Friday, December 29, 2017

Celestron Sky Scout: The Bad News and the Good News

I went to a thrift shop today and found a Celestron Sky Scout Personal Planetarium device. It was BRAND NEW in the box, never had been used! I had seen these expensive devices in astronomy mags for year (well, prior to 2015, that is) but the price... OUTRAGEOUS for something that had no magnification, like a telescope or binocular might give. But...

...finding on a 50% off sale (whoohoo!) I got it for $17.50 and hurried home to give it a go!

I popped in two AA batteries, powered it up outside and waited for the GPS in it to "fix" on a sufficient amount of GPS satellites... and waited and waited... "Can't fix"!!!!!

Ok, maybe it needs an update?

I install the CD-ROM software, hit "Update Software" and it downloaded the software update (that is, for the computer, NOT the device). I connected the device via the supplied USB cable and... "Cannot find" the device... AAARGH. It turns out that in Windows 10 a lot of legacy stuff does not work because "This program will not work on a 64 bit Windows"...

Ok, I could put out an old XP laptop and try it but... I "googled" Celestron Sky Scout and found many other frustrated owners (old and new) whose device was almost a brick... no way to update the firmware for the device to manually set the date past 2015 !!!! And Celestron just stopped production and support for it! And most people could not get the device to get a GPS fix before the device gave up.

That is the BAD news.

BUT, I have GOOD NEWS (sort of)!

One post on CloudyNights seemed to have found a solution (sort of) to the GPS fix problem.
And it goes like this:

"When you startup and try to acquire a GPS signal, don't wait for it to time out.  Once it acquires two satellites, hit "Back" and then select "retry acquiring a GPS fix..." again.
When you see the progress bar, hit the "GPS" button to expand the screen to include a list of satellites, relative strength of signal and acquisition status (i.e. black is "locked on satellite") >
Do this each time it acquires a new satellite and after three attempts it'll lock on fairly quickly (about 30 seconds for me).  You should end up with 3-5 satellites in a short time."

So I popped outside and gave it another go, using this suggestion and... YAY! GOOD NEWS!
It worked!

Sort of... in that for all celestial objects that do not move it did fine.
But for object that move like the Sun, Moon, planets, etc  it will not be able to properly identify them or their positions past the year 2015 (This post is December, 2017).

But, hey, at least it isn't a total loss!

December 30, 2017 UPDATE:
What can you still do with a Sky Scout?

* You can listen / read the info on all the objects in its data base

* You can listen / read the entire "Field Guide" section of the data base and learn about basic
     astronomy (lots of lessons there!)

* You can hook an amplified speaker to the headphone jack so that everyone can hear the info

* If you can get the GPS to get a fix you can still use it
       * to identify / locate all interstellar objects in its data base
       * and attach it to a dobsonian telescope and use its 'locate' feature as a finder scope
       * to determine your GPS location so you can input the info into a non-GPS "goto" scope
       * to discover the UTC time

Hope this helps someone either NOT to purchase one or at least give it a second life for identifying all other celestial objects!

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