Did you watch the heavenly spectacle when Jupiter and Saturn huddled together during last December 20 evening’s sky closer than they have for nearly 400 years?
Of course, you needed a telescope, and those are expensive and bulky, and though many people were likely isolated under forced or self-imposed lockdowns, the only chance they had to see this event was online via the astronomers at Exeter University aiming their telescopes and live-streaming it on YouTube.
It will be 2080 before the planets align so closely again, so oops.
But in the coming months when COVID-19 vaccines labor to reach their intended targets, one French company is making sure you can do some astronomy from your smartphone, with little effort.
If you think traditional telescopes are hard work, especially if you are new to astronomy, you would be right but it’s a problem that a young French startup Vaonis is trying to tackle.
The company specializing in the production of astronomical instruments, recently launched its newest device, Vespera. It’s a cross between a smart telescope and a camera and is expected to cost about $1,500.
In October, the company launched a 30-day pre-order campaign and managed to attract $2.5 million in worldwide billing, making Vespera the most-funded project in the category of space exploration.
Vespera’s app lets an astronomer control the telescope from their smartphone to select and zoom in on the celestial object they want to observe. The telescope will then point at the object and track it.
Vaonis says apart from the device’s automatic pointing and tracking system, it also employs intelligent and powerful image processing with autofocus. Vespera calibrates itself using its owner’s phone GPS and the company’s star-recognition technology.
Aiming to shake up the field, Vaonis has also teamed up with former NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Terry Virts, utilizing their experience and expertise.
“I’ve owned multiple telescopes over my life, including reflectors and refractors. I’ve always enjoyed them, and the thrill of seeing objects in the night sky,” Virts tells ZDNet.
“But frankly it is too much work to drag a typical six-inch or eight-inch or even 12-inch telescope outside at night, align it, and attach astrophotography devices. Most telescopes are never used.”
“It makes it possible to see amazing deep-sky objects that are thousands or sometimes millions of light-years away, in minutes. Observations like that are simply not possible with conventional telescopes without a significant amount of expertise, time, and heavy and expensive equipment.”
James Sweitzer, a Kickstarter supporter of the project, said: “I firmly believe their most important impact will be to lift the veil on the deep universe and bring joy and wonder to many people.”
Typical telescopes we know about
When in the early 1600s Galileo Galilei raised a small hand-held telescope to the sky, he became the first person to see Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings.
Optical telescopes today range from pocket telescopes just a few inches long to colossal ones weighing tons.
Optical telescopes are designed to capture light emitted by stars and reflected by planets and moons. You can think of them as light-collecting buckets. The bigger they are, the more light they’ll catch.
This light then has to be focused to form an image. There are two types of optical telescopes available on the market today: reflectors and refractors. Reflectors use mirrors to bend incoming light; refractors use lenses.
Of the two options, reflectors are relatively cheaper. A few hundred dollars will buy you an instrument much larger than the refractor Galileo used. But bigger also means heavier and harder to transport.
Hubble telescope spots farthest point in universe so far
The Hubble Space Telescope has captured the farthest-ever view into the universe, a photo that reveals thousands of galaxies billions of light-years away.
The picture, called eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, combines 10 years of Hubble telescope views of one patch of sky. Only the accumulated light gathered over so many observation sessions can reveal such distant objects, some of which are one ten-billionth the brightness that the human eye can see.
The photo is a sequel to the original “Hubble Ultra Deep Field,” a picture the Hubble Space Telescope took in 2003 and 2004 that collected light over many hours to reveal thousands of distant galaxies in what was the deepest view of the universe so far. The XDF goes even farther, peering back 13.2 billion years into the universe’s past. The universe is thought to be about 13.7 billion years old.