Unistellar has a red version of its Odyssey telescope.
Image Credit: Unistellar
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Unistellar is extending its pursuit of backyard astronomers with the launch of a new generation of its AI telescopes dubbed the Odyssey Smart Telescope.
This new generation from Marseille, France and San Francisco-based Unistellar is being unveiled at CES 2024, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas. The promise is to bring the cosmos closer than ever before through a transformative stargazing experience for both seasoned astronomers and enthusiastic novices on a cosmic journey from the comfort of their homes, even amidst urban landscapes, the company said.
I wrote in a review of Unistellar‘s telescopes and how it is getting a lot easier to be a backyard astronomer. Citizen science helped through crowdfunding for the company, and now after shipping its first-generation products, Unistellar enables us to look at the night sky with a powerful telescope and see galaxies, clusters of stars and nebulae even with tons of light pollution from the city.
“Now we are ready to unveil generation two,” said Unistellar’s Franck Marchis, chief science officer, in an interview with VentureBeat.
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Machine learning and AI come in very handy in removing the light pollution from images so that you don’t have to go to a remote place to view some of the marvels of the night sky. This is one more example of how AI is changing everyday products and what we can do with them. I verified this from my own backyard recently as I used Unistellar‘s eQuinox 2 telescope to view the night sky.
The first generation was directed at people who understood telescopes and how to optimize the image quality, how to focus the telescope and other manual tasks.
Now Odyssey is a new generation, with two versions, the Odyssey and the Odyssey Pro, which have been in the works for more than two years.
“For the second generation, we learned a lot from the first one. And we discovered that if you want to truly democratize astronomy, and make astronomy easy for everybody, we needed to create a new telescope where you take it out of the box and a few minutes later observe the sky,” Marchis said.
The company started on its original work in January 2017, and it held a Kickstarter campaign that raised $2.5 million in November 2017, said Marchis.
The hope was to get the work done in eight months, but it took about two years to start delivering the telescopes, with the first model being the $4,899 eVscope 2 that debuted in 2020. Then in early 2023, the company debuted the eQuinox 2.
Then it started delivering telescopes in 2019. Now there are thousands of Unistellar users around the globe, and they can participate in Unistellar’s Citizen Science Network.
With those products, in a well-lit parking lot, we were able to see Arcturus. Arcturus is 36.7 light-years from our sun. It’s a red giant that is 7.1 billion years old. And the M3 (Messier 3) cluster of stars is 33.9 light-years from Earth and it’s 11.4 billion years ago.
From my backyard, I looked at the M13, or Hercules Globular Star Cluster. And the cluster of 300,000 stars was 22,000 light-years away from me. The stars were 12 billion years old. How’s that for making you feel small? It’s not quite like looking at images from the James Webb Space Telescope. But I highly recommend it.
“We are dedicated as a company to the goal to remain accessible to everybody,” Marchis said. “One of the reasons we believe that it’s important that people learn about astronomy is because space is going to be the next frontier in human development. We have more and more spacecraft being launched.”
He added, “We have more space missions where more companies that want to develop a new industry in space landing on the moon. And people are excited by space and they want to be part of this adventure. Of course, we cannot all go to space. We cannot all build rockets, but we can participate to this new development in human civilization by observing it, witnessing it. And having the telescope is truly a tool that allows that understanding what’s going on in space.”
A new eyepiece
Marchis said that one big difference between the older generation eQuinox2 and the pro version of the new one, the Odyssey Pro, is that the Odyssey Pro will have an eyepiece that you look through to see the imagery. In the eQuinox 2 and the Odyssey standard edition, there is no eyepiece and you see imagery on a connected smartphone. With the Odyssey Pro, you still have the option to forego the eyepiece and view on a smart device.
You still control the telescope with the smartphone app when it comes to pointing it at the night sky. The company also has a third version of its app to do that.
