15 Space-Related Gifts for the Astronomer in Your Life

Have a few friends who are always looking up at the sky? Here are some gift ideas that celebrate the celestial bodies they know and love.

1. MOON LIGHT BALL

The whole moon can be lassoed out of space and brought near you. Give this 4-inch lunar light to anyone who needs a little illumination on their desk or in their closet.

2. SATURN CRYSTAL PUZZLE

Take puzzles to another dimension with a 3D crystal model of Saturn. The jigsaw is made of 39 interlocking pieces that come together to form the shape of the ringed planet.

 

3. PLANETARY GLASSES

Now, your loved one can take drinks from all the planets in the solar system. This set comes with eight glasses (which can hold up to 10 ounces) that look like the planets, along with the sun (which holds up to 16 ounces) and Pluto (which holds up to 4 ounces). The designs are applied to the glass with a high temperature heat wrap, so they can’t be put in the dishwasher—but would you really want to get the sun wet?

 

4. SOLAR SYSTEM NECKLACE; $40 AND UP

Have a friend who believes they’re the center of the universe? Now, they can really assume that role with a miniature version of the solar system wrapped around their neck. This necklace from ThinkGeek comes on an 18-inch chain and features an array of colorful semi-precious gems. It has all the planets, plus the sun, Pluto, and an asteroid belt.

 

5. GLOW IN THE DARK CONSTELLATION MAP

Skip the travel poster and go for something really out of this world. With the lights on, this nearly 29-inch poster shows the stars and constellations of the Northern Hemisphere. When you flip off the lights, the lines fade and the stars and Milky Way shine vibrantly.

 

6. CHART OF SPACE EXPLORATION

This all-inclusive map from Pop Chart Lab details the history of cosmic exploration by highlighting every orbiter, lander, rover, flyby, and impactor to ever enter space. In total, the chart features 100 exploratory instruments.

 

7. ASTRONAUT ICE CREAM

 

We can’t all be astronauts, but we can at least eat like them. Though the Neapolitan square was originally created for early Apollo Space Missions, it isn’t eaten by modern astronauts today because of its crumbly nature. Still, it’s a novelty snack worth trying. The ice cream is frozen at -40 degrees and vacuum dried, so it doesn’t need to be kept in the freezer.

 

8. SPACE PLATES

A great addition to any space-themed kitchen, the melamine plates feature watercolor designs of the eight planets (Sorry, Pluto!) that will make any entrée seem otherworldly.

 

9. EARTH FLEECE

Global warming suddenly has a new—and less dire—meaning. These 60-inch fleece blankets feature actual NASA photographs of Earth, Jupiter, or Mars.

 

10. PLANET BALL SOCKS

At first glance, this looks like a plush toy of Earth, but once you unroll it, a pair of colorful socks emerges.

 

11. FINDERS KEEPERS xSHIRT

Here is a humorous shirt for patriotic friends and family. It features an astronaut on the moon with the triumphant words, “FINDERS KEEPERS.” The shirts come in men’s and women’s, in sizes ranging from small to triple XL.

 

12. VIRTUAL REALITY PLANETARIUM

Give your loved one the gift of a planetarium that they can hold in their hands. The device has eight different modes and three hours of educational audio and is compatible with images of 150 different celestial objects, all taken by the Hubble Telescope.

 

13. MOON PHASE EARRINGS

Perfect for both the science-inclined and the mystics in your life, these brass earrings show the phases of the moon covered by little dollops of glass.

 

14. SOLAR SYSTEM WATCH

As it’s telling time, this watch certainly makes a statement. Lacking any numbers, the accessory has three working hands that dutifully move around the face of the watch.

 

15. SUPERNOVA SKIRT

Help your loved one show off their supernova “flare” with this skirt that features a faux-leather waistband and a vibrant design of a galaxy.

5 Facts You Probably Don’t Know About the Cosmic Microwave Background

“Science cannot tell theology how to construct a doctrine of creation, but you can’t construct a doctrine of creation without taking account of the age of the universe and the evolutionary character of cosmic history.” –John Polkinghorne

Out there in space, whether we look with our eyes or with a telescope — a far more powerful version of our eyes — we find that the Universe is full of stars, galaxies, clusters, and luminous objects everywhere we look.

But if we look in different wavelengths of light than what our eyes can see, we’re going to see the Universe in a whole new light, literally. X-rays show us where black holes, neutron stars, and ultra-hot gas is, ultraviolet light shows us the hottest, youngest stars in the Universe, near infrared shows us cooler stars and is transparent to all but the hottest neutral atoms that normally block visible light, while far infrared shows us warm and cool gas and dust, including the locations of future stars.

