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Unistellar eQuinox 2: Smart telescope startup wants to ‘revolutionize’ astronomy

Unistellar eQuinox 2 has software to eliminate light pollution, so people in towns and cities can see galaxies and planets (Unistellar)

When Laurent Marfisi was 11 years old, he was standing in his backyard garden in the south of France and looking at the night sky through binoculars. Together with a friend, he marveled at the shadows of craters on the Moon, and tried to focus on an obscure planet or two. But without a deep knowledge of astronomy, the pair struggled to find any other celestial wonders.

It sparked an idea that would materialize two decades later as one of the world’s first commercially available smart telescopes.

“We kept that memory and years later we developed the idea of ​​making it as simple as possible for people,” Marfisi explained. Independent, “It was the telescope of our dreams, and the dream of everybody who wants to see the sky.”

The guiding idea of ​​his startup Unistellar is to make astronomy as accessible as possible to a person regardless of their experience level or location. Even a complete beginner in the middle of a city can be successful in spotting a distant Milky Way or the rings of Saturn.

Unistellar claims that its latest addition, the Equinox 2, offers a “revolutionary space viewing experience” that uses AI algorithms to digitally eliminate the negative effects of light pollution from cities.

This means anyone, almost anywhere, can view and capture images of the Solar System and deep space – from craters on our own Moon to the brilliant colors of the Orion Nebula.

The Orion Nebula, captured over a 10-minute exposure with Unistellar Equinox 2 (Anthony Cuthbertson)

When it comes to operating telescopes, I’m about as novice as they come. I’ve never operated anything more powerful than a £100 backyard telescope before, so trying out the £2,199 eQuinox 2 was a big step up. Yet despite being 20 times more expensive, it was also 20 times easier to use.

After downloading the Unistellar app and connecting my phone wirelessly to the eQuinox 2, the telescope was able to use GPS tracking and star mapping to determine exactly where it was and what it was looking at.

One of the company’s taglines is “You’re two minutes away from the universe”, with the hope that people spend more time exploring and less time calibrating.

12-minute exposure of the Cigar Galaxy, taken with Unistellar Equinox 2 (Anthony Cuthbertson)

Once set up, I was able to start browsing through a database of over 5,000 items that the eQuinox would point to with a single press. Automatic tracking means night sky objects are kept in focus during longer exposures which reveal more detail and colour.

The only real barrier to Unistellar’s goal of making astronomy more accessible is cost, with customers paying nearly twice as much for the Eviscope 2 as compared to the Equinox 2, which comes with an electronic eyepiece.

There are three reasons to use a telescope: to take pictures of the night sky; making astronomical observations of the night sky; And just watching For the first two, this telescope is well suited. For the third, you may want to pay extra and get the version with the viewfinder. There’s nothing quite like seeing a planet or galaxy on your phone screen – feeling like you probably just Googled it.

A live view of the Moon using the Unistellar Equinox 2 smart telescope (Anthony Cuthbertson)

The French startup has sold more than 10,000 telescopes to people around the world since launching on the crowd-funding platform in 2017, with each customer having access to citizen science projects listed in the telescope’s companion app. Marfisi says that about 10 percent of users choose to participate in these projects.

there were dozens of Unistellar users Recently credited in major scientific journal Nature to make a “major scientific breakthrough” After collectively observing the results of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) – a planetary defense mission aimed at understanding how to protect Earth from asteroids.

With a street light less than 10 meters from where I set up the telescope, I could see Mars no clearer than a fuzzy cheese puff through Unistellar Equinox 2 (Anthony Cuthbertson).

It was the eighth time Unistellar users have been named as co-authors for their findings in a peer-reviewed journal, with the SMART telescope also holding the world record for the longest Earth-based observation of an exoplanet. Were: 27 hours.

“One of the main strengths of Unistellar is that we have a worldwide network of many telescopes that allows for continuous observation of the night sky, because it is always night somewhere in our network,” Marfisi said.

He hopes his company will be part of a new era “where the general public becomes a decisive player in the conquest of space, holding the key to more discoveries and the wider dissemination of scientific knowledge”.


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