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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Universe Made Simple: A Telescope that Finds Everything For You

Starworthy: Brian Klutch

Take a guided tour of the cosmos, led by a robotic telescope. Meade’s ETX-LS is the first scope to automatically point itself at interesting celestial bodies, no human help required. As an extra benefit for beginners, it plays an informational audio clip through its speaker (or a video clip if you plug it into a monitor) once it locks on a worthy star.

Other computerized telescopes can navigate the heavens, but only after you aim them at reference stars so they can orient themselves in space. The ETX-LS automates even this step, picking out glowing dots with a camera instead of your fallible eyes. First a motor turns the scope to the approximate patch of sky where a reference star should appear, as calculated by a built-in compass and GPS receiver. Then the ETX-LS snaps a picture with its 0.3-megapixel camera sensor. It searches the shot for a fleck of the correct brightness to home in on the reference star. Bonus: That same camera can also take snapshots of your extraterrestrial sightseeing.