…continuedChoosing Your First Telescope
"Smart" or "Go To" Telescopes
You might think that with computers in everything from dishwashers to cars, someone would be putting computers in telescopes by now. You're right! Actually the computer doesn't go in the scope itself but in the mount, along with electric motors on both axes. A motorized telescope on a "smart" altazimuth mount can track celestial objects as accurately as one on a more bulky and complicated equatorial mount. Even better, once you set up the scope and initialize the computer with the current date, time, and location, it can (if all goes well) automatically point to thousands of celestial objects.
Until recently such futuristic capabilities would set you back thousands of dollars. But a new generation of battery-powered "smart" or "Go To" scopes has come onto the market at affordable prices. A keypress or two gives the times of sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, and the dates of meteor showers, solstices, equinoxes, and eclipses. Or choose a guided tour of the best celestial showpieces currently up, complete with a brief description of each on a digital readout. These scopes can literally give you a beginner's course in astronomy.
Still, these scopes aren't for everyone. For one thing, the affordable models have much smaller apertures than similarly priced entry-level scopes with no electronics. Second, a computerized scope can require a lot of careful setup that has to be done correctly at the start of each observing session (in the dark!) to make it work right. Third, these telescopes consume lots of electricity; some will exhaust a set of eight batteries in one night's use. Finally, when your "smart scope" fails to show a particular object, you may have trouble figuring out whether your eye or the scope's pointing is at fault unless you already know the sky and your charts well enough to confirm that the instrument is indeed pointed to exactly the right spot.