Gear Review: Meade mySKY Handheld Astronomer

Study the night sky with this multi-media teaching tool.
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Study the night sky with this multi-media teaching tool.

If you’re like me, you have stared up at the night sky on a clear night in the woods and marveled at the countless stars twinkling down. Unfortunately, my knowledge of that twinkling cosmos was limited to finding the moon, and occasionally, the North Star—until I tried the handheld astronomer that is the Meade mySKY.

The radar gun-shaped Meade mySKY will identify any celestial object that you point it at and deliver tour-guide quality background information on over 30,000 celestial bodies – nearly all visible to the naked eye.

Simply turn it on, wait for the GPS to find a fix, and you’re off. Aim at objects using the simple rifle-style sights–sensitive magnetometers use the Earth’s magnetic field to determine where you’re pointing. Pull the trigger and the full-color 2” x 1.5” LCD screen identifies the object while more info relayed over the included standard earbud headphones. The most popular objects, more than 500, have multimedia information in the form of photos, videos, or audio, while the others are simply identified. If you’re looking for the history of Gorgonea Quarta, you might have to take a college astronomy course! If you’re looking for a particular object (especially stars) you have to do a lot of scrolling, and the buttons weren’t very rugged and felt a little fragile.

Scroll through a list of objects (sorted into Constellations, Solar System, Stars, and Deep Sky), or take a tour of “Tonight’s Best”, which will tell you what’s visible based on your location and time of night. I was able to find Mars and Jupiter within 5 minutes of turning it on, and although the menus aren’t as intuitive as I’d like, once I got the hang of it I was quickly able to locate satellites and nebulae.

It might be a little bulky for ultralight backpacking, at around 10” x 6”, and a touch over 15 oz. But if you’re going in the car or have a little extra room, the mySKY will help open up the skies that you’ve been gazing superficially at for years.

This device is informative but not quite as easy to use as I had hoped, as I mentioned above. But with some patience to peruse the short paper manual and a steady hand, one can quickly identify any constellation in the heavens, point to Alpha Centauri, predict the next International Space Station pass, and hear a little history about the moon.

Bonus–you can update the software and content for free from the Meade website (www.meade.com) via the SD card slot and if you own a Meade telescope, the mySKY can control where it points.