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April 2013 Newsletter, Stories & Announcements...
Spring has arrived in southeast Idaho. I can always tell because the Robins wander around wearing a bewildered look on their feathered faces. Over the course of the past three weeks, we have enjoyed daytime temperatures in the upper 60s, nighttime lows in the upper teens to lower 20s, calm cloudless days, overcast with dust bowl winds blowing 40 to 50 miles an hour, snow, rain, well you get the picture. Sometime between Mother's Day and Father's day, the weather will settle down and the robins will drift into a state of complacent contentment that will coax them back next spring when the process will repeat itself... yet again.
May 26th is sandwiched neatly between Mother's Day and Father's day and this year it marks the two year anniversary since Spherical Concepts was closed down in 2011. One of the first items to sell out, and the most frequently sought for over the past 20 months, is the 16 inch Starship Earth II Celestial Sphere. Barring a return of Spherical Concepts, we are likely to never see renewed availability of the Starship Earth II Celestial Sphere.
In an effort to meet the ongoing demand of our customers, World Globe Universe has been searching for a replacement Celestial Sphere. We are pleased to announce we have found and are able to provide a smaller, lower cost Celestial Globe that delivers many of the valuable educational features of the 'out of production' Starship Earth II Celestial Sphere.
If you are one of those who have been vainly searching for a personal Celestial Sphere, we hope you will be pleased with the information in this month's featured article.
The return of the personal Celestial Sphere...
As testament to its popularity, as well as its impact in popular culture, the Starship Earth has appeared on numerous television shows including Defying Gravity, Fringe, and The Big Bang Theory. They also appear and are in use in universities, colleges, schools, homes, and offices across the United States and around the world.
Originally available in 16 and 30 inch diameter sizes; the inventory available in May of 2011, when Spherical Concepts' production facility closed down, has been completely exhausted prior to publishing this newsletter in April of 2013. The discontinuance of these top of the line Celestial Spheres has left a hole in the marketplace and demand continues to persist within the United States as well as internationally. To the best of the author's knowledge, there are no longer any new Starship Earth II Celestial Spheres available for sale in any size.
In evaluating possible alternative products, I have been keeping an eye on the Hubbard Scientific Transparent Celestial Globe. This instrument is available in two models, both of which are 12 inches in diameter. The model 300 is a stand mounted version while the 310 rests on a detachable base. For this comparison, I will use the model 310 (available from worldglobeu.com) and the 16 inch table model of the Starship Earth II.
The first thing you will notice is the substantial difference in size between the two Celestial Spheres. Although 4 inches in diameter may not seem like much, it actually amounts to an increase in surface area of more than 75%. The extra surface area allows the larger Starship Earth II to display much more data than the 12 inch Basic Celestial Globe. However, even with less overall detail, the smaller sphere still displays some 550 stars along with the most popular constellations.
From a composition and workmanship standpoint, the Starship Earth II is crafted from high grade, totally transparent acrylic. It is silkscreened in multi color on the inside of the globe and all of the text is oriented so it reads correctly when looking through the globe at the starscape on the far side of the sphere. It also features a bonded celestial equator which provides the globe with a certain rigidity.
The Basic Celestial Globe is crafted from a lower grade plastic and although it is transparent, it lacks the crystal clear appearance of the larger sphere. The stars are silkscreened on the inside of the globe in light yellow. The text however, including right ascension, declination, dates, and names are all embossed into the plastic itself rather than being printed. Although this makes the content very durable, it is somewhat more difficult to read because it is the same color as the base plastic. One significant drawback is the text is all written to be read from the outside of the globe so when looking through the sphere to view the starscape, all of the text is reversed. The celestial equator joint is made using a tongue and groove connection, held together by the axial rod that spans from the north to the south celestial poles. As a result, the Basic Celestial Globe rattles a bit when in use and overall lacks the sturdy feel of the Starship Earth II.
In a feature comparison, the Starship Earth II integrates a translucent blue horizon ring which makes it very easy for the observer to determine how much of the sky would be visible from the chosen observation point on the earth. Azimuth degrees are silkscreened on the horizon ring providing an accurate and easy to use scale for finding specific stellar objects. Because of the earth globe's single sided pedestal mount, the sun ball is able to rotate a full 360 degrees, accurately circumscribing the apparent path the sun takes across the sky. The Basic Celestial Globe lacks the horizon ring, making it more difficult for the user to accurately visualize the portion of the sky that would be visible above the observer's horizon. The axial globe mounting rod obstructs the rotation of the sun ball, occluding approximately 10 degrees of arc, so the sun physically does not pass through the dates of June 16th though the 24th. Although it is not as seamless, by reversing the sun ball and bringing it back to the other side of the axial rod, the user can get a good feel for the apparent path of sun across the sky.
Setup, or in other words ease of use, was a surprise. The Starship Earth II is a very feature rich Celestial Sphere and is a delight to own and use, but it is admittedly a bit involved to get it set up for observation. The user manual is detailed and if you follow the steps exactly as written, you will be able to use the tool without too much difficulty. If you are an infrequent user, you may need to refer back to the instructions to refresh your memory. The Basic Celestial Globe is a much simpler tool and integrates an ingenious date and time system at the north celestial pole. The time and date system allows the user to quickly and easily set up the Celestial Sphere for observation at any date and time. Based solely on the user directions, I found the Basic Celestial Globe to be easier to setup for observational use.
The final criterion I evaluated was overall value. Spherical Concepts was a US based manufacturer with a solid reputation for standing behind their products. The Starship Earth II is a premium quality product and has always sold for a commensurate price. Unfortunately, with Spherical Concepts closing down, all manufacturer support and parts has ceased. In fact, until World Globe Universe created a PDF of the owner's manual and posted it on their site, there was no known source for operational instructions for the out of production Starship Earth II. According to sources at the manufacturer, the Basic Celestial Globe was originally manufactured in the US. Caught up in the wave of outsourcing that swept the manufacturing industry, production was subsequently shifted to China. This resulted in some quality and support issues which while not insurmountable, tended to add a level of frustration to obtaining a working Celestial Globe. The manufacturer recently brought their production back to the United States which raised the retail price slightly but should go a long way towards correcting some of the quality issues that have frequented the product in the past.
In the final analysis; the Hubbard Scientific Transparent Celestial Globe is currently the only game in town. While that may seem like a bad thing, the fact is, this economical Celestial Sphere is a more than adequate educational tool. While it lacks the feature rich polish of the Spherical Concepts Starship Earth II Celestial Sphere, it delivers all of the same basic functionality and does so at less than half the price.
If you have been longing for a personal Celestial Sphere, and bemoaning the demise of the Starship Earth II, cheer up. It appears there is now a viable alternative!
Read more about it...
While researching for this month's newsletter, I came across a set of simplified setup instructions at RainyDayMagazine.com. In essence, the simplified process allows you to set up your Celestial Sphere for viewing in three easy steps.
With a little practice, owners of the Starship Earth II can use these same simplified instructions. Just add a step '2b' to the setup process.
Go to the Rainy Day Magazine web site to view the simplified illustrated setup instructions.
Thank you for spending this time with us and we'll see you again next month!