Computerizing a CAT

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What could possibly make it worthwhile to haul an expensive laptop computer onto a dark and damp observing field? At the most basic level, a PC (or Macintosh) can fill-in the details lacking in a telescope's hand controller. Sure, the HC contains the locations of tens of thousands of deep sky objects, but what are they and where are they, exactly? The hand controller will probably display some basic information about an object: that it's a galaxy in Pegasus, for example. It might even know that the faint fuzzy in question has a magnitude of 11 and is umpteen gazillion light-years distant from our comfortable rock. But that's not much to go on when trying to decide whether the object in question is a showpiece or a barely discernable lint ball. And what else of interest is close to this particular DSO? Where is it in relationship to other sky objects?

A laptop hooked to a go-to scope makes these "what and where" questions easy to answer. With a PC interfaced to the CAT there'll be a graphic representation of the night sky that shows exactly where the telescope is pointed and what's around it. Send the scope on a go-to slew, and an onscreen bulls-eye will move across the PC's star map as the telescope moves. Wondering about an object? Click on it and learn all about it. Even the simplest and cheapest planetarium programs provide far more extensive details about deep sky denizens than a telescope hand controller can, maybe even including excerpts from experienced amateurs' observing logs. Still not sure if NGC umptysquat is worth a look? Many programs can display actual photos of thousands of objects, sometimes superimposed on the PC's virtual sky.

What's the coolest thing about running a go-to scope with a laptop, though, especially for beginners? The click factor. In the beginning, nothing is more amazing than mouse-clicking on an object on the laptop screen and watching the telescope slew to that target. Even after using computers at the scope for years its still exciting. It's actually somewhat useful, too. If the computer is handling go-tos, the hand con-

R. Mollise, Choosing and Using a New CAT, 237

DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-09772-5_10, © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009

trol can stay Velcroed to the tripod. This is especially helpful if you are continually dropping and losing the HC all night long when issuing go-to commands by mashing its (too small) buttons.

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