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Review: Celestron's latest in robotic telescopes

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Since the computerized Celestron CompuStar appeared in 1985, Celestron has been known for both its technological prowess and ease of use. The company continues this tradition with the introduction of the SkyProdigy 6, which a colleague -- Daily Transcript reporter Thor Biberman -- and I tested out on a 16-degree evening in the Anza Borrego desert.

Celestron's online advertisements and video presentations boast that the scope can be set up by youth and adults alike and that it will automatically align itself with its on-board CCD digital camera, which plots the night sky and orients the scope with an internal computer so that the user can immediately start observing.

Unlike other automatic scopes, the SkyProdigy 6 -- along with its smaller models SkyProdigy 90 Maksutov-Cassegrain and SkyProdigy 130 Reflector -- do not use the customary GPS system with the alignment of two or more stars.

For the serious amateur astronomer like my colleague, who really knows the sky from years of regular observing, the SkyProdigy 6 may not seem that impressive. But he did like the idea of having it around to locate the more difficult objects he was attempting to find in his Meade Light Bridge 12-inch Dobsonian.

The entire SkyProdigy scope package weighs about 40 pounds. The scope mechanism takes eight D batteries and can provide about 30 hours of viewing, but a Celestron Power Tank may be a good option for those who are worried about adequate battery power.

The instructions are easy to understand with lots of pictures.

The assembly consisted of attaching the mount to the tripod, sliding the optical tube's mounting bracket into the tube clamp, and fitting the celestial finder scope, which uses a modern red dot pointer system.

The tripod mount was stable enough and there was little vibration on the desert floor. I had to watch the level balancing bubble because a leg would settle in from time to time on the softer sand areas. I had two more observation sessions in the city and there was vibration on the hard surface of the street but things settled nicely after 2-3 seconds.

After set-up and pointing the scope up some 70 degrees, I removed the lens cap and the camera lens cap and turned it on. In about a minute the hand control indicated it was ready for observation. There is a sky tour where the scope selects the best objects to view based on my location and time of observation, and one can punch up a solar system or deep sky objects. There is an "Identify" button that works splendidly, as well, and it has some interesting explanations that come along with the celestial identification.

In short, the SkyProdigy 6 worked. The scope comes with a 25mm and 9mm lens. However, I used a 40mm lens first to give me the widest field in finding objects.

Jupiter was one of the first celestial objects we viewed and it came in just right. Later, I went back to the 25mm lens and was pleased with the consistency of the scope's performance in finding objects. There are positioning buttons on the hand control to center an object and the clock drive kept Jupiter and Saturn in line for at least the several minutes I was observing them. There is an additional advance control to fine tune the clock drive coordination with planets.

What I really liked was the clarity of objects in my eye piece from the 6-inch mirror. I own a 120mm refractor and found the SkyProdigy 6 to be as clear as my refractor.

From what I could tell, the SkyProdigy is not really set up for solar viewing.

I would suggest for the more serious amateur astronomer to obtain an 8-inch SkyProdigy if it becomes available. An aperture of 8 inches can make a significant difference in the experience, both in rural and city lighted conditions.

I was pleased with the experience we had with the SkyProdigy 6. I was amazed how far technology has come to make observing actually enjoyable by finding so many objects in a relatively short amount of time. The sky is so accessible for both beginners and amateurs like myself. This scope is a real delight for an overnight camping trip, and I found it even more fun to take it out in my neighborhood with neighbors in awe of the SkyProdigy 6 performance.

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