I learned a couple of interesting new things over the weekend. (1) Wal-mart carries pretty cool Meade telescopes and (2) my camera phone actually takes decent pictures.

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The girls were shopping for some gymnastics clothes so Nathan and I were just wandering around the Wal-mart in Cadillac on our way up north this weekend, when we can upon the Meade “Backpack Observatory” amongst some random craft/hobby items (see the nice planogram with the telescopes right inline with the candles).

I bought a similar scope 6-7 years ago and had to buy the scope, the Autostar computer tracking unit, and the tripod separately (and never had the option for the cool backpack). I got many of my parts on eBay (especially the tripod) and still spent $100 more than this bundle is at retail now.  For about $250 you can get a mobile computer-controlled 60mm scope in a nice handy backpack for easy transportation.  The portability was key for us because I liked taking it on trips up north when we got away from all the light pollution in GR.  It had enough power for all the planets and stars/binary stars and even some of the brighter deep-sky objects – and once the Autostar is calibrated you can actually find some cool things very quickly.

I’d like to hear from someone who got one of these and see how well the optics, tracking unit, and tripod compare to earlier models.  I’d still like to make a telescope at some point, but that project is a bit further off.