Unistellar’s eVscope has proven its ability to do serious astronomy, with more to come in 2022.
There’s a revolution underway in how amateur astronomers contribute to modern astronomy. Smartscopes—telescopes controlled remotely via tablets or smartphones—are making there way into the modern amateur telescope market and out into the field. These have the ability to not only bring deep-sky astronomy to light-polluted urbanites, but to lower the bar for entry into deep-sky astrophotography. One of the leading manufacturers of smartscopes is Unistellar. First offered as a Kickstarter project in 2017, Unistellar’s line now includes the eVscope eQuinox, and the new eVscope2.
The anatomy of Unistellar’s eVScope. Credit: Unistellar
The Age of Smartscopes
But beyond just providing pretty pictures and a tour of the night sky, eVscope users are contributing to some serious science, in a big way. This is always the hallmark of any new breakthrough in technology: you never know what wild and wonderful directions that people will take it in, once it’s unleashed. We recently caught up with Unistellar’s Chief Scientific Officer Franck Marchis, (also Senior Planetary Astronomer at the SETI Institute), on where astronomy with these unique telescopes may be headed.
“As an astronomer, when you arrive in a control room, everything is ready: you just enter the coordinates, or just the name of the target,” says Marchis. “I always wondered why we don’t do that for amateur astronomers.”
We’ve recently reviewed the eVscope, eQuinox telescope, and the main competitor on the market, Vaonis’s Stellina. Unistellar’s eVscope and eQuinox are built around a simple 4.5-inch mirror reflector. The unit is ultra-portable and lightweight at 19.8 lbs (9kg). Setup is as simple as locking the unit on the tripod, bonding it to the app via WiFi, adjusting the focus, and letting the scope plate-solve its location and pointing direction in the sky.
But it’s the science efforts underway with Unistellar that really set it apart. The Unistellar application has a tab devoted just to science and astronomy campaigns.
One unique effort is looking at asteroid occultations of bright stars. These events feature a background star ‘winking out’ briefly as the foreground asteroid moves in front of it, casting a ‘shadow’ across the Earth. If enough observers can catch and time these cords, we can outline the profile shape of the asteroid. Tiny unseen moonlets of asteroids have also been observed as brief events near the main occultation. Already, Unistellar campaigns have looked at Patroclus, Orus and 11351 Leucus, in support of NASA’s Lucy Mission to the Trojan asteroids.
eVscope exoplanet transit data. Credit: Unistellar.
Next up, Unistellar campaigns have made followup observations of transiting exoplanets. That’s right. Amateurs can now detect the tiny fluctuation in brightness as an unseen world passes in front of its host star, from their own driveway. Already, Unistellar has demonstrated this ability during campaigns to monitor Kepler-167b and HD 80606 b, and sends out alerts for periodic upcoming events.
Unistellar citizen astronomer Kevin Voeller also recently collected data on exoplanet WASP-148b.
Which begs the question of the possibility for users to discover planets as well. Certainly, the ability is there for dedicated networks of Unistellar ‘scopes. The telescope could also be used to monitor variable stars and follow and discover galactic novae and