What Is A Computerized GoTo Telescope? Are They Worth The Price?
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Most of my friends who are new to the field of astronomy and are looking for their first telescope ask me if they can go ahead and buy a GoTo telescope. Although computerized telescopes make finding even faint objects fast and convenient, it’s best to understand how they work before making a purchasing decision.
What is a computerized GoTo telescope?
GoTo telescopes are telescopes that come with preloaded software which gives them the ability to automatically point themselves at an astronomical object that the user selects with an included handheld controller. Both axes of the GoTo mount are driven by a motor and controlled by a computer.
In this article, I will explain in detail how GoTo telescopes work and if they are worth the price you’re going to pay. I will also give you my recommendations for the best computerized telescopes for beginners.
What is a GoTo Telescope?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, GoTo telescopes are simply telescopes that have a computer with preloaded software and motors that allow it to find and follow objects in the sky automatically.
Nearly all models have a handheld control pad with buttons for moving the telescope and for selecting objects, and most also feature an illuminated readout to tell you where the telescope is pointed and give you the object information.
For example, if you want to look at Jupiter, all you have to do is just set the system to “Jupiter” using the controller and you’ll be viewing it in all its jaw-dropping glory in seconds.
The automatic GoTo telescope is an amazingly simple thing to use and is available from many telescope manufacturers.
One of the main advantages of a GoTo telescope is that after being calibrated for your sky, they can locate objects that are difficult, if not impossible, to spot with the naked eye.
This is because they’re pre-programmed with an incredibly detailed map of the sky and the objects it holds, but they need to be “aligned” to the night sky to create a reference point from which all objects can be found.
Are GoTo Telescopes Worth It?
GoTo telescopes are great for astrophotography and they can help you save time by automatically pointing towards an astronomical object and tracking it for an extended period of time. The extra price of a GoTo telescope is relative to how much your time and astrophotography hobby is worth to you.
If a GoTo telescope is worth it or not completely depends on what’s important for you. To help you make a better decision, let’s discuss some important benefits of owning a computerized GoTo telescope.
Advantages of a GoTo Telescope
1. GoTo telescopes are great for astrophotography.
A GOTO telescope is essential if you wish to capture images of objects, either with your smartphone or by mounting a DSLR camera to the telescope.
So, If you are interested in astrophotography or planetary imaging capabilities then I would definitely recommend a good quality GoTo scope.
Good GoTo telescopes make astrophotography very accessible and enjoyable, especially with the addition of cameras and other kits.
GoTos can be used for long-exposure astrophotography.
A caveat here is that you will get a smaller aperture compared to the manual scope for the same money, but the scope will track for astro-imaging and can also be obviously used for visual observing.
2. GoTo telescopes are fully automatic.
GoTo telescopes help you save time as they are fully automatic and once they have set themselves up, or are set up by the user, they can access and track and many thousands of stars or objects with just a simple touch of a button.
This is also the reason why GoTo telescopes are the preferred choice of many professional astrophotographers.
3. GoTo telescopes are super easy to use.
Once a GoTo telescope is properly calibrated and aligned, using it becomes a cakewalk from thereon.
You can send instructions to your GoTo telescope with the included hand controller or, if the telescope supports the technology, via an app on your smartphone or tablet. WiFi can be built-in or it can be added by purchasing a WiFi module that plugs into a compatible mount.
Some models also allow connection to a PC, this means that you can control and move your telescope via your laptop and observe the celestial objects of your choice on the screen of your computer.
4. GoTo telescopes make it extremely easy to find any astronomical object.
There used to be a big learning curve when it came to finding galaxies, nebulae, and other celestial objects before computerized telescopes came along.
A computerized telescope uses computer technology to find and track a celestial object.
All you have to do is input the name of the sky object that you want to observe, and within seconds the GoTo telescope will locate it for you in the night sky.
Computerized telescope databases include literally thousands of objects, and depending on the aperture of your telescope optics, you can visit a wide collection of huge galaxies, wispy nebulae, and other amazing objects with the simple click of a few buttons.
Even without experience, a computerized telescope can be used to observe all the major stars and deep-sky objects (nebulas, star clusters, galaxies, etc.) in a given constellation.
5. GoTo telescopes can teach you a lot about sky objects.
A computerized telescope can help you learn the sky, too. Using a simple star chart or your astronomy app as a starting reference, you can use your telescope to observe all the major stars and deep-sky objects (nebulas, star clusters, galaxies, etc.) in a given constellation.
Or you can simply wander around the sky looking at different celestial objects and learning about them.
Disadvantages of GoTo Telescopes
1. GoTo telescopes require continuous power to operate.
Many models will take disposable batteries and deplete them fairly quickly if you move your telescope a lot. An alternative is to power your setup with a heavy-duty rechargeable battery, such as a car jump-starter.
Nearly all telescope systems will work on 12-volt DC and will last many evenings on a charge.
2. GoTo telescopes are prone to computer errors.
Like any computer system, a GoTo telescope can occasionally freeze up or get confused. A simple restart generally sorts the issue.
