Back at the end of September, I splurged and picked up a Celestron SkyScout Personal Planetarium through Amazon.
This gadget is amazing! Once its GPS acquires your position it can either direct you to pretty much any celestial body you are interested in or you can point it at anything you see in the sky and it will tell you what it is and provide you with all manner of interesting info about it such as magnitude, composition, distance even lore concerning the object. For many items you can even listen to the description through the provided ear buds.
I had an initial issue where the unit simply would not acquire the satellites necessary to allow for a GPS fix. But updating the unit’s firmware (with the tool on the included CD) corrected this issue and allowed for rapid GPS position acquisition from then on.
Note that this is not a magnifying tool. The lens on it is strictly for directing you to an object (via little arrows around the circumference of the lens) or to allow you to center an object and then press the “Identify” button.
I’ve been using this lately with a pair of Canon 15×50 IS Binoculars that I picked up a few years ago and the two make a terrific team.
The light pollution in my area is such that even the major constellations always seem to be incomplete and I tend to have trouble identifying what should be relatively simple objects. I have used various PDA-based star charts and they’ve been moderately successful in guiding me. But personal planetarium is like having a seasoned astronomy veteran next to you pointing the way to the objects you’re interested in observing.
It even has a “tonight’s highlights” feature to help you get rolling.
I’m hoping to try my hand at a “Messier Marathon” in the next couple of weeks.