“Unistellar’s Odyssey introduces a new era of smart telescopes, breaking down the barriers that previously kept the wonders of the universe out of reach for many,” said Laurent Marfisi, CEO and cofounder of Unistellar, in a statement. “It’s about making the emotion and exploration of outer space accessible to all, transporting users millions of light-years away with ease and excitement.”
The Odyssey encompasses a suite of innovations, with two key technologies spearheading its intuitive functionality. The collaboration with Nikon has birthed the Nikon High Precision Optics, ensuring seamless and effortless astronomical observations without the need for manual adjustments. This mirror telescope guarantees precision and clarity in exploring the cosmos, Unistellar said.
Adding to this is the Stellar Autofocus, a system powered by an intelligent algorithm and dedicated motorized sensor. This feature maintains sharpness during the voyage to celestial objects millions of light-years away, promising unparalleled clarity in observation, Unistellar said.
Marchis is excited about the progress.
“This is the kind of telescope that we were dreaming about doing, but all these technological developments are not something you do in a day,” he said. “The second generation is taking advantage of the experience. We’re not a newcomer in the field of astronomy now. We’ve been around since 2017. So we’ve learn a lot. We have a huge community of more than 10,000 people working with and using our telescope. So we get a lot of feedback from them. And we implemented some of the key complaints about the telescope in this new industrial is new new generation telescope.”
One of Odyssey’s standout features is the Multi-Depth Technology, a proprietary innovation that allows the telescope to transition effortlessly between observing nearby planets like Jupiter, with its Great Red Spot and atmospheric bands, to the distant marvels like the Whirlpool Galaxy, situated twenty-three million light-years away.
Compact, lightweight (at 8.8 pounds), Odyssey synchronizes seamlessly with the Unistellar app. The app transforms smartphones or tablets into intelligent celestial guides, presenting the best celestial objects for observation, delivering comprehensive information, and facilitating shared observations with friends and family, Unistellar said.
The Odyssey Pro has a Nikon eyepiece with slightly better resolution at 4.1 megapixels compared to around three megapixels. Marchis said some people will likely have a preference for the eyepiece, while others may prefer the smart device — iPhones or iPads or Android devices — for group viewing.
The Odyssey’s size weight is considerably smaller than the first generation. It’s easier to set up in a backyard to take to your friends’ houses.
“The goal has been to do the telescope which has the technology to allow people to enjoy observing and getting the best from where they are observing, even from cities,” Franck said. “We have developed technologies, in partnership with Nikon High Precision Optics, to have the mirror perfectly aligned during the manufacturing. So when you get it at home, it’s perfectly aligned.”
The aim was to get stable vertical alignment so the telescope wouldn’t fall out of focus with slight motion. It will also focus on stars on its own. There’s also a powerful computer inside the microscope which can do some data analysis in real time.
“It’s something that I’ve been dreaming about,” Marchis said. “This one will focus itself as it looks into the sky.”
Pricing and availability
Unistellar’s Odyssey comes in two models: the Odyssey, priced at $2,500, offering an experience using tablets and phones; and the Odyssey Pro, priced at $4,000 which elevates immersion through the Nikon Eyepiece Technology digital eyepiece co-developed with Nikon.
For the ultimate enthusiast, the Odyssey Pro Red Edition, retailing at $4,500, signifies a spirit of space exploration, sporting a red hue inspired by its groundbreaking technology.
Both the Odyssey and Odyssey Pro are now available for purchase on Unistellar’s website and select resellers. Unistellar will showcase the Odyssey alongside Nikon at CES Las Vegas 2024, from January 9 to 12 (LVCC booth, Central Hall – 18724).
Unistellar has partnered with NASA and the SETI Institute to create a one-of-a-kind citizen science program. Its users are routinely rewarded for their participation with their own discoveries, as confirmed by a March 2023 article in the leading scientific journal Nature.
“This is all part of the Unistellar ecosystem,” Marchis said. “We’re trying to make sure that the citizen astronomers enjoy the sky. That’s the goal is really to enjoy the dark sky, not having to do fine tuning. We have a computer on board that does analysis itself.”
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