The Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 telescope makes skywatching much easier: it has built in Wi-Fi, which takes a lot of the work out of astronomy. Which is good. But also not so good. By Peter Martin
Astronomy has one big problem: using a telescope is hard. Move it a few millimetres and suddenly you’re halfway across the sky. You might as well be looking for an ant with 80x binoculars. But the Celestron NexStar Evolution 8, makes things much easier – by doing the searching for you. It has a built-in Wi-Fi network you can connect to through your phone or tablet. All you do is touch the star you want to see on the app and the NexStar takes you there.
This is only if you can get it set up, though. To orient the scope, the app asks you to find three bright stars in the view-finder. Problem is, when you manoeuvre the telescope towards a star, the display changes, so by the time you have the scope oriented correctly the app thinks you’re looking at something different. The secret, buried in an instruction book that takes monk-like patience and a PhD to understand, is to ignore what you see on your screen during this process. Then the NexStar takes over and things finally get easy. You’ll find clusters and nebulae you didn’t even know to look for and you won’t have to work that hard to do it.
The automatic navigation takes the uncertainty out of stargazing, but it can easily turn you into a spectator. The next logical step would be to wirelessly transfer the image from the scope to your tablet. But then you might as well not be using the telescope in the first place. You might as well be on Google. On the couch. With the telescope in storage. Or not looking at stars (or star images) at all. Part of the appeal of stargazing is gaining a respect for the vastness of space by attempting to navigate through it. Even if that involves getting lost.
Two other smart options
* For photographers:
The Sky-Watcher Esprit ED 100mm APO uses a field corrector to flatten the image and has a three-piece lens design that prevents false colour. All of which is very important when you’re taking advantage of the scope’s main selling point: it can be hooked up to your DSLR, like a 150x zoom lens. Your slide shows just got so much better.
* For dedicated beginners:
The Orion StarSeeker III 127mm costs more than many beginner scopes, but it has the capacity to grow with you. This fully computerised telescope has a 49 000-object database that is searchable by type. The best feature is the touring mode, which takes into account the date, time and location to show you the best stars. All you do is push a button.
Where do i point this thing?
A handy guide to telescope targets: there are plenty of stars to look at, but they’re not all worth the time it takes an amateur stargazer to find them. Astronomer Tyler Nordgren at the University of Redlands, in California, suggests starting with the celestial body right in front of your face. Go out on a night when there is a half or crescent Moon and point your scope at the line between the dark and light sides. The striking contrast will show off craters such as the Kepler (looks like a cup), the Eratosthenes (looks like a cup with terraced sides) and the Copernicus (looks like a cup with terraced sides and rays coming out of it). When you’re ready for something more difficult, locate Orion’s Belt and move south towards where his sword would be. Here you’ll find the Orion Nebula, a rainbow-coloured cloud of gas and dust that sits about 1 600 light-years from Earth. It can be seen with the naked eye, but glows pink and yellow-green through even a low-powered telescope. Mastered that? Download a star chart. – Niko Vercelletto