Three winters ago, just before Christmas 2009, I featured in Technopolis TV on howtospendit.com a magnificent computer-controlled telescope, the Meade ETX-LS, which took all the slog out of stargazing. It did this by automatically finding the planets, stars and other celestial objects that were visible at the time and place you happened to be. All you had to do was peer into the eyepiece and have disturbing thoughts about the vastness of the universe.
Yet although remarkable, the Meade wasn’t perfect. Like most amateur telescopes, its Chinese manufacture wasn’t of the highest order, so it didn’t quite feel best of breed. And the instructions, although supposedly pitched at astronomy novices (a status I have maintained for more than 40 years, when I bought my first of many disappointing telescopes) weren’t for the impatient. Another drawback was that it was a big beast of 24kg including its tripod.
The problem with telescopes if you live in Britain is that the weather means you can hardly ever use them. The mists and mellow fruitfulness of this time of year in particular tend to consign a telescope to lengthy lay-offs. But since I had the Meade in my temporary charge, I’ve often found myself under clear skies abroad and dearly wished it was with me. This new Celestron telescope answers that problem by being almost a travel version of the Meade. It does most of the same advanced things (and does them a little more easily) and has only a slightly smaller reflector (hence slightly smaller magnification), but is only two-thirds of the Meade’s bulk and 35 per cent of the weight, at 8kg, tripod included. So while not exactly a last-minute carry-on item packed into a holdall padded with jumpers, it would be quite practical as a travel companion. Indeed as I write this, I am considering packing it for an outback trip.
You have the same issue with the Celestron of cheap and cheerful manufacturing quality, but this is a universal in consumer-level telescopes, and although that’s a tad disappointing if you love fine products, technically, it doesn’t affect things at all – it’s a terrific device.