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Significant Moments for Celestron Telescopes

History & Significant Moments for Celestron Telescopes

Nearly 100 individuals work at Celestron, the leading manufacturer of telescopes in the world, including a strong team of product developers at our headquarters in Torrance, California. To create ground-breaking new telescope technologies, optical and electrical engineers collaborate closely with product managers and local manufacturing personnel. But things weren't always like this. A father's desire to introduce his young sons to astronomy led to the creation of the business that would eventually become Celestron.

Tom Johnson was the CEO and founder of Valor Electronics in Gardena, California, in the late 1950s. In order to introduce his sons to the glories of astronomy, he was looking for a telescope.  He created a 6" reflector from scratch after failing to find one he liked. Johnson's interest in the hobby of building telescopes was spurred by the project. He started making bigger, more intricate instruments over time.

By 1960, Tom's pastime had developed into a burning desire that he wished to apply to his company. In order to produce telescopes, he established Celestron-Pacific as the astro-optical division of Valor Electronics.

Tom Johnson went to a star party held on Mount Pinos' peak in July 1962 by the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. He carried a "portable" 18 34" Cassegrain reflector that he made out of leftover components. The audience admired his telescope, and many of them enquired as to whether he would produce more. Tom and his telescope were featured on the cover of the March 1963 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine when other journalists took note.

1963 Cover for the Sky and Telescope, Tom then shifted his attention to the Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT) design, which combines elements of reflectors and refractors. The SCT has a lot of benefits, including being portable, simple to maintain, and able to be built with big apertures for clear, in-depth observations.

SCTs were around before Celestron-Pacific, but they were expensive, scarce, and often primarily utilised for scientific study. This was due to the fact that each telescope had to be made by expert optical specialists who spent hours manually calculating the Schmidt corrector lens on each telescope.

Tom was convinced that he could develop a technique for mass-producing the SCT, making it more available and less expensive. He succeeded in his mission by creating incredibly accurate match plates that allowed him to accurately shape optical glass into the intricate shape of the Schmidt corrector lens. Using Johnson's method, he was able to produce telescopes of exceptional quality and sell them for an unexpectedly low price. To this day, Tom's patented process and match plates are being used by Celestron to create our Schmidt correctors.

The Celestronic 20, a 20" SCT, was the subject of Celestron-Pacific's first advertisement in Sky & Telescope magazine, which appeared in January 1964. Later that year, the company manufactured a 22" SCT, Pacific was omitted from the name, and the now-famous Celestron brand was created.

Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, By 1969, Celestron had increased the variety of telescopes in its lineup for observatories and serious amateurs. These well-known Celestron SCTs, measuring 6", 8", 10", 12", and 22", have recognisable blue and white tubes.

With their flagship Celestron 8, now with a new orange tube, Celestron revolutionised the astronomy pastime in the 1970s. Simply referred to as the "C8," this venerable commercial-grade telescope offered 8 inches of aperture in a small, lightweight package for less than $1,000.

Customers went to the C8 in droves, turning it into an overnight sensation. Casual observers all across the world were suddenly able to see dim, deep-sky objects that had previously only been visible through very powerful telescopes or in books. Due to the C8's success, the business followed it up in 1971 with the C5 (a 5" SCT), which was even more portable.

With the introduction of the Celestron-Williams Cold Camera in 1971, Celestron turned its attention to the developing discipline of astrophotography after revolutionising visual astronomy. By chilling normal 35mm film to below-freezing temperatures, this astrophotography camera boosted the speed of the film, allowing it to record more light in the same exposure time and showing previously hidden details in far-off galaxies and nebulae.

The C14 joined the "orange tube" SCTs in 1972. The C5, C6, C8, C10, C12, C14, C16, and C22 were all part of the series.

Celestron replaced the orange optical tubes with sleek black with orange accents in 1984, making yet another cosmetic adjustment to the optical tubes. Variations of this colour scheme are still seen in modern SCTs.

At about the same time, Celestron unveiled StarBright XLT, a ground-breaking optical coating that greatly boosts light transmission across the optical channel to an astounding 89 percent. Our mid- to high-level telescopes, as well as our binoculars, continue to use StarBright XLT coatings.

The era of computerised or GoTo telescopes, which could automatically slew themselves to objects in the night sky, began in the late 1980s. The Compustar Computer-Controlled Telescope was Celestron's first GoTo telescope. Compustar, a device with an Intel 8052 CPU and a database of more than 8,000 celestial objects, made astronomy a hobby accessible to those without in-depth knowledge of the night sky. 

