Laid-Back Astronomy

Bigha StarSeeker
Hannah di Cicco shown using the Bigha StarSeeker binocular observing chair in the summer of 2006
Dennis di Cicco
One glance tells you what the Bigha StarSeeker is all about, but don’t be fooled by looks alone — it takes a lot of subtle engineering to create a successful chair for binocular astronomy. And StarSeeker’s designer, John Acres, has gotten it right.

Based on a modified TravelChair (the model is known as the Lounge Lizard), the StarSeeker allows you to easily sweep a binocular view from the horizon to the zenith using simple, natural movements that don't require you to fiddle with levers or clamps. To sweep in azimuth you press a small joystick switch mounted beneath the binoculars, which controls the chair's motorized platform. The variable-speed motor, which is powered by internal, rechargeable batteries, can move the chair from a barely perceptible crawl to a full 360° spin in less than 40 seconds.

Using the Bigha StarSeeker
You sweep the StarSeeker from the horizon to about halfway up the sky by just leaning back in the reclining chair. From there you tilt your head back and reposition the swing arm to go to the zenith. While it's comfortable to have your hands on the swing arm’s padded grips, friction clamps keep the binoculars in any position without needing to hold the arm.
Dennis di Cicco
The joystick also controls a built-in green laser pointer that helps you aim at specific sky locations or shows you where you're looking when you happen upon an interesting object while randomly sweeping the sky.

The StarSeeker's size and weight are almost as remarkable as its engineering. When stored, the whole device takes up only a little more space than the folded chair alone. The chair, without binoculars, weighs 24 pounds (11 kilograms) and the base just 17½ pounds. Most people can easily walk with the chair in one hand and the base in the other.

Binoculars attach to the swing arm with a quick-release plate similar to those found on high-quality camera tripods. While the manufacturer specifies that binoculars weigh no more than 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds), it is also important that they be relatively compact, since large or especially front-heavy binoculars will not balance properly without additional counterweights, and that can make the chair unstable. Although any binocular meeting these criteria will work, those with image stabilization are desirable for magnifications of about 12× or greater.

A full review of the StarSeeker appears in the December issue of Sky & Telescope, now available on newsstands. You can also visit Bigha's website to learn more about the novel $1,950 motorized observing chair.