Astronomy gifts for $150?

A gentleman in my office is retiring this Friday after 20 years and 20 days in the Air Force. He’s done a little of everything – missiles, satellites, and so on – but in his spare time, he’s an amateur astronomer. I know very little about the field myself, but I was hoping you wise Dopers could direct me to a good gift in the $150 range from a reputable supplier.

Is $150 ludicrously little to spend on a piece of optics?

Will I need to know what equipment he already has, or are there standard doohickeys I can get?

With my woefully inadequate knowledge of this hobby, am I better off getting him a gift certificate?

Also: he attends Burning Man and is also something of a rock hound. Am I barking up the wrong tree trying to get him telescope toys?

Here’s a good one within your price range, and timely too, considering a MAJOR sunspot eruption is now going on. These are SOLAR binoculars, good for viewing the sun. Needless to say, they are ONLY good for solar viewing since they are so heavily filtered/darkened that you can’t use them for anything else. but I guarantee few if anyone else around will have a pair. Price: $99.00

Try a pair of nice binoculars. This site has reviews of various binoculars that are suited for astronomy. I bought the Oberwerk 15x70’s – they are fairly well regarded (for cheap import binocs), cost about $150.00, and are good for casual sky gazing, locating Messier objects (and not so messy objects), and they came in handy when a couple of near-naked-eye comets came visiting back in May. I have found them to have a bit more chromatic aberration than I’d like, although they may just need to be collimated.

For the bigger binoculars, you should make sure he has a tripod and make sure that the binoculars can be tripod mounted.     Holding a pair of 3+ lb binoculars over your head for more than a few minutes is pretty problematic.

Well, you might find out what kind of telescope he has and maybe get some kind of accessory for it- filters, eyepieces, etc…

Or possibly some software like “Starry Night”.

It’s probably pretty important to find out how serious he is about it. If he’s a guy with a $300 Dobsonian, then you can probably find him loads of stuff and only pay $150. OTOH, if he’s a guy who grinds his own 40" primary mirrors and has his own observatory, then there’s not much you’ll probably be able to buy him for $150.

Go for books. No matter what level of astronomer he is, a good Sky Atlas is in the price range, and will be liked. Of course, you might want to find out if he already has one (or buy it from somewhere it can be exchanged.)

Check out Sky Atlas 2000 or some of the Uranometria books.

Other options include gift certificates to Telescope stores. Anacortes is a good one.

What bump said. Find out what he’s got now.

Or how about something less practical, like an antique sextant or a framed space art (example)? As an avid amateur astronomer myself, I’d prefer that to anything in the Orion catalog. As a gift, that is.

Does the Sky Atlas come out each year? I can’t imagine it changes much, but at the same time, I can see him still using his 1995 version. I’m torn between a really nice Sky Atlas, or the solar binoculars.

The 2000.0 doesn’t mean that it came out in the year 2000, it means that it includes data from the Epoch 2000.0 star positions.

What kind of astronomer is this guy? Is he just a casual viewer or is he really into optics and such? I ask because of the binoculars. Mr. Athena, for example, is heavily into optics. He pays $300-$400 for a single eyepiece, and already owns much better binoculars than what you could get for $150. For someone not as much into optics, the binoculars might be a good gift. But if your coworker is at all into high end optics, minimum price for a pair of binoculars he’d really like would be $600-$800, if not twice that. Also, if he is into atronomy, chances are he already owns a pair of binoculars. They’re a pretty common item to have.

Star charts don’t need to be updated frequently. It only needs to correct for the shift of the earth’s axis, usually every 50 years. Most atlases published in the past 15 years would be in epoch 2000. Older ones may be in epoch 1950, but even those are still functional for most purposes. The only reason to replace one would be to upgrade to a better one, or to replace a worn copy.

As for the solar binoculars - interesting toy, but an avid, internet-savvy astronomer would know that a Baader Astrosolar filter (available here) attached to regular binoculars provide much better images.

Just a quick follow up with thanks to all who chimed in. Big thanks to Athena who pointed me towards the Wil Tirion Sky Atlas (2000.0, 2d edition). We ended up getting him that book along with Stephen O’Meara’s catalogues of the Messier and Caldwell Objects, both in hardcover. Best moment of the retirement ceremony was when our program manager hands the Major his gifts and (totally ripping off a pun I had used earlier) says:

“The Messier Objects! Is your desk listed? …because it’s one of the Messier objects I’ve ever seen.”

{cue riotous laughter}

Yes, I know it’s pronounced Mess-YAY. But that’s not important right now. And don’t call me Shirley.

Yay! Glad he liked the gifts, and glad I could help.

Isn’t it funny how seldom-recognized skills can be so needed at the SDMB?

Athena, who has years of experience buying gifts for astronomy geeks