How To Setup a Computerized Telescope
To set up your GOTO telescope, you’ll need to enter your location, the time and date, and your geographic north.
Most GoTo telescopes simply want the name of a nearby city chosen from a database. Some will want your latitude/longitude data.
GPS-equipped GoTo telescopes use their connectivity to enter location, date, and time for you.
With the correct location, date, and time, your GoTo telescope gets a pretty good idea of where it is and what objects are visible at that location. But it’s not quite ready to reveal the wonders of space to you yet.
For your GoTo telescope to accurately find targets, it also needs to be calibrated, or aligned, to the sky.
How To Star Align a Computerized Telescope
The Star alignment process is nothing but helping your telescope find a few reference points so that it can find objects present in the night sky.
This is usually done by leveling the tripod, then slewing to a known bright star, and manually centering it in the field of view of your eyepiece, and selecting the star in the built-in database.
You’ll usually be asked to repeat this once or more on selected stars.
Now that the telescope has two reference points in the night sky, its internal computer can calculate the exact location of thousands of objects – all ready for you to view by pressing a button.
What To Look For in a GoTo Telescope
The price for GOTO telescopes and mounts varies with the build quality (i.e., metal instead of plastic), the accuracy of the motors, and the size of the onboard object database.
GoTo computerized telescope prices start as low as $300. But, these types of GoTo telescopes come with some disadvantages that can make your viewing experience to the side of disappointing.
Decent telescopes with GoTo controls typically start around $550 and go up from there.
The low-end GoTo models typically have wobbly mounts, and their databases generally contain a few thousand objects. While those telescopes work, I along with most astronomers will suggest investing in something more substantial.
The better models are heavier with stable mounts and tripods and have databases containing tens of thousands of dimmer stars and galaxies.
Professional GoTo mounts would be a much better investment of your money.
Most of the top telescope vendors, such as Celestron, Meade, and Orion, make entry-level and high-end all-in-one models as well as stand-alone mounts.
Keep in mind that dim objects can be easily photographed with long exposures using a DSLR camera attached to a small telescope, and a good-quality GoTo mount will find and track your target while your camera takes amazing pictures of the night sky.
Here’s a great video I found that can help you understand the basics of setting up a computerized GoTo telescope.
The telescope used in the video is Celestron – NexStar 90SLT, it’s also the third telescope on my list of best GoTo telescopes. below.
Best Computerized GoTo Telescopes For Beginners
Before you start shopping for any telescope, it is important to think about how you will use it and how much money you want to invest in the hobby of astronomy. Setting budget aside, if you are a newbie and want a beginner’s telescope to start, here are my top 5 choices for the best GoTo telescopes for you.
1. Celestron – NexStar 4SE Telescope
The Celestron NexStar 4SE telescope combines the classic heritage of the original orange tube telescopes with state-of-the-art features including a fully computerized operating system, flash upgradeable hand control, superior coatings, SkyAlign telescope alignment software, and much more.
This Celestron telescope yields super crisp images of the night sky and once aligned finds objects with dead-on accuracy. The NexStar 4SE by Celestron sits on a sturdy tripod which offers maximum stability when looking at distant objects.
2. Celestron – 114LCM Computerized Telescope
If you’re in search of a computerized telescope with the same star locating technology found on our more advanced telescopes at a price that fits your family’s budget, you’ll love the Celestron 114LCM with all-glass optics.
This computerized Newtonian telescope and its GoTo mount have been designed to automatically locate thousands of celestial objects with a simple push of a button on your NexStar+ hand control. Its proprietary SkyAlign alignment procedure is simple to use, so you’re ready to explore the universe in minutes.
3. Celestron – NexStar 90SLT Telescope
The Celestron – Nexstar 90SLT is designed to be an affordable entry-level to mid-level computerized GoTo telescope, and it’s loaded with valuable design features.
The telescope comes with preassembled, adjustable stainless steel tripods, and quick release fork arms and tubes.
NexStar 90SLT telescope can be set up in a matter of minutes with no tools required! You can see details of the lunar surface, Venus and its phases, polar caps on Mars, Jupiter and its four moons, Saturn with its rings plainly visible, and much more
4. Celestron – NexStar 8SE Telescope
The Celestron – NexStar 8SE Telescope is the largest model of the Celestron NexStar SE Telescope family, and it is perfect for planetary observing. For visual astronomers willing to take their hobby to the next level, this telescope is equipped with high-end optical coatings to improve light reflectivity within the mirrors.
The StarBright XLT coatings boost up mirror light reflectivity up to 95%, around a 10% improvement from traditional aluminum coatings.
5. Celestron – NexStar 130SLT Telescope
The Celestron – NexStar 130SLT Telescope comes with fully computerized hand control. The computerized hand control of this SLT telescope gives you the ability to automatically slew to any of its 4,000+ objects, including over 600 galaxies, 300 clusters, and dozens of beautiful binary stars.
The Celestron NexStar 130 SLT computerized telescope is pre-assembled and has an adjustable steel tripod. This scope can be up and ready to use in a matter of minutes.
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