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
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.
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.
Bode Galaxy (left) and Cigar Galaxy (right) in the eyepiece of the Enhanced Vision Telescope
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!
Asteroid 2014 JO25 in the eyepiece of the Enhanced Vision Telescope
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.
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, email@example.com
See also Fred Rayworth's witness on Cloudy Nights