Review: Celestron StarSense Explorer refractor telescope
Perfect for an amateur stargazer.
Ever since our distant ancestors crawled out of the primordial ooze, man has looked to the heavens. Tribes based their mythology on the patterns they saw in the skies, we learned to navigate using them, and soothsayers try to use them to predict future events.
With all of that mystery and wonder up there, can you blame them? I mean, there’s a whole universe out there that we’re only a small part of, and the closest we can get without becoming an astronaut is with a telescope.
The model we’re looking at today is the Celestron Explorer DX 102AZ refractor telescope, which has an MSRP of $400. Now, it’s been a few decades since my last concerted effort at stargazing, using the stars to navigate at night while in Scouts, so just how quickly can the Celestron StarSense system get me back to the heavens?
Gazing at the stars
I’ve got to start by saying that I know less than nothing about the technical terms involved in stargazing. While I might know some of the constellations and major stars, words like azimuth or declination are just words, and the only inclination I’m familiar with is nighttime snacking.
What Celestron has done with their StarSense system is take the star-mapping software from our computers, and put it on the brain you carry in your pocket, your smartphone. The StarSense app has enough AI to figure out where your telescope is pointed, and guide you to your next viewing opportunities.
That viewfinder turns an affordable telescope into a much more powerful viewing tool, without the complicated setup of motorized telescopes, and without anywhere near the cost. It takes all of the complicated calculations out of the equation, letting you spend your time in the cold night air looking at the things you have the best chance of observing.
Without the app, you might spend nights looking in vain, only to realize that you needed some semi-esoteric knowledge that the celestial object you sought isn’t actually viewable in that location or time of year. That’d be a bummer for sure, but StarSense won’t let that happen.
Setup took minutes, with unboxing the telescope and tripod and various accessories taking longer than actually bolting the thing together. One thing I will point out is that the tray that also serves as a brace for the tripod legs is fairly fiddly to set up, as you have to turn the bolts fairly close to the tray edge. Maybe that can be improved, as you want it installed to keep your tripod sturdy.
So, how’s the view?
With the recent spate of extended wintery conditions, the skies haven’t been that kind for stargazing, but the few times I’ve managed were fantastic due to the crisp air. Once you’ve dialed in the red-dot scope to the telescope view, and tweaked the smartphone mount to the same focus point, the app really makes the whole process almost automatic.
Every day the StarSense app has a list of things that are most likely to be seen, from stars to planets, and even galaxies. Being able to see planets like Mars, which is very prominent at the moment, up close, is fantastic. I might not be as energetic as when I stared up at the stars as a kid, but that sense of wonder has never gone.
There’s months of content in the app, and that’s just if you stay in one place. Will it be your end-game telescope? No, probably not. But it will let you know if it’s worth investing in higher-cost telescopes, or if your inclination towards astronomy is passing through.
So, should I buy it?
Celestron has achieved something magical here with the StarSense range. Amateur astronomy has a traditional high bar to entry, with locating objects first needing complicated alignment processes before you can start.
The StarSense app removes all of that confusion, in an interface that anyone who owns a smartphone can use right away. Mankind’s always looked to the stars, and now you can get a guided tour.
One thing to note: you’ll outgrow the included optics very quickly, especially the 10mm one. A better quality, glass optic would be a good first upgrade.
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