This story is part of our continuing coverage of CES 2020, including tech and gadgets from the showroom floor.
Align your camera’s phone with the mirror in Celestron’s StarSense telescopes, and you’ll be spotting nebulae in no time flat. The telescopes work with an app and use your phone’s camera to find celestial bodies in the sky. The instruments were on display at CES 2020 and promise to bring the stars a little closer to amateur astronomers.
The moon is usually easy enough to see with the naked eye, but there’s a lot untrained enthusiasts may be missing. “This other, more obscure stuff, normally people cannot even find them,” Corey Lee, Celestron’s CEO, told Digital Trends.
Extremely expensive professional telescopes use image recognition to determine what celestial bodies they’re pointed at. Their plate-solving technique uses a photograph of the sky and compares the stars to a database. Motorized telescopes let you toggle controls to zip around the sky, but the StarSense uses a database of 40,000 images to accomplish the plate solving. “It’s almost like facial recognition,” said Lee, “but you are looking at the sky and recognizing the star pattern.”
Once you have the camera in place, the app will display a bull’s-eye to show you where the device is aimed. When it goes from red to green, the telescope is properly aligned.
Based on your phone’s GPS and the time, the app can show you a list of what should be visible each night. Each item has a description and an audio clip. Some will even show up in the city, while others require a dark sky and are marked accordingly. When the app is displaying a simulation of the sky, you can also tap on an object to find out what it is, then adjust the telescope until you’re able to view it through the eyepiece. The accuracy of the app is about 0.25°. Because of the camera requirements, the telescope is only compatible with iPhone 6 and higher and most smartphones running Android 7.1.2. The dock is adjustable, so it fits a variety of phones.
There are lots of apps that promise to help you identify out objects in the sky sans telescope, but Lee thinks holding your smartphone up to the sky isn’t the best way to stargaze. “When you’re talking about a fraction of a degree, you have to be pointing accurately,” he said.
Celestron says the process is far more simplified than a computerized telescope, which require users to go through an alignment process each time they pick up and move the device. By harnessing smartphones’ tech and doing away with motors, the StarSense telescopes are comparatively affordable.
There are two models available for purchase: The smaller LT si $189 and the DX is $399. Both come in refractor or reflector versions.
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