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SETI Institute-Unistellar Partnership Promises to Revolutionize Amateur Astronomy
2017.07.26 SETI Institute-Unistellar Partnership Promises to Revolutionize Amateur Astronomy

July 19 2017 Mountain View CA & Meyreuil, France: The SETI Institute and French startup Unistellar, announced a partnership today to commercialize a new telescope that promises to deliver an unparalleled view of the cosmos to amateur astronomers, and provide the opportunity to contribute directly to cutting-edge science.

ThreeUnistellar

From left to right: Franck Marchis (CSO and SETI Institute astronomer), Arnaud (Chairman and CTO), Laurent (CEO) and the demo prototype shown at Aix-en-Provence, France in June 2017

Unistellar’s new eVscope™   leverages “Enhanced Vision” imaging technology and now provides three unique features never before offered in a compact mass-market instrument thanks to this partnership:

Enhanced Vision produces extremely sharp, detailed images of even faint astronomical objects by accumulating their light and projecting it into the telescope’s eyepiece. Enhanced Vision technology mimics the light gathering capability of significantly larger reflector telescopes, thus delivering unprecedented views of night-sky objects previously inaccessible to amateur astronomers.  

Autonomous Field Detection (AFD) powered by GPS, enables the eVscope to pinpoint celestial objects of interest without complicated alignment procedures or expensive equatorial mounts.  Thanks to AFD intelligent pointing and tracking, astronomers from novice to expert, can spend more time observing and always know precisely what they are looking at. This system is also able to name any object the user is observing, thanks to a coordinates database of tens of millions of celestial objects.

Campaign Mode, a revolutionary and exciting feature developed at the SETI Institute, takes advantage of the telescope’s advanced imaging technology and allows users around the world to participate in observing campaigns to image and collect data on objects of special interest to researchers.  In Campaign Mode, image data is automatically sent to a data repository at the SETI Institute’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. The international scientific community can then access unprecedented volumes of image data for specific objects, from thousands of telescopes around the world, at different dates and times. This in turn, can enable new discoveries and enhance our understanding of the universe around us.

“Classical high-end telescopes are wonderful tools for observing the four main planets. But they are generally disappointing for viewing fainter and more distant objects, which remain inaccessible to amateur astronomers,” said Laurent Marfisi, Unistellar CEO. “Our telescope will revolutionize amateur astronomy by allowing people to see in real time, celestial objects that until now have only been available as images in books or online. Our compact 4.5-inch telescope allows observers to see objects fainter than Pluto and achieve sensitivity equivalent to a one-meter telescope!”

“We are extremely excited to partner with Unistellar to bring advanced imaging technology to amateur astronomy and thus enable impactful new research through global citizen science,” said SETI Institute President and CEO Bill Diamond.  “Images collected from the worldwide network of telescopes will be automatically downloaded to our database and analyzed by researchers using the latest machine-learning algorithms to facilitate new discoveries and detect new events.”

Franck Marchis, Senior Scientist at the SETI Institute and Chief Science Officer at Unistellar, shares that excitement: “Unistellar’s eVscope is a powerful new instrument that can generate important data about transient events of interest to astronomers, including supernovae, near-Earth asteroids, and comets. There is much to be gained from continuous observations of the night sky using telescopes spread around the globe, and by coordinating observations and sending alerts to users in order to study faint objects like comets or supernovae” said Marchis.  “Another exciting feature of our Campaign Mode, is that our users will be able to witness the phenomena they are collecting data for, in real time,” added Marfisi.

A prototype of the Unistellar telescope has been delivered to the SETI Institute for testing and development of the Campaign Mode data network. Amateur astronomers will have a chance to help fund further development of the device by purchasing it for less than $1000 in a crowdfunding campaign set to launch in the Fall of 2017.

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About Unistellar SAS

Unistellar is reinventing popular astronomy through the development of the Enhanced Vision Telescope™: a smart combination of optics, electronics, and proprietary image-processing technology that aims to make astronomy interactive. Unistellar is completely dedicated to its popular ambition, but its technology has already garnered attention from established institutions like ONERA (the French aerospace agency) and Drone Imaging.

About SETI Institute

The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe and to apply the knowledge gained to inspire and guide present and future generations. Our research, education and outreach programs explore the wonder of the universe and celebrate the excitement of exploration and the joy of discovery for all humankind.

Media Contacts:

SETI Institute

Rebecca McDonald
Director of Communications
Email: rmcdonald@seti.org
Phone: 650-960-4526

Unistellar:
Laurent Marfisi
CEO
Email: press@unistellaroptics.com
+33 6 77 98 01 20

Science Contact:
Franck Marchis
Senior Astronomy at SETI Institute & CSO at Unistellar
Email: fmarchis@seti.org
Phone: +1 510 599 0604

 

Neighboring Galaxies
2017.05.12 Neighboring Galaxies

Bode and Cigar Galaxies in the eyepiece of Unistellar prototype

Provence night sky in Cuges-les-pins, France. It is 10:15pm local time, the conditions are optimal for observing Bode and Cigar galaxies (M81 and M82): in the constellation Ursa Major, they are now high in the sky (60°). These two galaxies are among the closest to earth (12 and 15 million light years) and are closer than 1° in our sky. However, their apparent shape are very different as we see the Bode Galaxy from above and the Cigar Galaxy from the side (hence its name). In the eyepiece of Unistellar prototype, the Bode Galaxy is majestic with its two arms; the Cigar Galaxy is stunning with its remarkable shape and its reddish center.

