Jason Mulek - Telescopes.com
July 24th, 2006
Where is Saturn? What is that huge bright star to the south? Humans have wondered for centuries. Can the new Celestron SkyScout give you all the answers and more? Read on and find out. Below is the worlds first review and background of a working SkyScout, Celestron's revolutionary new device that has become one of the most anticipated products of 2006.
SkyScout announcement.Celestron's SkyScout was announced to the world in January 2006 at the International Consumer Electronics Show show in Las Vegas. I attended the CES show primarily to see this new hand-held device. The huge conference on electronics featured everything from flat-screen TV's to monster stereo systems and from computer gadgets to, well, anything you could think of that runs on electricity. The scale of this show could only be summed up with one word - massive.
A SkyScout was available to examine at the Celestron booth but unfortunately it was a demo unit. The SkyScout presentation by the Celestron staff of the SkyScout left everyone at the booth asking "When can I buy one"? While walking the floors of the show and traveling by bus between the show's three venues, it was common to hear the phrase "did you see that Skyscout star locating device"? The SkyScout's buzz grew more and more on the conventions second and third days, and by then the SkyScout was common knowledge at the show. It was clear: in a field of thousands of products, SkyScout was one of the stars of the show. Check out these prestigious awards:
Back to work at Telescopes.com. We started accepting pre-orders for the SkyScout immediately following the CES Show. The orders poured in, and the buzz built daily. Clearly, this was going to be a very popular product. But a working version had yet to be seen, would the SkyScout deliver?
First SkyScout arrives. July 20th, seven months after the announcement, the first SkyScouts had arrived and our team gathered around the box. It was the middle of the afternoon, but we just had to try it. Would it work during the day? "Grab some batteries and lets find out!" we said.
First SkyScout Test - When powering on the SkyScout for the first time, we were greeted with the SkyScout logo followed by a message "Acquiring Satellites for GPS Fix" This process took about 20 seconds and the SkyScout showed us its main menu. It was the middle of the day and clearly nothing but the sun was visible, but we all know objects are still up there, so we wondered: in broad daylight, could the SkyScout tell us where Saturn was? We chose the menu function "Locate", followed by "Planets"and selected "Saturn". We looked into the SkyScout and saw blinking lights telling which direction to move the SkyScout. The lights blinked on the top, so we moved up. Then they blinked on the left, so we moved left. The SkyScout directed us up near the sun. Being cautious not to look at the sun (you should never look at the sun with the SkyScout) the SkyScout pinpointed us to a location, but we could not tell if Saturn was truly there. We went back indoors and used our planetarium software and sure enough, Saturn was located exactly where the SkyScout was pointing us!
First Night with the SkyScout - I brought the SkyScout home eagerly awaiting a clear night of stars. From past experiences, anytime you want clear skies to test a new product, you get weeks of clouds. But not this time, It was a gorgeous evening with star filled skies. Powering up the SkyScout and I was ready for an evening putting the SkyScout to the test.
There are two major functions of the SkyScout - Locating and Identify. I started with Identify. I know that the bright object in the summer southern sky is Jupiter, so I wanted to see the SkyScout tell me that. Holding the SkyScout about 6 inches from the eye, you are able to see through the body of the SkyScout and see exactly what your naked eye sees. The SkyScout does not have any magnification and when held a comfortable distance from your eye, you are able to see both the object you are centering in the SkyScout and the surroundings of that object with the rest of your vision. I centered what I knew was Jupiter in the SkyScout and pressed the "Target" button located on top of the SkyScout body. After pressing the Target button, I read on the side of the display "Jupiter".
So that was easy. The SkyScout knew Jupiter. Then I looked up at the constellation Ursa Major and found the "Big Dipper". I started from the handle and pointed the SkyScout at each of the stars. One at a time, the SkyScout identified Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth, Phecda, Merak, and Dubhe. I was officially impressed, but still the critic, I wanted to challenge the SkyScout.
I looked to the constellation Lyra and located Vega. Sure enough, the SkyScout confirmed it was Vega. But there are two other stars in the constellation Lyra that are close together, could the SkyScout tell me those two stars, Sulafat and Sheliak? Pointing to each and pressing the Target button, I got the correct name each time. I hardly had to move the SkyScout from one star to the other, and yet the SkyScout identified them perfectly.
Ah... but one of the most beautiful objects in the night sky is located directly between Sulafat and Sheliak - M57, The Ring Nebula. So it was time I tried the locate function.
Locating the Ring Nebula. Pressing the Locate button, the SkyScout took me to a menu, where I choose Planetary Nebula. I selected Ring Nebula M57. The directional arrows in the viewfinder of the SkyScout lead me up and back toward the constellation Lyra. Sure enough, it brought me exactly between Sulafat and Sheliak, the location of the Ring Nebula.
Trigger Happy. Like a kid with his first BB-Gun, I became trigger-happy. I pointed SkyScout at everything in the sky then looked at the screen to have the unit identify each object. Many stars I already knew, and I quickly learned many more. But I then realized I had forgotten about a major feature of the SkyScout - its ability to teach!
The SkyScout Talks! Anytime I open a new electronic gadget, I toss away everything else in the box and just reach for the power button. It was no different with SkyScout. Back in the box were the "Quick Set Up Guide", Instructional CD, Neck Strap, USB Cable, and.... HEADPHONES! Oh yes! In my excitement at locating and identifying I'd forgotten the best part of SkyScout, it talks!
So back at the SkyScout box, I opened up the headphones and plugged them in. Pointing SkyScout back at Jupiter, I pressed Target and
SkyScout told me it was Jupiter. But then I selected the "Audio" function on the menu and I was greeted with a calm, soothing women's voice
that gave me facts and information about our largest planet. Information about Jupiter and its moons and the size of the planet.
Next I wanted to locate M13, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules. SkyScout showed me which way to go, and I again selected the Audio feature, I learned that M13 is made up of nearly 1 million stars and in 1974 we sent a message from a radio telescope to M13. The message will take 25,000 years to arrive, and if a response is forthcoming, it will take another 25,000 years to get the reply. Most of us, obviously, won't be around to hear it when or if it comes.
In reading the "Quick Setup Guide" I found that there are more than 200 audio narrations on the most popular objects in the sky. There are also Text Descriptions and Scientific Data options for learning about objects.
A Funny Moment with the SkyScout - While going through the menu functions, I went to locate a planet and noticed that "Earth" was one of the planets. How would they SkyScout tell me where Earth was when I am standing on it! Sure enough I chose the locate function and looked into the viewfinder only to find that the SkyScout was telling me I was already pointing at Earth! I guess you just can't stump SkyScout.
SkyScout - A Personal Planetarium - The SkyScout is referred to as a Personal Planetarium. That is exactly what it is. This unique device could be operated by anyone even a child. The menu functions are clear and easy to understand and navigate.
The unit is powered by 2 AA batteries that last plenty long. I used the SkyScout with 2 batteries from my television remote and powered SkyScout for 2 evenings. I have to speculate the battery life is very long and use of the audio and menu screens will determine the exact battery life. The unit feels rugged in the hand and is rubber armored. There are volume controls for the audio descriptions and a brightness adjustment for the menu screens and viewfinder.
Exceeded Expectations - I think everyone was curious as to whether this product would really work as Celestron advertised back at the CES show. Well it did just that. Overall, this is an amazing device for learning about the wonders of the night sky.
I can't wait until I can get out and use it again! If you want one too, Telescopes.com is where you can purchase the Celestron SkyScout.