I’ve taken. Take a browse on my shop.

Thank you! Happy holidays!

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