But if you look in the microwave part of the spectrum, you see something that is, perhaps, a little unexpected. You see, if you look in, say, the infrared, what you’ll see is completely dominated by the local group: our galaxy, the stars in it, and the nearest galaxies to us.

If you’re clever enough to subtract out those local sources from your sky map, what you’ll find is a slew of point sources that show off the structure of the Universe: galaxies, clusters and filaments lying beyond our own galactic neighborhood. When you look at a picture like the one below, we are looking at a map of the large-scale structure of the cosmos.

But what if we look in microwave wavelengths? Instead of seeing this rich structure that shows us point sources, galaxies, black holes, gas, dust, or something like this, what we instead see — once we subtract our galaxy out — is this.

Believe it or not, that’s the picture of our Universe in microwave wavelengths. The microwave sky shows us the same 2.725 Kelvin temperature radiation in all directions in the sky, a leftover relic from the hot Big Bang when our Universe was just 0.0027% of its present age! For perspective, if the Universe were scaled to be exactly one year long, so that right now is 11:59 PM on December 31st, this is a picture of what the Universe looked like at 12:14 AM on January 1st!

And this is a picture of the fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, or the temperature differences in different regions of the sky. Just a few hundred microKelvin separate the hottest regions from the coldest here, with the coldest (bluest) regions actually showing us the regions of space from 13.82 billion years ago that have slightly more matter (and hence a deeper gravitational well for the photons to climb out of, making them appear colder) than average, while the reddest (hottest) regions are the least dense regions.

That’s what we see when we look at the Universe in microwave wavelengths: the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). But that was all background: here are 5 facts about the CMB that you might not know, even if you’re a professional astrophysicist!

1.) The Cosmic Microwave Background actually extends far into the infrared and radio spectrum!

That number that corresponds to the temperature of the CMB — 2.725 K — is the photon energy (converted into a temperature via Boltzmann’s constant) of the peak of this radiation. But the photons in the Universe come from a thermal bath, where matter, radiation and everything else from the young Universe was constantly colliding with every other particle it saw, exchanging energy and thermalizing. This produces a very special spectrum to the radiation, known as a blackbody spectrum. Every photon in the Universe cools as the Universe expands and stretches the wavelength of each one, but the shape of this spectrum is preserved!

The photons may still peak in the microwave, but they play a role in the infrared — particularly at wavelengths longer than about 300 microns — throughout the entirety of the microwave range and all the way into the radio, where wavelengths are the size of your hand!

2.) The Cosmic Microwave Background is a “surface” over 100,000 light-years thick!

The photons of the CMB smack into free electrons and protons all the time, whenever they see one. Once the Universe cools enough so that the atoms become neutral, the vast majority of these photons now stream freely for the next 13.8 billion years, until they run into something like our detectors. But the Universe didn’t become neutral all at once; nuclei and electrons have been finding one another for hundreds of thousands of years, only to be blasted apart by a high-enough energy photon! When enough time has passed and the photon background has cooled enough, collisions like this become more and more rare, and eventually, the Universe is cool enough so that photons will free-stream all the way to your eye. That’s why the CMB is sometimes called the “surface of last scattering.”

Only, it’s not quite a surface in any direction: it takes somewhere around 117,000 light years for the Universe to go from a completely ionized to a completely neutral state, and the photons we see come from all sorts of different points along the way in every direction.

But there is something remarkable about the CMB we see today…

3.) It only became neutral when it did because of a curiosity of chemistry!

The simplified picture I presented to you — a high-energy photon background cooling as the Universe expands — would explain why atoms became neutral and the CMB appears as a rough “surface,” despite having a finite thickness. But think about it: every time you get a neutral atom forming, it emits a photon, which can then be absorbed by another neutral atom, ionizing it again! Sure, eventually the Universe will have expanded enough so that we get our surface of last scattering, but that surface would have been a lot thicker than 117,000 light-years if this were the dominant effect.

In fact, there’s another effect that’s much more important!

4.) The hot-and-cold spots you see in the CMB today are completely unrelated to all the structure in the Universe!

Because the last-scattering surface has a thickness of about 117,000 light-years, that means with the passage of time, that structure changes! In fact, the last-scattering surface will look completely different 117,000 years from now, if we’re still around to see it. The structure we see in the Universe has evolved from a huge cosmic web of initial seed fluctuations, spread out all across the Universe. But the structure we see here is related to what the CMB looked like billions of years ago, not the CMB we see today!

