This digital telescope helped extract the Whirlpool Nebula from the sky

This digital telescope helped extract the Whirlpool Nebula from the sky

My wow moment with the Unistellar EVscope 2 happened almost immediately after setting it up. As the digital telescope sent my phone a gradually improving image of the spiral arms of M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, I felt a little awe as I realized that billions of stars had sent photons through million light years on the bridge behind my house.

The image was believed by NASA Space Telescope Standards, but I myself had used the telescope to pluck it from the sky without any expertise in azimuth and altitude, without playing with filters, without installing motors to compensate for the rotation of the Earth. I relied on the intelligence of the telescope, but it was still much more immediate than leafing through the astronomical image of the day.

The EVscope 2 brushes aside all of these complications by identifying the stars it sees, homing in on the object you’ve selected on your smartphone, and then following it automatically. By stacking multiple images captured with its digital image sensor, it can take reasonably good digital photos even when competing with suburban light pollution.

The computer intelligence of the EVscope makes it relatively easy to find stars, planets, galaxies and nebulae in the night sky. At $3,999, or $4,299 with a custom backpack to carry it and its tripod, it won’t be a casual buy. For educators or enthusiasts, however, it’s a great option. Its citizen science capabilities are the icing on the cake.

Serious astronomers may well stick to other designs, but the EVscope 2’s software has shown that digital intelligence can also put otherwise inaccessible technology within reach of non-experts. It sounds a bit like cheating — like using a phone app that recognizes bird calls to identify birds — but exposing more people to astronomy is great.

My favorite subjects were M51 (and the galaxy it entangles with, NGC 5195); M57, the Ring Nebula; and M31, Andromeda, the neighboring galaxy that will collide with our own Milky Way in 4 billion years to form a larger elliptical galaxy about 6 billion years old. I also checked Uranus, the Pleiades cluster; M92, a globular cluster; M63, the Sunflower Galaxy; M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy; and an assortment of other galaxies and nebulae. The individual stars weren’t terribly exciting.

Henry Throop, a friend and professional astronomer, used a Unistallar digital telescope at star parties and other public awareness events. He says it’s great.

A photograph of the Whirlpool Galaxy, a spiral galaxy entangled with a smaller neighboring galaxy

A picture I took with the Unistellar 2 EVscope of the Whirlpool Galaxy, an entangled spiral galaxy with a smaller neighbor. The digital telescope stacks individual photo frames to build a useful image even if your sky suffers from some noise pollution.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

“I can easily look at and image a dozen Messier objects in an hour,” he said, going through the catalog of 110 significant galaxies, nebulae and star clusters that French astronomer Charles Messier began listing. in 1771. Unistellar technology shows many sights that would be a blurry gray spot with a conventional telescope. “So many people have been really excited about what they can see,” he said.

The EVscope 2 captures images with a 7.7 megapixel image sensor. You can look through a Nikon-built digital eyepiece on the side of the scope, but I tended to use my phone more often. (Android phones and iPhones are supported.) France-based Unistellar also makes a low-end $2,399 Equinox telescope with a lower-resolution 4.9-megapixel image sensor and no eyepiece.

EVscope 2 hassle

The EVscope 2 is relatively easy to use, but it still takes some work. You have to level its tripod using its built-in spirit level, which is best done during the day. You need to install Unistellar’s controller app on your phone and connect it to the telescope’s Wi-Fi network. The most tedious for me, you have to adjust the focus manually.

It takes a bit of work. You need to point the telescope at a reasonably bright object, bring up a special screen called a Bahtinov mask at the end of the telescope, then gradually adjust the focus until you’ve optimized a sort of X-marks-the-spot view of the telescope. ‘star. With practice it becomes easier but no less tedious.

a Unistellar 2 EVscope mounted on its tripod and pointed at a blue sky at dusk

The. Unistellar EVscope 2 is easier to use than most telescopes, but clouds, city lights and bright moons cause problems. I took this photo in New Mexico, hoping for clear skies and low humidity, but the clouds rolled in and blocked out the stars.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

I ran into a few issues using the EVscope 2. The Wi-Fi connection dropped out from time to time, and sometimes the telescope’s plate solver just couldn’t get its bearings even on relatively dark nights. clear to locate the sites I wanted to see. I could usually fix this last issue by manually pointing it to a different random location and resetting its orientation fixing process. Even if you can operate it from a comfortable, warm room next door, don’t carry your phone across the house where it will lose network and mess up any photos you capture.

The toughest problems for me, however, weren’t the telescope’s fault. It doesn’t work when it’s cloudy or when I read my child a bedtime story that also puts me to sleep. The moon seriously interferes with observations. The worst was a two-week trip to New Mexico, where I had high hopes for low light pollution, high altitude, and low humidity. Alas, it was cloudy all the time.

Frontiers of citizen science

Unistellar telescopes have another major attribute: they can contribute to citizen science projects.

Specifically so far, 31 citizen scientists from nine countries have used their Unistellar telescopes to determine how fast a Jupiter-like planet called Kepler-167 orbits its sun. The results were published in December in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Their method was to detect a change in brightness as the planet passed in front of its sun.

A quartet of astronomical photos showing the Whirlwind Galaxy, the Ring Nebula, the Blue Oyster Nebula and the Pleiades star cluster

I used the Unistellar EVscope 2 to take these photos of the Bay Area suburbs in California. Clockwise from top left: M57, the Ring Nebula; M31, the Andromeda galaxy; NGC 1501, the Blue Oyster Nebula; and M45, the Pleiades star cluster. The stars aren’t much more than bright dots in Unistellar photos, but you can see some of the faint streaks of its dust cloud.

Stephen Shankand/CNET

This kind of work excites Throop. “A truckload of small telescopes can do a lot of things that JWST can’t,” he said, referring to the massive James Webb Space Telescope that orbits our sun about 900,000 miles from Earth. Unistellar telescopes also “allow totally novice amateurs to contribute.”

Unistellar also publishes coordinates that allow people to spot unusual objects like the Artemis 1 spacecraft on its round trip from the moon to the earth. Curiously, two observers spotted a still unexplained 4-minute sequence increase in brightness of Artemis 1 December 7.

It’s all enabled by Unistellar’s smartphone controls, image processing skills, and automated system for finding and tracking objects in the sky. It may not offer the image quality that the most serious astronomers and astrophotographers can achieve with patience, skill and very long exposures, but the ease of use of the EVscope makes it useful to many people who otherwise wouldn’t bother looking at the stars.

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