Two Celestron telescopes broke free of the gravitational pull of the Earth in the 1990s. It has been an honour for Celestron to supply telescopes for numerous NASA missions. The first occurred in 1992 when a C5 and a C8 were launched into orbit by Space Shuttle Atlantis. Twenty years later, a different crew of astronauts put a CPC 925 telescope in an International Space Station window that faces Earth. As part of NASA's ISERV project, the CPC is still in operation; it takes pictures of the Earth to track global weather trends and provide disaster assistance.

A new age of inventions began in the latter part of the 1990s. The Ultima 2000 was the first. It was the first GoTo telescope to use AA batteries when it was introduced in 1996.

In order to address the need of astroimagers, Celestron teamed up with Santa Barbara Instruments Group (SBIG) on the astrophotography front. Together, the two businesses created Fastar, a ground-breaking accessory for Schmidt-Cassegrain optical tubes. It enabled users to utilise an SLR, DSLR, or astronomical CCD camera in place of the secondary mirror at the front of the scope. Fastar enabled imagers to capture images at f/2, which is 28 times faster than the telescope's natural f/10 focal ratio. Currently, Fastar is compatible with every Celestron SCT.

Celestron experienced a period of extremely rapid growth between 2006 and 2009, resulting in a number of thrilling and honourable innovations.

In 2006, the SkyScout Personal Planetarium was a portable tool that could be used by itself or in conjunction with a telescope. Users could point SkyScout at an item in the night sky, and it would immediately recognise it and provide scientific details. For the most popular objects in the database, there were hundreds of audio descriptions as well. The product was a huge success, and it succeeded in making astronomy understandable for laypeople. 

In 2008, Celestron introduced the LCD Digital Microscope, making squinting into a microscope eyepiece a thing of the past. A 2009 Innovation Award was given to the device at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

When it unveiled EdgeHD technology in July 2009 at the Riverside Telescope Makers' Conference, one of Celestron founder Tom Johnson's final events, Celestron concluded the 2000s on a high note. EdgeHD is a flat-field, aplanatic Schmidt optical system that builds on the SCT's tradition and practically eliminates field curvature and coma aberrations, producing pinpoint stars to the edge of the field of view of even the largest imaging sensors and wide-field eyepieces.

Celestron was invited to the inaugural White House Star Party in 2009 as part of the celebrations for the International Year of Astronomy. The Obamas took turns looking through the CPC 800 telescope's eyepiece.

SkyProdigy, the first self-aligning telescope, was unveiled by Celestron in 2011. It was the first device to make use of Celestron's unique StarSense technology, which analyses star patterns above, compares them to internal databases to create a profile of each star, and then aligns itself to the night sky. In less than 3 minutes, SkyProdigy aligned the telescope with the help of an inbuilt camera and sophisticated software. At CES, the telescope was given a second Innovations Award. Two years later, every Celestron computerised telescope was equipped with StarSense technology thanks to the StarSense AutoAlign attachment.

Celestron updated the original C8 in 2014 with cutting-edge features including built-in WiFi and lithium iron batteries. The NexStar Evolution WiFi Telescope was praised by WIRED magazine as the "coolest app-cessory in the galaxy."

In the same year, Celestron developed its first astrograph with native f/2.2 imaging capabilities in collaboration with optical engineers Dave Rowe and Mark Ackermann. DSLR and astronomical CCD cameras work best when shooting wide-field, deep-sky objects with the Rowe-Ackermann Schmidt Astrograph (RASA). The RASA family was completed in 2019 by the RASA 8 and RASA 36.

Scientist Stephen Hawking and the Celestron team worked together in 2015 to design a unique CPC Deluxe 1100HD telescope that he could control from his computer. The group went to Hawking's house in Cambridge, UK, to assist him set up the telescope and take his first astrophotos.

Several Celestron telescopes appeared in cameos on television shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Price is Right, Dexter, and New Girl throughout the decade of 2010. Even Celestron telescopes can be seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; they appeared in Iron Man 3 and Thor.

Celestron will mark 60 years of revolutionising technology and enabling everyone to view the night sky in 2020. Celestron created a unique anniversary edition NexStar Evolution 8HD Telescope with StarSense to mark this significant occasion. The carbon fibre EdgeHD optical tube, StarSense AutoAlign, internal LiFePO4 battery, and built-in WiFi were all featured in this telescope, which honoured the best of Celestron's past and present. There were only 600 made, each with a special serial number and a certificate of authenticity signed by Alan Hale, the founder of Celestron, and Corey Lee, the CEO. Within a few weeks, all 600 telescopes had been sold out.

Early in 2020, Celestron also announced StarSense Explorer, a ground-breaking entry-level telescope. Using StarSense Explorer technology, this manual telescope analyses the night sky and determines its location in real time using a customised smartphone app. On their first night out, novice observers can feel confident thanks to StarSense Explorer. An IHS Markit ShowStoppers CES 2020 Innovation Award was given to the telescope.


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