New digital telescope takes higher-resolution photos of the sky

Unistellar announced a new model in its line of intelligent digital telescopes CES on Tuesday the $2,499 Equinox 2, which will begin shipping in March. Thanks to image sensor and software updates, it can take better photos of stars, galaxies, nebulae and other astronomical objects than its predecessor.

The French company’s products bypass much of the hassle of astronomy by figuring out their orientation themselves and then steering themselves to celestial objects that you select with your smartphone app. The telescope uses the same technology to track subjects as they circle the sky.

Compared to the first-generation Equinox, the new model increases sensor resolution from 4.9 megapixels to 6.2 megapixels, takes better planetary photos and offers a wider field of view, said Franck Marchis, Unistellar’s chief scientific officer and exoplanet astronomer at the SETI Institute.

“That’s important if you want to observe the moon or the sun because they can fit completely within the field of view,” Marchis said.

The Equinox 2 is a remarkable step in the digitization of technology that used to be analog. Instead of using careful adjustments and motors to counteract the Earth’s rotation, it tracks celestial objects by knowing where it’s pointing and keeping it in view. And the image processing technology can cut through haze and glare so even novice photographers can take photos.

However, there are limits. Telescopes always work better when the air is clear and the sky is dark. “We can eliminate light pollution, but there’s a moment when a miracle isn’t possible,” Marchis said.

Some photos taken with Unistellar’s slightly higher quality EVscope 2, clockwise from top left: M57, the Ring Nebula; M31, the Andromeda Galaxy; NGC 1501, the Blue Oyster Nebula; and M45, the Pleiades star cluster with some faint dust clouds.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

The $2,499 price tag isn’t cheap, but it’s less than the $3,999 EVscope 2 digital telescope. The main differences of the high-end model are a viewfinder and a higher-resolution 7.7-megapixel sensor. The viewfinder offers an instant way to look up at the sky, but you can still see what the Equinox 2 is pointing at via the Android or iOS app, which also includes most telescope controls.

Unistellar telescopes can also contribute to citizen science projects.

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

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