Galileoscope Report - What does $30 buy?
by Tom Koonce, July, 2009
When I first heard about the Galileoscope project, which seeks to get a ‘good’ telescope into people’s hands for $30, I was, to say the least, a bit dubious about their claims. I wasn’t expecting much, but for $30 and an acknowledged addiction to new telescopes, I took a chance and ordered one.
The Galileoscope™: An IYA2009 Cornerstone Project
The Galileoscope™ is a high-quality, low-cost telescope kit developed for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 by a team of leading astronomers, optical engineers, and science educators. No matter where you live, with this easy-to-assemble, 50-mm (2-inch) diameter, 25- to 50-power achromatic refractor, you can see the celestial wonders that Galileo Galilei first glimpsed 400 years ago and that still delight stargazers today. These include lunar craters and mountains, four moons circling Jupiter, the phases of Venus, Saturn's rings, and countless stars invisible to the unaided eye. The Galileoscope costs just US $30 each plus shipping for 1 to 99 units.
Production and distribution are managed by Galileoscope, LLC, a new company established by the Galileoscope project team with the express purpose of ensuring delivery of the best possible product at the lowest possible price.
Sounds great right? But we all know that “talk is cheap.” Well, I am now a believer in this product! I ordered my Galileoscope in early March and didn’t receive delivery until mid July. But as I said, I wasn’t expecting much for my $30, and the delay turned out to be caused by the sheer number of orders they had.
The telescope arrived in kit form, and thanks to outstanding online directions, it only took 30 minutes from the box to mounting the completed two inch refractor, with two 1 ¼ inch eyepieces being mounted onto my existing photo tripod! It went together easily and probably would for ages 8 and up with adult supervision and for ages 12 and up, building it by themselves. Also, despite the name, the telescope is NOT a model of Galileo’s telescope. He would have loved to have an instrument of this quality and capability!
You have to supply your own mount for the scope, but the scope has a standard tripod mount thread on it and the instructions describe how to make a poor-man’s cardboard box mount that would work fine. I mounted mine on an inexpensive photo tripod I already had.
The two inch, two element objective lens produces well color-corrected imagery of the Moon and Venus, and the eyepieces produce 18X and 25X images when used individually or by combing these into a Barlow arrangement, you can get up to 50X. I have left it at 25X. First light for the scope was a daylight terrestrial object, the top of a power pole located 1 mile from my house that I frequently use to sight in telescopes and finder scopes. I’m glad I did this during the day because I was able to get familiar with the drawtube focusing of the Galileoscope and get focus set close to infinity before I used it later that night. The daylight images of the mountains we very sharp, but I was trying to not be too anxious in case the night-time views were less spectacular. The first object I looked at later in the evening was the gibbous Moon. Wow! It was tack sharp and I could see all details which I wasn’t expecting to see for a $15 dollar telescope. I could also see subtle shade differences and crater details that made me smile. I remembered the views through my very first Tasco two inch refractor with its “75X Zoom” eyepiece that had to cost $50 in the 1960’s. You probably had similar experiences with fuzzy imagery and chromatic aberration that made looking at the Moon poorly surreal experience. Compared to that, The Galileoscope is a breath of fresh air.
What can be seen? After studying the Moon with both eyepieces, I decided I liked the 25X view better, made sure the focus was still sharp before I pointed it at Jupiter, about thirty degrees above the eastern horizon. The very first thing I noticed about Jupiter were the four sharply focused moons, one just emerging from behind the planet. I guess I wasn’t expecting to even see the moons very well, not the two primary and one set of secondary bands on the planet. But there they were! I can imagine the inspiration that the Galileoscope will provide youngsters around the world. I observed the beautiful gold and blue double star Albireo at the head of Cygnus next. Great color, nice view. The globular cluster M13 was a nice fuzz ball and I could tell it was a globular and not a comet. The next morning I got up at 4:30 to point the scope at the Orion Nebula and was not disappointed. I resolved everything I expected a two inch telescope to reveal, and the contrast was pretty darn good! I had to kneel on the ground while looked nearly overhead at the nice view of the Andromeda Galaxy M31, ($30 folks! This scope is sooo cool!), then I got the entire Pleiades cluster in the field of view. I saved Venus for last, since it is typically a big problem for inexpensive scopes because Venus appears small, white and very bright. I immediately noted two things. I was looking at a gibbous Venus and that I saw an afterimage from internal reflection between the front two elements and a faint afterimage reflection between the two elements of the eyepiece. The front reflection was a bit distracting, but not overwhelmingly so.
The Moon, major planets, the brighter deep sky objects – all for the cost of an oil change. Better yet, buy one for yourself and in the spirit of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, buy a second scope to donate to someone around the world who otherwise would never get an opportunity to see the sky in such detail.