Subject: Celestron DX 130AZ
So, way back in the day we bought a Meade ETX-80 telescope. We bought this device that was supposed to do have a catalog of locations and you plugged those into the little handheld computer and it would automatically track through the sky to the precise location of the celestial view you had selected.
This evidently works - if you're a seasoned astronomer, if you know where the north star is, and you've got a view of it. It is a complex process. We never got it to work. This kind of technology has evidently made big improvements. The gears on the Meade stripped out and broke eventually - and I think Meade told me, "we don't have the parts to repair that model anymore." When I moved to Ohio, we took it, and I figured someday I would repair it. There was a HUGE telescope there, just left in the garage, also in rough condition. We tried them both a couple of times, never got anywhere with them, and when we left Ohio, I sold them and all the lenses and other bits and pieces to some guy. He got a HELLUVA deal. I'm sure he was stoked.
I've kept thinking about getting back into telescopes and just never got around to sitting down and doing the research and committing to the expense of it all. I mentioned it to my wife a couple times - but other things kept coming up to spend my money on. I bought one of the little cheap ones from Fry's - looked at the moon a couple of times and went, "Yup, that is the moon, it is cool - but the Meade was better," and put it in the closet and forgot about it.
This Christmas my wife got me one. It is a Celestron 130DX AZ... kind of a high-end entry-level telescope. When I opened it, I thought it was a GoTo telescope. So did my wife when she bought it. But it isn't. As I was assembling it, I realized there was no power to the tripod, no gearing in it to move the telescope. It showed that it linked to your phone and the box illustrated arrows pointing to the object you had selected on the app in your phone.
To my wife's Christmas morning disappointment, we soon realized that the illustrations on the box were exactly what they looked like. "Your phone finds the object and guides you to manually move the telescope to point to that object."
Which sounded dubious, mickey-mouse, gimmicky and unlikely to work, to me.
But I read some reviews, watched some YouTube videos, and a lot of guys with a lot of experience kept saying, "This works, it works pretty well, and for beginners, it probably works BETTER than a more complicated to setup GoTo telescope that is more expensive, harder to lug around and will probably be frustrating."
So we kept it. We've had a couple fairly frustrating nights out, and a couple pretty cloudy ones. Part of the problem is getting the Spotter/Viewfinder scope aligned with the actually telescope viewpiece and then getting that aligned with the view your phone's camera has.
So, this is called "plate solving". Evidently it is an expensive technique where you have a camera hooked up looking through your telescope, it takes a picture of the night sky, and then feeds it into a laptop that matches the image to a database of celestial maps and figures out what you're looking at. Once it knows that, it knows the relation of the telescope to *every other object visible in your night sky*.
Celestron claims they've been able to figure out how to do this by having a telephone mounted on the side of your scope. The camera points down at a mirror, the mirror points at the night sky, it takes a picture, plate solves it, and if you have it aligned with your scope's eyepiece view and viewfinder's view - you're in business. Still sounds a little dubious, right?
Our first few times, things weren't working great. Getting the scope and the eyepiece aligned is difficult, then getting the phone aligned with them is also pretty rough. The idea is to get something terrestrial and stationary lined up so it is in the center of the viewfinder, which has a red dot site, so that it is in the dead center of the eyepiece, and then align the camera so that it has the same thing sited dead-center also. Easier said than done.
Then we had a couple of cloudy nights - and there aren't a lot of great things to view right now in the sky in Arizona, anyhow.
Tonight though, we went out, and we spent about 2 hours. We were able to see the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter. I had, in the past, found both of these in the Meade and gotten better views through that scope of both - able to see the bands and spot of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn very distinctly. I was also able to bring planes flying into focus while my wife viewed them through the viewfinder. I mean, I was just pointing at dots in the sky, and she was like, "Yup, that was an airplane."
We managed to get all 3 components of the system aligned finally though - focusing on a gas station digital sign about 2 miles away, we could read the numbers on the sign, verifying that the eyepiece and viewfinder were aligned, then we got the camera aligned to the same spot.
With all 3 aligned, we were able to go right to the Orion nebula, and at 100x we were able to see the dust cloud and clusters of stars inside it, and the app pointed us right to it - the viewfinder had it centered, and it was right there in the eyepiece when we looked through it.
Which is promising. If it can do that - this is a pretty small space in the sky - it looks like a fuzzy star in Orion to the naked eye - I believe it will be accurate in helping us to pinpoint other relatively deep space objects, and the planets, for good viewing. We bought a higher quality lens kit, with a barlow lens (that doubles the magnification of your eyepiece, at the cost of some distortion and light reduction) and some filters. We'll probably try again tomorrow. Hopefully I just put the phone back in the cradle, point the telescope at a section of night sky, let it plate solve, and everything is still in precise alignment. If that works - I'm going to be pretty happy with this solution - and I do think it is more ideal than GoTo scopes for beginning or casual astronomers.
Looking at their ad - doesn't it look like the phone is somehow interfacing with the scope to find and point you at the object in the sky?
It *kinda* is... but - the ad makes it look a lot more high-tech than it is. Well... that isn't true... what is happening is high tech - but YOU'RE the motor guiding the scope. :)