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SkyScout: the iPod of astronomy?

One of the most exciting products at this year's CES was the SkyScout. This handheld gizmo can identify and locate stars and other celestial objects in the night sky. Crave really, really wants one

You're walking at night with your significant other. She takes your hand and points to an unusually bright light in the sky, and says, "What a beautiful evening... is that Venus up there?"

It's a lovely moment. But you can't help yourself. Instead of kissing her hard on the lips you instantly bust out your brand new SkyScout, point it it at that distant light and say,

"No, darling. That's not Venus. It's Epsilon Canis Majoris, at a distance of 431 light years from Earth, in Spectral Class B2II."

Your significant other walks off in disgust, but you're left alone with your SkyScout and the beautiful night sky, so it's not all bad. The SkyScout is a small handheld GPS device about the size of a camcorder, and can identify up to 6,000 different objects in the sky.

You look through the lens and point at any visible object in the sky and it can identify the star and give you information on it via an LCD screen on the side of the unit. It can also speak to you through an audio commentary, in a cool, female voice.

We'd like to think this was an alien technology that fell through a black hole to earth, but according to Celestron, the telescope manufacturer that makes SkyScout, it is in fact powered by "patented technology that combines sensors measuring both the magnetic and gravitational fields of the Earth, along with internal GPS and a substantial celestial database."

The unit also has a USB connection, so you can download the lastest comets and stars as they're discovered, as well as load up SkyTour content cards via SD such as 'Astronomy for kids'.

The Celestron was one of the coolest gadgets at CES this year, walking away with the Best of Innovations prize in personal electronics at the show, and Crave can see what all the fuss is about: this thing does for a walk under the stars what the iPod did for music on the go.

No word yet on a European release date, but the SkyScout ships in March and will cost $399 (£226). Visit our CES 2006 Special Report for more coverage. -MP