Telescopes: Eyes on the skies

The surprise must-have on this year's Christmas lists isn't a hi-tech toy, it's a telescope. Paul McKenzie finds out why children and stargazing are natural partners

And the shopping experts said it was all going to be about consoles, games and gadgets this Christmas. What children wanted, no, craved were games that gave them a Minority Report moment; where they become the controller and have their image reflected back out at them from their 42-inch flat-screen. But then what do experts know? The sleeper hit this Christmas offers a different kind of magic – the magic of the heavens, by way of the telescope. John Lewis, which always gives a good mercury reading of the trends at Christmas, has reported a 148 per cent rise in the sales of 'scopes. It would be foolish to read into this that children are turning their backs on games consoles, toy robots and Disney dolls, but the figures are interesting.

Mike Khalfey, buyer for John Lewis, believes the upward trend in telescopes dates back to 2009, International Year of Astronomy. Television has also had a hand in accelerating sales. BBC2's Wonders of the Solar System gained a loyal and passionate following and made Professor Brain Cox a household name. Mr Khalfey believes a new generation are enjoying the simple pleasures that gazing through a telescope bring. "Children enjoy looking at the night's sky and there is always something exciting going on up there", he says.

Dr Marek Kukula of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich says he's noticed, "many more children, who appear to have pestered their parents to bring them along," coming through the doors. Dr Kukula says this upsurge in interest isn't just down to the TV. "Children like to ask questions. Looking out at the night sky, their minds wander; they become inquisitive and seek something that a computer game can't deliver. They want to send their mind on journey."

There are some truly spectacular sights in space that beat anything a 3D Hi-Def TV could deliver. Dr Kukula explains: "Jupiter out in the southern sky is looking pretty spectacular at the moment and anyone with a decent telescope and a star chart can pop into their back garden and see it."

And there can be little doubt that the recent meteor that exploded over Britain and lit up the skies from Somerset to Aberdeen was a sight to behold. A warm coat, a cup of hot chocolate and an imagination let loose. Now there's a beautiful thing.

What will thrill most parents in these times of austerity is that price-wise, this new fad compares favourably. Telescopes at John Lewis start from £39.95, there are numerous star charts freely available on the internet and a vast array of almanacs and astronomy books to be had.

But, as with every new "cool" moment, the question hanging in the air is, will this last? Dr Kukula believes star-gazing is here to stay: "It's a fun, social hobby, but above all it sparks an interest that stays with you." The buzz has certainly got the BBC excited. It has created a new star-gazing vehicle for Professor Cox, the show Stargazing Live airs in January and will feature Jonathan Ross learning how to use a telescope. The Royal Observatory will also be looking to increase its activities for the public in the New Year to make room for the new kids with their new "toys".

Dr Kukula offers this advice to any parent braving the winter chills in the hope of landing one of these objects of desire: "Don't get too obsessed by the amount of magnification – extremely high magnification can actually spread the image out too much and make it harder to see. The size of the aperture, where the light comes in, is the important thing. This determines how much light the telescope gathers so a larger aperture allows you to see fainter objects. A good rule is that the maximum magnification should be around twice the telescope aperture in millimetres (so a 100mm scope should go up to a magnification of 200)." So, if your child starts asking questions that you haven't a clue how to answer, fear not – head over to your local specialist telescope shop.

All run by enthusiasts, they will be happy to provide friendly advice to beginners.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Investigo: Finance Business Partner

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

    £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm - London

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project