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High-tech gadgets for stargazers

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What technology gadgets do the experts love, or would love to have? is asking experts in several fields about their favorite high-tech toys. This week, we asked Popular Scienceexternal link magazine aviation editor Eric Adams.

(CNN) -- Popular Science aviation editor Eric Adams, covers cars, airplanes, space travel, military technology, and astronomy.

He scored a trip to the Atacama desert in Chile to see the world's largest telescope at the European Southern Observatory. It gave him the unique opportunity to see the heavens as few people ever do.

An unforgettable experience, but Adams says astronomy can be just as thrilling with a more modest telescope.

Here are some of Adam's favorite astronomy gadgets:

1. Stellarvue SV90T 90mm Apochromatic Refractorexternal link

In terms of both image quality and portability, you can't beat an apochromatic refractor. They're pricey because making apochromatic lenses, which focus light and color much more precisely than the vastly more common achromats, is an expensive process, but they are worth every dime and are built to last a lifetime.

My Stellarvue 90mm refractor is small enough to carry onto airplanes or dash out into the backyard for a quick observing session, but its three-element 90mm diameter objective lens can pull in terrific detail like cloud patterns on Jupiter and subtle divisions within the rings of Saturn. Also, it's just an awesome piece of machinery -- precisely crafted, substantial, as fun to look at as through it.

I've bought and sold a lot of telescopes over the years; this one I'll never give up.

2. Meade Lightbridge 10-Inch Reflectorexternal link

In astronomy, aperture is everything. To get the best, most detailed view possible, you need a large-aperture telescope that collects the most possible light. Refractors are expensive to produce and impractical at large apertures -- they get much longer as the aperture goes up, so that's why professional observatories always use mirrors.

They are less expensive to produce in big sizes and they compress long focal lengths into compact packages. At the amateur level, the Dobsonian reflector provides by far the most bang for the buck in telescopes. Meade's 10-inch LightBridge reflector uses a slick, high-tech truss-tube configuration and two finely-polished mirrors that bounce light into an eyepiece at the top of the scope.

It's smartly designed to permit easy assembly and disassembly in the field, and all the movements -- up and down, left and right -- are wonderfully smooth.

Under the stars, it's easy to use and offers crisp, stunning views of distant and usually very dim nebulas and galaxies.

3. Celestron SkyScout handheld planetariumexternal link

The Celestron Skyscout is one of those rare inventions that can legitimately be called unprecedented. You pick the thing up, aim it any celestial object in the sky, and it will tell you exactly what you're looking at.

If you want to find something specific, locate it in the onboard database, peer through the aiming window, and you'll see little LED arrows pointing you in the right direction until you land on the object. It's that simple -- and it works.

The SkyScout uses GPS to figure out where it is, a digital compass to sort out what direction it's pointing, and several accelerometers to determine what angle it's being held at. With that information, it extrapolates where precisely in the sky it's looking, flawlessly. I hate trying to decipher star charts -- I've been waiting my whole life for this thing.

4. Starry Night Ver. 6 planetarium softwareexternal link

Planetarium software is essential for both learning about the night sky and planning your observing sessions. What time will Mars rise? How do I find the Double Cluster? What do the orbits of all the planets look like when accelerated?

Starry Night's intuitive controls and beautiful visual presentation of the sky -- complete with subtly highlighted constellation patters and a detailed pretend landscape surrounding your chosen observing position -- lets you instantly grasp where things are in the sky and how they change on an hourly, daily, and yearly basis.

There are lots of fun animations, too -- you can watch, for example, the complete, accurately computed flight path of the Cassini probe to Saturn.

Watching that made me really understand, for the first time, how planetary probes reach, chase after, and maneuver around their targets -- it's actually a very elegant little dance they do up there.

5. BigHa Jasper Curve green laser pointerexternal link

Because I frequently find myself showing off the night sky to friends and family, school kids, and, occasionally complete strangers, I'm a big fan of the Jasper Curve green laser pointer.

This 5 milliwatt laser projects a bright green beam more than 25,000 feet -- over five miles. At night, the beam is clearly visible to the naked eye, so you can literally point to stars, planets, and nebulas and everyone around you will be able to see what you're talking about. It's great fun, and really gets peoples' attention.

The Curve has a nice ergonomic shape, a microprocessor that prevents the laser from overheating, and a button that allows you to either activate the beam in short bursts or leave it on for as long as you like. It's probably as close as I'll ever come to actually owning a light saber.

You've seen what one expert loves. What technology do you crave? Send us photos of yourself with your favorite gadget. (I-Report)

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Popular Science editor Eric Adams holds his Curve laser pointer which he uses to show off the night sky to friends and family.
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