CES2017: Astrophotography In The Eyepiece

If you’ve never set up a telescope in your back yard, you’ve never been truly disappointed. The Hubble can take some great shots of Saturn, nebulae, and other astronomical phenomena, but even an expensive backyard scope produces only smudges. To do astronomy properly, you’ll spend your time huddled over a camera and a computer, stacking images to produce something that almost lives up to your expectations.

At CES, Unistellar introduced a device designed to fit over the eyepiece of a telescope to do all of this for you.

According to the guys at Unistellar, this box contains a small Linux computer, camera, GPS, and an LCD. Once the telescope is set up, the module takes a few pictures of the telescope’s field of view, stacks the images, and overlays the result in the eyepiece. Think of this as ‘live’ astrophotography.

In addition to making Jupiter look less like a Great Red Smudge, the Unistellar module adds augmented reality; it knows where the telescope is pointing and will add a label if you’re looking at any astronomical objects of note.

While I wasn’t able to take a look inside this extremely cool device, the Unistellar guys said they’ll be launching a crowdfunding campaign in the near future.

27 thoughts on “CES2017: Astrophotography In The Eyepiece

    1. So then you drive up to the mountains to a truly dark spot,set up the telescope,look in the eyepiece and are totally overwhelmed by the number of stars in your view and can’t figure out exactly what you are looking at.

      1. Yep, that’s the usual sequence of events. From there you decide to settle down and learn a bit about this domain and get serious, or you park the instrument in a corner as a decoration. I joined a club at school run by a teacher who was very dedicated amateur astronomer. That club made some very impressive images with cold emulsion techniques that almost were worth the suffering of making the exposures on Mont Orford midwinter nights.

  1. I think it depends on the telescope.

    I remember when I was young one of my Dad’s friends brought over a 10-12″ reflector telescope to our back yard.
    We looked at Jupiter and could see the Galilean moons and the great red spot.

    It did not have tracking, so by the time it was lined it up, us kids only had a few seconds to view anything before it moved out of view.

    I remember saying that they need a tracking system. ;)

  2. Most people are disappointed by their first look through a telescope… but most people’s first experience is with a department store telescope from Sears or Costco that’s built to a (low) price and isn’t really good for anything astronomy related. Having a good quality (stable) mount makes the biggest difference between seeing smudges and picking out tiny details. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either. You don’t need fancy eyepieces or tracking, you can get a telescope that will show you Messier objects and beautiful planetary views for around $100 if you know what to look for.

    Granted, no matter how big of a telescope you have, you’ll never get Hubble views, but nobody should go into astronomy having that expectation. “Live” views of nebulae and planets through an eyepiece have a certain breathtaking living quality that you just don’t get from looking at a screen.

  3. “If you’ve never set up a telescope in your back yard, you’ve never been truly disappointed.”

    Unless, of course you’re a big enough fool to have (1) re-built the four carburetors on a V-12 Jag, and THEN (2) developed a serious case of world-class hypertension trying to get all four synchronized.
    THAT’S disappointment!

  4. It is true that backyard telescopes generally are not fun to use, but if you are lucky enough to know a decent amateur astro with a modestly good telescope, you can see amazing things like the rings of saturn, great views of jupiter, the moon, etc..

    Im not sure how popular this device will be, though I do think it is cool!

  5. My first telescope was a department store refractor (70mm Bushnell, I believe). I was blown away when I first looked through it, probably because it was pointed at the right thing: the moon. Then I saw Saturn, and I was blown away again. Of course, this was in the early 80s, so perhaps my expectations were not as out of proportion as they might be today with online images from Hubble, etc, but at the same time, we were seeing exciting images from Voyager et al in full colour in National Geographic.

    I also remember getting to see Halley’s comet through the local university’s small telescope. It was just a generic smudge, but it was still really neat to know that I had seen it with my own eyes.

    Expectations only get crushed when they are allowed to grow unrealistically

  6. While I really like the idea, I honestly hope their skills in electronics, software and optics far exceed their talent in the mechanical engineering department.

    That badly 3D printed and “finished” enclosure is simply horrible. It doesn’t instill any confidence that there’s more behind this venture than an idea and slick simulated video on an iPad. It also shows that they didn’t put any thoughts into mechanical stability, which is kind of important if you want to stack multiple exposures.

    Why spend tens of thousands of dollars on travel and a booth, and then scare away any serious customer or business partner with shoddy prototype work? What does this accomplish except for giving ideas to your more talented competition?

    Well, maybe the tech press will start the hype machine and a clueless VC will throw some money at it. It worked for Meredith.

    1. CEO’s CV says:

      “CNRS researcher, PhD in Optics, MS engineering degree from Ecole Polytechnique and Imperial College

      The COO:

      “Business development, marketing and industrialization. Former CEA Research Engineer, he led technical projects related to ITER. MS degree from ENSAM and experience engineering Airbus Helicopter’s Supply Chain.

      And the CTO:

      “CEA researcher, PhD in Optics, MS engineering degree from Ecole Polytechnique.”

      Source: http://unistellaroptics.com/en/team

  7. I wish they had more info, like the resolution of the display in the eyepiece. But in the end all of this can be done with a laptop or a tablet with an existing celestron camera. I see no reason why you would want to still look though an eyepiece.

  8. Oddly enough there is an active project here on hackaday.io based on the raspberry pi and a camera, and has been there for a year or two, that is strangely similar to this. By that I mean exactly the same.

    Kinda wonder where they got their idea from…

    The pi seems like a better way to do this cheaper, but a lot depends on the low light capabilities of the camera in use, rather than anything else. Fairly affordable telescope imaging systems have been around a few years now, and many started out with the impressive capabilities of the old Philips CCD based webcams.

  9. Sounds good but it would help to know what sensor they use, because that’s critical, is it a Zwo type of setup or some dinky cheap sensor.
    It sounds like they are serious though and would use a decent sensor.

  10. I had years of fun in astronomy with just a small department store telescope, an old binocular and a guidebook.

    I don’t understand why some people are having so much trouble or disappointment here.

    Any ideas?

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