On astronomical telescopes of even middling power, a small “finderscope” is often mounted in parallel to the main optics to assist in getting the larger instrument on target. The low magnification of the finderscope offers a far wider field of view than the primary telescope, which makes it much easier to find small objects in the sky. Even if your target is too small or faint to see in the finderscope, just being able to get your primary telescope pointed at the right celestial neighborhood is a huge help.
But [Dilshan Jayakody] still thought he could improve on things a bit. Instead of a small optical scope, his StarPointer is an electronic device that can determine the orientation of the telescope it’s mounted to. As the ADXL345 accelerometer and HMC5883L magnetometer inside the STM32F103C8 powered gadget detect motion, the angle data is sent to Stellarium — an open source planetarium program. Combined with a known latitude and longitude, this allows the software to show where the telescope is currently pointed in the night sky.
As demonstrated in the video after the break, this provides real-time feedback which is easy to understand even for the absolute beginner: all you need to do is slew the scope around until the object you want to look at it under the crosshairs. While we wouldn’t recommend looking at a bright computer screen right before trying to pick out dim objects in your telescope’s eyepiece, we can certainly see the appeal of this “virtual” finderscope.
Then again…who said this technique had to be limited to optical observations? As the StarPointer is an open hardware project, you could always integrate the tech into that DIY radio telescope you’ve always dreamed of building in the backyard.