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Exploring The Heavens From Home

New Products for Watching the Stars


An astronomical telescope with an LCD control panel. (C)VIXEN Co., Ltd.

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2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, marking 400 years since Galileo Galilei used the first telescope to open a window on the stars. Japan has a great many astronomy enthusiasts of all ages, and there are over 200 observatories situated throughout the country. This year has seen a surge in both sales of Japanese-made telescopes and the number of stargazers. Interest in the night sky and the planets is growing, and several hot new products have appeared to cater to this trend.

Compact Telescopes for Home or Travel

A striking number of individuals have had their scientific curiosity piqued by astronomy and become captivated by the romantic appeal of the cosmos. People have taken to enjoying the night sky in various ways - from stargazing clubs that gather on mountaintops to individual back-porch astronomers.


An image of a family enjoying the TV-Globe. (C)2009 EPOCH Co., LTD./ WATANABE KYOGU Co., Ltd.

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Every aspiring stargazer requires one essential tool: a telescope. One variety of the instrument geared toward beginners is the light and compact tabletop telescope, which has the additional merit of being reasonably priced. Tabletop telescopes are also easy to bring along on trips, since even the refracting varieties are lightweight and have short lens barrels. Such models are sufficiently powerful for viewing the moon and other near celestial bodies and have thus proven popular with amateurs new to the world of astronomy.

In observing the distant cosmos, fixing one's telescope on a particular celestial body can be tricky. To remedy this problem, a new Japanese-made telescope has appeared on the market equipped with an LCD control panel. Users point the telescope at an easily discernible group of stars and use the control panel to focus in on stars that are more difficult to see. The experience is similar to playing a video game. Once they learn how to identify the different stars in the sky and how to focus the telescope, stargazers will be able to find the more elusive formations and gain a more profound appreciation of outer space. The telescope can also track objects as they change position in the sky.

Fun Globes Teach About the EarthThe planet Earth is also a celestial body, and popular new "entertainment" globes are catering to those wishing to learn more about it. One such product, the TV-Globe, is used by connecting it to a television set. An image of the globe appears on the screen, and when the actual globe is spun, its on-screen counterpart revolves as well. Touching the pen-like instrument attached to the globe's base to a given country causes the image on the TV to rotate to the appropriate point of the world and display that country on screen, along with images and facts such as its area, climate, and capital city. It also lets users look up information on each of Japan's prefectures and research the world's continents and oceans, major countries, countries that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, and other geographical information.


Relaxing in the bath while looking up at the stars. (C)Sega Toys Co., Ltd.

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Controls on the base of the globe allow users to switch it to "dinosaur mode." Touching the pen to an area on the globe then reveals a list of the different species of dinosaur that lived in that place during prehistoric times. The device can similarly display information on Japanese rhinoceros beetles and stag beetles and on UNESCO World Heritage sites. You can also search for the information you want using the attached keyboard and test your knowledge in Quiz Mode. This device is much more than a globe; it is a spherical electronic encyclopedia.

The Perfect Globe, meanwhile, provides spoken information when users apply the pointer to either the globe itself or the pullout map of Japan housed in its base. The information can be updated via the Internet and is available in eight different languages. A model equipped with a video-enabled LCD display is also in the works.

Stargazing, or Star Bathing?A new range of home planetariums that are either placed on the floor or, in one case, floated in a bath lets users do their stargazing on darkened ceilings at home, creating a therapeutic atmosphere of twinkling stars. The popular bath version of these devices floats on the water's surface while casting projections of the night sky onto the ceiling and walls for a soothing bathing experience. (November 2009)

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