I recently had the chance to try out one of Unistellar’s smart telescopes, the eQuinox 2. Unparalleled in its ease of use, I was literally viewing distant nebula, galaxies, and star clusters within 15 minutes of opening the box.
I also had the opportunity to try out Unistellar’s new Smart Solar Filter, which I’ll discuss more below. But first, more about the telescope itself:
The eQuinox 2 is incredibly easy to set up and use, thanks to Unistellar’s phone or tablet app where you control the telescope. If you’ve ever struggled with aligning a telescope, you can breathe a sigh of relief with the eQuinox 2. The automatic alignment, calibration and orientation are a snap, and the instructions for focusing the telescope are quick and easy.
This telescope is a 4.5-inch (114mm) reflector telescope, and is mounted on a motorized altazimuth mount that autonomously aligns with and tracks the night sky, based on the location of your connected phone or tablet.
Unistellar’s ‘stellar’ app
But where the Unistellar app really shines is the smart go-to feature. You can choose from a catalog of over 5,000 celestial objects based on your location. This is especially handy for novice observers who might not know what is available to see in the night sky. You should update the app frequently so that new objects like comets or supernova are part of the database.
To connect the eQuinox 2 to your phone or tablet, you need to connect to the telescope’s wifi. This is easy to do, but I did have occasional problems with it disconnecting if I tried to use another app or the camera on my phone while also observing. Other times, the app would quit responding after long observing times. But this was easily remedied by “killing” the app and restarting it – which for iOS means dragging the app to the top of the screen and then restarting it.
One aspect of the eQuinox 2 that took me awhile to come to grips with is that it has no eyepiece. That means you’re not looking directly at the original photons from objects in the cosmos. Instead, you look at the app to see what the telescope is viewing. While it might seem odd at first, the fact that you can share the screen easily in a group setting is excellent for star gazing parties, or for observing with children — they can easily see the screen, and get excited about what they are seeing!
Additionally, on cold evenings, I set up the telescope out on my deck and then went back inside and operated it. I could “go to” all sorts of celestial objects and see my observations from the comfy warmth of my favorite chair. Otherwise, I might have skipped observing on those colder nights.
Also — and this is probably the most fun and enjoyable aspect of the eQuinox 2 — you can quickly and easily share your astrophotography. The ease of taking photos of the objects you’re viewing is unequivocally the highlight of this telescope. And you can take some really stunning astrophotos. The eQuinox 2’s ability to see distant objects is especially impressive, as you can do long exposures with the click of a button. It uses a Sony IMX347 image sensor which can take long exposures of deep-sky objects. You can read more technical details about the eQuinox 2 in our previous review by David Dickinson.
The telescope’s onboard computer stacks images in real time, and gradually you’ll see an ever-clearer image, with greater detail and contrast appear on your screen. It’s exciting and fun to see distant objects slowly come into a crisp view. When you take an image, it creates both framed and auto-captioned images (date, time and exposure) as well as non-framed images that are automatically saved to your photo app. This makes it easy to share your images with family and friends via text or on social media.
One aspect I was a little disappointed in was the telescope’s ability to see “closer” objects, like the Moon and planets in our Solar System. For example, the first time I observed the Moon, the go-to feature didn’t work well. It never actually got the Moon into the field of view, but it got close. I was able to manually move it with the controller in the app, and get the Moon in the field of view. The picture, seen above, was fairly good, but not as good as I was expecting or hoping. I should note that I live in a remote area, so not sure if the location feature is hampered by not being near civilization!
But, and a big but here… this aspect of observing was much improved after I received the new solar filter, which included an upgrade to the telescope’s computer and the app as well.
Smart Solar Filter
So now it’s time to discuss Unistellar’s Smart Solar Filter. These filters are made for use exclusively with Unistellar’s telescopes, allowing observations of sunspots in real-time and the ability to photograph the Sun. The filter snaps easily on the telescope, but I can tell you, for someone who had never used a solar filter before, it took a fair amount of faith to point the telescope directly at the Sun for the first time!
The Smart Solar Filter is designed to transmit only 1/100,000th of the Sun’s light, so you can view the Sun without endangering your eyes or your telescope.
Again, the Unistellar app makes Sun observation easy, with a dedicated solar mode to automatically point the smart telescope in the direction of the brightest thing in the daytime sky, and track its motion. And again, taking a photo of the Sun is easy-peasy – just click a button –, although the ability for long exposure or stacking images is not available. But thanks to automated image processing, I could observe and take pictures of the Sun and sunspots. While the images of the sunspots were a bit ‘soft,’ I was impressed with how the telescope provided views of the Sun’s granulation — the bubble-like features due to convection currents in the solar interior— which are visible across the entire surface.
The Sun is currently in one of its most active periods, so this filter provides excellent opportunities for observation. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how it will perform with the total solar eclipse coming up on April 8, 2024, visible across a wide swath of the United States.
With smart telescopes like the eQuinox 2 and its solar filter, it makes solar observing and imaging available to even a novice, but it’s also fun for an ‘old-school’ observer, too, to use the latest technology for ease, enjoyment and fast results.
Become a Citizen Scientist
Since Unistellar has created partnerships with leading scientific institutions like NASA and the SETI Institute, the company has built the world’s largest citizen astronomy community. Unistellar users have tracked near-Earth asteroids, followed space missions including NASA’s Artemis 1 to the Moon and back, DART’s impact of an asteroid, and even traced the light curve of transiting exoplanets.