Telescopes are popular gifts. When someone you care for has in interest in science, and you want to encourage them by getting them an instrument that will open up a world of wonder, the telescope is an obvious choice.
Have a Positive Influence
Many companies want to take advantage of this, and sell you a shoddy product that will do more to destroy an interest in science and nature than to nurture it. They count on the fact that the buyer won't be the user. And that neither the buyer nor the user will be able to judge the quality of the instrument.
Don't get caught by this. Be an informed buyer.
What You Need to Know
1. The telescope itself does not need to be large or high magnification:
High Magnification: Forget It!
2. The support for the telescope, called the mount, is more important that the quality of the telescope's optics. The best optics in the world don't matter if things won't stay in view because of a bad mount.
Mounts: What NOT to Buy
3. A good finder is essential to locating objects and getting them in the view of the telescope. Most telescopes do not come with a good finder, so plan to spend a little less on the telescope and purchase a good finder (like a Telrad) as well:
Finders for Telescopes
In-Store Telescope Evaluation
If you don't have an experienced astronomer to assist you in selecting a scope, you may end up selecting one yourself from a store display. I have some tips for weeding out the worst junk:
Department Store Garbage Scopes
Checking a Telescope at a Store
The Store Telescope: Is It Good Enough?
Tips on Buying for Youth and Children
All I want for Christmas is...a Telescope that Works!
A Kid's Telescope
What Others Have to Say
Here is some additional information from reliable sources:
Choosing Your First Telescope
What to Know Before You Buy
Buying a Telescope
Buying Your First Telescope
Something Else to Consider
Something else you may consider is purchasing a good pair of binoculars and some books instead of a telescope. These are enough to get started in astronomy, and the binos can be used for pastimes other than astronomy, including birding, sports, etc.
A good pair of 7x35 or 10x50 binoculars with a good book like 365 Starry Nights or Touring the Universe Through Binoculars (and maybe a field guide to birds for the recipient's region) would do more to foster an interest in science and nature than a poor, but attractive, telescope. :)
Planetary Nebulas - Planetary nebulas are one of my favorite objects in the sky to observe. The way they look, and the way they respond to magnification, make them unique amon...