Review: Celestron EclipSmart Travel scope

I came across the Celestron EclipSmart Travel Scope while browsing around B&H Photo looking for more things to lust after. For $100 I was intrigued, so I decided to pick one up along with some adapters to let me attach my camera to the scope.

I’ll admit it. The main reason I picked up this little budget scope was for the 2017 eclipse. The other reason is that while I’ve been fascinated by astronomy and astrophysics my entire life, I’ve never had what I would consider a real telescope of my own. I’ve had chances to use them and look through some pretty decent ones (8″ and 12″ reflectors on top of the U of A Physics building). When I saw the EclipSmart, I thought to myself that maybe I should change that. Even though this one is only for solar viewing, I figured it would be a decent place to start. Fortunately, I’m pretty good at managing my expectations (at least I think I am).

First impression when I saw the box was that was a lot smaller  than I expected. Everything comes packaged in a 45x28x13 cm box. The Celestron EclipSmart travel scope is a 50 mm refractor telescope with a 360 mm/f7.4 focal length. Comes with a 20 mm eye piece, tripod and a backpack to carry everything around in. It’s all light enough to be easily portable, and sets up pretty quickly.

Celestron EclipSmart
Celestron EclipSmart Travel Scope

The telescope is about the size of a large spotting scope. The solar filter is permanently installed, so it’s a bit of a uni-tasker as far as telescopes go.

The telescope will attach to any tripod using a standard 1/4″ threaded screw. The tripod that comes with the scope is lightweight with three extendable sections on each leg. A little bit on the flimsy side, but it does the job. Easily knocked over, so not something you want to set up where lots of people are running around. Fully extended, the tripod stands just a little over 1 m high which puts the eye piece of the telescope at a reasonably comfortable height for viewing (unless you’re really tall).

On the tripod. Banana for scale
On the tripod. Banana for scale
On the tripod
On the tripod

Handy aiming sight lets you get the telescope pointed at the sun without having to look at the sun or try to hunt for it through the scope.

Sun alignment
Sun alignment (dog not for scale)

So far, it seems like a decent little scope for the price. Lightweight, very portable and easy to carry around. Focusing is easy and fairly smooth. With the 20 mm eye piece, the image of the sun is a pretty decent size. Doesn’t fill the entire field of view of the eye piece, but the image of the sun is large enough to see sunspots.

If you’re looking for a simple, inexpensive scope for solar or eclipse viewing, this one fits the bill nicely.

Photos to come in a later post.

Eclipse party!

Unless you’ve been living in a seriously deep hole under  a big rock, you know that there’s going to be a solar eclipse coming up this August. It’s the first one that will be crossing the entire US in quite a while. All of North America will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, and a good chunk of the US will get to see 90% or more of the sun in eclipse.

The US path of the August 21 total solar eclipse starts in Oregon at around 1600UTC (10:00 AM PDT) and ends in South Carolina a little after 2000UTC (4:00 PM EDT).

Back at the old house, we were just at the right edge of the path of totality. Our new house is much closer to the middle of the path (about 22 km from the center as the crow flies) and will be a much better place to watch the eclipse from. In addition, aside from houses, we have an almost unobstructed view of the entire sky from the house and a great big field to hang out in at the end of the street (if the yard gets too crowded).

2017 Eclipse path
2017 Eclipse path through the Charleston SC area

See that path of totality? We’re practically right in the middle of it.

The last solar eclipse I was able to watch was back when I was in elementary school. I remember all the windows of the school had been covered up with paper, and nobody was allowed to go outside during the eclipse. Welding shades were taped to the windows of several doors so that kids could look up at the sun to see the eclipse.

The plan for this eclipse is to acquire a few #14 welding shades and make at least a couple of pinhole cameras for friends and neighbours to view the eclipse with.

Hopefully the weather will be good. August is starting to get into the peak of the hurricane season. Don’t want one of those coming by at the wrong time and messing things up.

Eclipse data from Xavier Jubier’s interactive map.

2m 22.7s (total solar eclipse)
2m 24.5s (lunar limb corrected)
Umbral depth : 61.05%
Umbral depth : 22.3km (13.9mi)
Path width : 114.7km (71.3mi)
Obscuration : 100.00%
Magnitude at maximum : 1.00918
Moon/Sun size ratio : 1.03009
Umbral vel. : 0.670km/s (1498 mph)
Event Time (UTC)
Start of partial eclipse 17:16:25
Start of total eclipse 18:45:20
Maximum eclipse 18:46:31
End of total eclipse 18:47:42
End of partial eclipse 20:09:21

If you want to come by to watch the eclipse, drop me a line.

Sidelined by sciatica

Adding to the list of unlocked old age accomplishments, now I can complain about sciatica.

It started off with just a sharp pain in my lower back that made bending over difficult. Didn’t think much of it and figured it would go away in a few days.

Then the pain started radiating down my leg making bending even more difficult.

A visit to the doctor resulted in a diagnosis of left sided lower back pain with left side sciatica, and prescriptions for a muscle relaxant and steroid for inflammation.

The pain from a nerve being pinched is pretty high, and not at all pleasant. It’s quite literally a pain in the butt. And leg. And back.

Lying down helps a lot, but standing or sitting for any length of time gets to be quite uncomfortable.

I’m hoping I get over this soon because as nice as it is lying around in bed all day, the pain really sucks.

If it’s not better in a few more days, it’s back to the doctor and maybe some physical therapy for the back injury causing the sciatica.

Closet shelves!

Most of the big house projects are done, and now it’s time for the smaller ones. The closet in my office called out for shelves for some vertical storage.

Closet pre-shelves
Closet pre-shelves

Some wall brackets and 12″ wide 6′ long shelves fit into the closet perfectly.

First set of shelves
First set of shelves

I put in three shelves to start with, and have plenty of room to add full length or shorter shelves later if needed.


Plenty of room now for project parts and spare bits.

Learning to play mahjong

Growing up, there were a lot of big family gatherings, and in the basement there were usually 3 or 4 tables set up for mahjong. When all four tables were going, it made for quite a racket especially when the tiles were being shuffled. I watched a lot of mahjong games when I was a kid, but never learned how to play. It was more interesting watching people play, or stacking up the tiles to build things when nobody was playing.

We shopped around locally, but didn’t really see a set of tiles we wanted to get. Found a pretty nice set on Amazon though and ordered it.

Mahjong case
Mahjong tiles case
Mahjong case
Mahjong tiles case
Mahjong tiles
Mahjong tiles

The tiles are nice and big, feel solid, and the symbols are engraved nice and deep. They feel just like the tiles I remember playing with when I was a kid.

The rules for mahjong are relatively simple (I’ve seen it described as kind of a combination of poker and rummy) but with lots of variations. The basic idea is to get pairs, sequences, or 3/4 of a kind of particular tiles in your hand. The complexity and strategy comes into the kinds of hands you build, and that certain types of winning hands are worth more points than others.

Character tiles
Character tiles – 1 through 9
Flower tiles
Flower tiles
Wind tiles
Wind tiles – East, South, West, North

I’ve got the basics figured out, but I’m still working on remembering what some of the character and tiles are.

Now we need to find two (or more) people to play with. Interested?