Professor Stephen Hawking is perhaps the world’s most famous cosmologist. For over 50 years, he’s expanded of our knowledge of the Universe and introduced astrophysics to millions through bestselling books including A Brief History of Time. But it wasn’t until 2015 that Hawking observed the night sky with a telescope of his own.
Hawking has lived with the disease ALS for most of his life. Due to his limited mobility, he requires a highly specialized telescope system that can work with his Intel-based computer. Although his setup is a bit more complicated than most, it is still simple enough that Hawking captured his own astroimages the first night out. We’re sure you’ll agree, his results were impressive:
Professor Stephen Hawking's image of the Moon.
Hawking's image of the Orion Nebula, M42.
Want to recreate his telescope kit for yourself? All the gear is commercially available and the complete rig cost just under $10,000. We’ll walk you through the essential pieces and offer some more budget-friendly alternatives where we can.
Are you a wheelchair user like Professor Hawking? Check out our article on Wheelchair Astronomy for even more ideas!
The telescope: Celestron’s CPC Deluxe 1100HD
Celestron’s engineers selected a jack-of-all-trades telescope with enough aperture to view a huge range of celestial objects: the CPC Deluxe 1100HD. Hawking plans on doing most of his observations from his backyard in Cambridge, England, but wanted a portable system that he can take to dark sky locations, too. The CPC Deluxe strikes the perfect balance. When he’s at home, the CPC Deluxe HD remains fully assembled on JMI Wheely Bars so his assistants can quickly wheel it outside.
Another key consideration in choosing the CPC Deluxe HD is its extreme versatility. Like most of Celestron’s Schmidt-Cassegrain and EdgeHD telescopes, the CPC Deluxe can image at three focal ratios: native f/10, f/7 with optional focal reducer, and f/2 with Starizona’s HyperStar lens assembly. This last configuration is ideal when Hawking captures deep sky images of wide field objects like nebulae.
Looking for a more affordable option with similar versatility and performance? Try Celestron’s NexStar Evolution or new NexStar Evolution HD telescopes. They’re even more portable than the CPC Deluxe HD thanks to their built-in lithium ion batteries. And you can reduce the need for cabling since Evolution generates its own WiFi network. The 6” NexStar Evolution is just $1599 from Telescopes.com.
Since Hawking is confined to a wheelchair, a camera replaces the eyepiece and offers stunning views of celestial objects. For deep sky targets like galaxies and nebulae, choose a CCD camera like the QHYCCD One Shot Color Camera. Its unique shape is ideally suited to HyperStar imaging.
For nearer objects, a simple solar system imager should do the trick. Hawking uses the Celestron Skyris 132C, but for a less expensive option we recommend the NexImage Burst. It features the same imaging sensor, but with a USB 2.0 connection instead of the Skyris’ USB 3.0.
No matter which camera you choose, we recommend you install Software Bisque’s TheSkyX Pro astronomy software to control your telescope.
Accessories and more
The secret sauce in Hawking’s telescope kit is Celestron’s StarSense AutoAlign. This handy accessory replaces your telescope’s finderscope and allows the telescope to orient itself with the night sky in about 3 minutes—with no user input needed! This is a huge time saver in the field and allows for a far more accurate alignment for better astroimages.
Earlier we mentioned JMI’s Universal Wheely Bars. These are a must-have for any amateur astronomer in a place like England with fickle weather. Whenever skies are clear, Hawking’s assistants can wheel the fully assembled CPC out into the backyard for a quick imaging session. Of course, the best telescope is the one you use most often, so creature comforts like these wheely bars are key.
Finally, if you prefer to conduct your imaging session from the comfort of your home while your telescope endures the cold weather outside, a focus motor will come in handy.
Get ready for spectacular views
Well, that’s it! Armed with this top-of-the-line telescope kit, you’ll be ready to view the Universe like Stephen Hawking. Who knows—you may even make some discoveries of your own. Clear skies!
Images courtesy Celestron.