Image credit: ESA, of a simulation of the CMB.

Sure, as far we can tell, the CMB would have looked different only in detail and distribution; the spectrum of fluctuations would be indistinguishable regardless of when we look.

But this spectrum tells us one final, very, very interesting thing…

5.) There’s a lower-limit to the size of gravitationally-bound structure in the Universe!

Due to the presence of photons in the early Universe, initially large fluctuations get washed out over time, and become smaller and smaller in magnitude on smaller and smaller scales. The lowest mass that can exist in its own bound structure at this time is on the order of a few hundred-thousand solar masses. If all of these were in the form of normal matter…

Image credit: John Nassr of Stardust Observatory, of Messier 4.

We’d get globular clusters, or collections of around 100,000 stars and up! We do get plenty of them, but remember, the Universe is also full of dark matter. And so we’d expect to also get structures dominated by this dark matter, where — after a little burst of star formation — only a tiny amount of stars remain.

The Universe, according to our understanding of the physics going all the way back to when the Universe is just a few hundred thousand years old, should be filled with not just globular clusters, but also tiny, dark-matter-dominated structures with just around 1,000 stars or even fewer! Good thing it’s 2013 and not 2005, because we’ve found them!

With just around 1,000 stars in a structure containing 600,000 solar masses (mostly dark matter, obviously), Segue 1 was the first one discovered, and now there are others! This is right around what’s predicted, and it tells us that there are likely hundreds to tens-of-thousands around every galaxy.

All of that comes from the physics underlying the cosmic microwave background, and now you know!…

The Best Matching Bracelets for Couples

Do you remember the friendship bracelets that we used to make for our BFFs back when we were younger?

We’re all mature adults now, but we can still give special bracelets to our significant others. The couples bracelets are not age-restricted, and they are an ideal way to show your loved one how much he/she means to you. The best thing here is that you don’t need to spend countless hours to make these bracelets, you can buy them instead.

These matching couples bracelets can be an ideal anniversary gift, an impulse buy, and/or even a trinket that you can get to mark a significant milestone in your relationship. Regardless of your decision, you should always choose a matching couples bracelet carefully.

Down below, you will find our top recommendations for the best matching bracelets that you can get for your significant other. Let’s get started!

1. His and Hers Bracelets

You’ve probably heard of Yin and Yang symbols, and you’re probably familiar with what they represent. There is no better way to showcase the stability of your relationship than having a bracelet that symbolizes the harmony of your love. The bracelet looks amazing, but you can also customize it even further if you use another color of the string (other than black and white). Regardless of what you prefer, this bracelet will undoubtedly look amazing on both your and your loved one’s wrists. You can get the bracelet here.

2. Turquoise Bracelet Set

The visual aspect is very important when you consider what bracelet to go for. Turquoise Bracelet Set is crafted very carefully, and it uses only the handpicked materials that, when bound together, form a very beautiful picture. Black Onyx, pyrite, turquoise howlite, silver-coated brass, and bayong wood bass all function perfectly. This unique combination of different materials is what makes these these bracelets best-buy products that you should absolutely check out. You can find them here.

  3. Friendship Bracelets

Friendship bracelets are not as romantic as the bracelets that we described above, but they are no less good. They look amazing, and we can say that a combination of golden and navy blue colors works like a charm. If you want to show your friend how much he/she means to you, this is the bracelet to go for. You can get it here.

4. Sterling Silver Bracelet Set

Everyone knows that sterling silver is the best material when it comes to matching couples bracelets. Sterling Silver Bracelet Set not only looks great, but it’s also very unique. These bracelets are ideal for an anniversary gift, and they’re equally great if you want to give your significant other a gift that he/she will never forget. You can buy these bracelets here.

5. Hand Stamped Bracelet Set

If you prefer cotton over the traditional materials that are commonly used to make couples bracelets, Hand Stamped Bracelet may just be your ideal pick. The best thing here is that the bracelets can carry the message of your choice. While that may not be as important to some people, it’s certainly a feature that we have to point out. So, for example, you can easily choose to engrave “I love you” or “my special one”. Isn’t that amazing? If you believe that beauty lies in simplicity and if you want to send a simple yet straightforward message, this is the bracelet for you. You can get it right here.…

So glad to see you sticking around!

Want to be the first one to receive the new stuff?

Enter your email address below and we'll send you the goodies straight to your inbox.

Thank You For Subscribing

This means the world to us!

Spamming is not included! Pinky promise.