M81 M82

Bode Galaxy (left) and Cigar Galaxy (right) in the eyepiece of the Enhanced Vision Telescope

Citizen science
2017.05.12 Citizen science

Unistellar images of asteroid 2014 JO25 proved precise enough to contribute to science.

On april 19th, asteroid 2014 JO25 was at its closest to earth (1.9 million km, almost five times farther than the moon). This 650m-wide rock belongs the categories of NEO (Near Earth Objects): it will probably impact earth one day because its orbit crosses earth’s orbit. But be reassured, this is a probabilistic calculation made for the billion years ahead. It has zero chance to pay us a visit within the next century.

It was an ideal case for testing Unistellar’s prototype, a 4.5” telescope equipped with Enhanced Vision. At 11pm local time in Marseille (France), the asteroid was crossing Canes Venatici towards Coma Berenices. The asteroid was easily identified in the eyepiece: it was brighter than the surrounding stars (magnitude 10.7) and its movement was obvious. For someone used to seeing fixed stars in the eyepiece, it was quite puzzling to see a moving object.

The images acquired during that night were then used to test Unistellar’s field recognition algorithm. All stars in the field of view could be identified (see image below where magnitudes are indicated) and more interesting, the position of the asteroid could be determined with 1 arcsec precision (1/3600th of degree): on Apr. 19th at 21h24m18s UT its coordinates were RA 13h29min39s, DEC 38°54’28”. It was moving with an apparent speed of 2.8 arcsec/s which corresponds to approximately 30km/s in space. This data will be sent to the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union. It will feed the orbit computation and thus lead to more precise predictions.

The next meeting with a NEO is forecast in 2027: the 800m-wide asteroid 1999 AN10 will fly by at a distance of 380,000 km (1 earth-moon distance). But it is highly probable that another one will be discovered before (JO25 was discovered in 2014, 3 years ago), maybe thanks to Enhanced Vision TelescopeTM users!

Asteroide 2014 JO25 FieldRecog p

Asteroid 2014 JO25 in the eyepiece of the Enhanced Vision Telescope

Whirlpool galaxy
2017.04.14 Whirlpool galaxy

 M51 in the eyepiece of the new prototype ot Unistellar's Enhanced Vision TelescopeTM.

Clamecy, France, april 13th, 10pm local time, cold night and clear sky in Burgundy. The moon will remain below the horizon for another hour. A few minutes were required to set up the new prototype of Unistellar's Enhanced Vision TelescopeTM (a tuned 4.5-inch telescope). It is time to aim at the target of the night, the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), in the constellation of Canes Venatici. It is really close to Alkaid, the first star of Big Dipper’s handle. After a few seconds, the spiral shape of the main galaxy is already visible in the eyepiece. As I follow with my eyes the spiral arms, trying distinguish the whole shape of the Galaxies, they are getting brighter and sharper. In a matter of few minutes, the Enhanced Vision reached its apex (see image below). It is truly amazing to see so many details from galaxies 20 million light years away from us, in the eyepiece of such a small instrument.

 

M51

Demo in Las Vegas
2017.01.27 Demo in Las Vegas

Demo report from an amateur astronomer

On January 6, 2017, I was invited to a demonstration of the 4 1/2 inch telescope under development by Unistellar. I was present from 1930 to 2030 (sunset was at 1641). The site of the demonstration was southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, a considerable distance out of town; however, the lights of the city could still be seen. Las Vegas is known for a variety of things, and near the top of the list is light pollution.
The sky conditions were partly cloudy, with a considerable amount of moisture in the atmosphere. Temperatures were close to 0°C. The moon rose at 1210 and set at 0021 and was in the 9th day of the lunar cycle at about 61% illumination. Site of the demonstration was the foothills of the Spring Mountains at about 1200 m elevation and about 75 m North of Nevada Highway 160.
Two telescopes were at the location: the Unistellar Prototype and a 16 inch Dobsonian provided by Fred Rayworth, a member of the Las Vegas Astronomical Society.
Although several stellar objects were viewed, the one of greatest interest was Messier object 42 [Orion Nebula]. It was located in the south eastern sky, about 30° from the moon. A considerable amount of time was spent looking at M–42 through each of the telescopes. Various filters were used on the Dobsonian Telescope in order to enhance the view of the nebula. The surprising result was that the images in the Unistellar Optics 4 1/2 inch telescope were clearer than those in the 16 inch Dobsonian. With the right filters, the quality of the image in the Dobsonian approached that of the image and the Unistellar scope, but Unistellar images were still superior [see image below]. It was an impressive demonstration.
I look forward to the time when the eyepiece is commercially available.

Jerry Stein, stein525@hotmail.com

See also Fred Rayworth's witness on Cloudy Nights

Orionp