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SkyScout: Locate Over 50,000 Stars

skyscout personal planetarium

  Setting up a telescope and pointing it to a certain part of the sky takes time and effort. Knowing where to set up the telescope and which celestial bodies are visible in what section of sky requires a library of astronomy references. Carrying all that equipment out into a field can be cumbersome, so Global Positioning System technology came up with a more compact alternative, the SkyScout.

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Designed by Celestron, this hand-held device brings to both amateur and professional astronomers the ultimate stargazing handbook, all in a hand-held device about the size of a large paperback book. Utilizing the Global Positioning System, this device assists stargazers in locating specific celestial objects, and provides information on those objects, both in text and in audio.

Similar in design and shape to a hand-held camcorder; SkyScout is described by Celestron as the astronomer's personal planetarium. Inside the 2.5 x 4 x 7.4 case is a database containing descriptions of 6000 Stars, 1,500 Double Variable Stars, 88 Constellations, more than 100 Galaxies, Nebulae, Star Clusters, and other deep space objects, plus audio descriptions for approximately 200 of the most popular stargazing objects.

Learn about the very cool Skyscout

Celestron Skyscout video

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An LCD screen is on the left side of the device, where information is displayed in black text on red backlight. Also on the left side, around the LCD screen are several control buttons: Brightness increase/decrease, Volume increase/decrease, Power, Identify, Locate, GPS, Menu, and Help. A Target button is on top of the device and on the front is the viewer, beneath which is the SD card slot. The device has a USB port and a headphone jack, and comes with ear-bud headphones. All of this is powered by two AA batteries which are stored on the right side of the device.

The moment the device is turned on GPS determines the user's position. The stargazer then has two options of how to view the sky: Target and Locate. To use Target, the user gazes through the eyepiece at a section of night sky and presses the Target button. The LCD screen will then display a list of the celestial objects in that particular section of sky. While the user is gazing, he or she can also listen to the audio descriptions by plugging the ear-bud headphones into the headphone jack.

The second option, Locate, allows the user to select a specific celestial object to observe from the LCD menu. After making a selection, the user looks at the viewfinder for directions. Arrows light up in the eyepiece to tell the stargazer which way to turn to view this object. Once the object is visible through the viewfinder, all of the eyepiece arrows light up and encircle the object.

If that weren't amazing enough, even more information is available via this personal planetarium. Star formation, facts, trivia, history, and mythology are part of the database. Included, too, is an option called "Tonight's Highlights" which displays a list of the best objects to view for the user's date, time and location, and does so for anywhere in the world.

If a star is part of a constellation, Constellation Lessons allows the user to take a guided tour through all the stars in that constellation, and includes an onscreen map. Text and audio information include an introduction to astronomy, descriptions of famous comets, a glossary of terms, biographies of great astronomers, and descriptions of man-made space objects such as the Hubble Telescope.

If more information is desired, the SD card slot allows the stargazer the benefit of additional audio presentations on "SkyScout Expansion Cards", including educational programs, such as "Astronomy for Kids". The USB port allows the use to make regular updates.

Though this hand-held guidebook offers a great many options to locate and identify objects in the sky, it does not provide a magnified view. Those wishing to get an up-close-and-personal look at objects will need to bring along a telescope. The GPS device can be mounted on a tripod and then the user can listen to the audio while gazing at the object through the telescope.

For those stargazers seeking a new telescope, or a more compact set of equipment to view the sky, Celestron offers the SkyScout Scope 90. This telescope was designed specifically for use with the hand-held GPS device. By using a separate mounting bracket, the personal planetarium can be mounted right on top of the Scope 90, giving the users a two-in-one piece of equipment. To avoid interfering with the GPS sensors, the Scope 90 is made from non-magnetic materials, and also comes with a pre-assembled tripod.

Bottom line, the SkyScout is a user-friendly, point-and-click device that brings the stars to everyone, amateur and professional alike. The device sells for about $200 and comes with a two year warranty for defects in workmanship only. In order to keep the device up to date, Celestron offers free regular updates to firmware and to the object database.

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