- What was your initial motivation for creating Unistellar?
Classical telescopes are great for viewing the four main planets—Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn—but even expensive, high-end devices don’t allow us to see much beyond that, and totally miss the truly awe-inspiring colors and details of many deep-space objects. While astronomy remains hugely popular as a hobby, most people quickly grow disappointed at what they see through their telescopes and wind up moving them into the basement, where they gather dust. This was the problem we wanted to solve. Our first goal was to make observational astronomy far more fun, exciting, and easy to do. As scientists, we also wanted to foster a strong, growing interest in astronomical research and citizen science, and we believed that the way to do that was by transforming the telescope into a far more powerful and user-friendly device.
- How does the eVscope “enhance” an image? For example, you mentioned that it collects light over time…what does that mean?
Most astronomical objects are too faint to be seen by the human eye, even with a telescope. This is the case because our eyes simply cannot accumulate light the way a sensor does. Our idea was to use state-of-the-art, low-light sensor technology and proprietary algorithms to accumulate light and re-project it real time into the telescope’s eyepiece. In a matter of seconds, this allows observers to see colors and details of nebulae, galaxies, and comets that that normally cannot be seen, even in larger, traditional telescopes.
- Can you tell me a bit about the annotation feature?
We developed an Automatic Field Detection algorithm that uses a built-in database of millions of star coordinates to accurately identify any object in the telescope’s field of view. This allows our eVscope to overcome two problems that frustrate most amateur astronomers: It can automatically point at objects in the night sky, making it easy for users to find the targets they want to observe. Second, it provides information about that target that can be overlaid during observations, making astronomy informative as well.
- And can you tell me a bit about the open source, data-sharing features?
These features make our telescope an accurate and powerful way to generate useful scientific data, especially when that data are gathered from a network of tens, hundreds, or thousands of users scattered all over the world. This feature garnered the interest of the SETI Institute, long a pioneer in the field of citizen science. The Institute is convinced that the eVscope can play a major role in research on planetary defense, the search for supernovae, and the study of many transient astronomical events. Because of the SETI Institute’s robust outreach and education programs, it is, like us, committed to using the eVscope to make astronomy a far more interactive and popular science.One way we’ll do that is via the eVscope’s data-sharing feature. Scientists who launch an observing campaign can invite eVscope users to join the effort by activating their device’s “Observation Campaign mode.” Users who do that get observing coordinates via smartphone, transfer those coordinates to their eVscope at the touch of a finger, and soon begin generating data that is returned to the scientists leading the campaign. This feature allows eVscope users to view events of scientific interest—such as a comet or supernova—through their device’s eyepiece as they generate valuable new data for the scientists around the world.