Archaeologists had low expectations when excavations started at 35 Spaska Street in Kyiv in 2007.
Two earlier archaeological surveys had been carried out here, with meager results. But now a new building was to be erected, and the site first had to be examined by archaeologists since the area is historic.
“The excavations were considered more of a routine examination. No one dared to believe that we’d make as rich archaeological finds as we actually did,” said Natalia Khamaiko, an archaeologist at Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences. She led the team that conducted the excavations.
Khamaiko explains that archaeologists have uncovered layers from several eras, with the best preserved ones being from the 10th century until the first half of the 13th century. Here they found traces of houses and many different objects—including glass, gold wire and Hnefatafl pieces for a board game that is often referred to as Viking chess.
“This find was surprising, because we weren’t aware of any Hnefatafl pieces being found in the Kyivan Rus’ region previously. The pieces are really similar to game pieces found in Scandinavia,” says Khamaiko.
Ivory the most spectacular find
The most spectacular find, however, turned out to be nine somewhat indefinable bone fragments of various sizes. One massive piece of bone stood out in particular. The archaeologists could not imagine what animal it might have belonged to.
Three of the bone fragments were therefore sent to zooarchaeologist Oleg Zhuravlyov. He compared the bones with the material at the natural history museum and came back with the answer: the bones came from walrus snouts.
“This came as a total surprise to us. We’d never heard of similar discoveries in Kyiv,” says Khamaiko.
The bone fragments turned out to be even more surprising than Khamaiko could have imagined.
“Walrus ivory was a very popular raw material in Europe in the Middle Ages. It was used to create the most exquisite objects in church art, but gradually also finer versions of everyday objects like game pieces and knife handles,” says James Barrett, an archaeologist and professor at the NTNU University Museum.
For a long time, scientists believed that this tusk ivory came from several different regions in the Arctic. In 2019, however, Barrett and four other researchers conducted a study that revealed that Greenland was essentially the only source of walrus products on the Western European market. However, walrus ivory from Eastern European finds were assumed to have originated from other places.
“Written sources in Arabic from the Middle Ages say that so-called ‘fish teeth’—interpreted as walrus teeth—were traded throughout present-day Ukraine and Russia and used to make assorted objects, including sword shafts. Historical sources from Byzantium also suggest that people there imported walrus ivory from the same areas. We therefore assumed that these ivory artifacts came from walruses in the Barents Sea,” Barrett says.
But assumptions are not always true, and when Barrett heard about the walrus bones in Kyiv, he decided to investigate them further.
The researchers took a three-pronged approach to find out where the walrus bones in Kyiv came from. First, they examined the archaeological DNA from the bones.
Surprisingly, five of the nine bone fragments had a genetic signature which allowed the researchers to say with certainty that they came from Greenland. Barrett explains that walruses can be divided into two genetic groups: one is only found in Greenland and the eastern parts of Canada and the other is found everywhere—including Greenland.
Researchers then performed an isotope analysis of the bones. Isotopes are varieties of the same element, and they vary between different food sources and geographical locations.
“These analyses showed that seven of the nine specimens are compatible with being from Greenland. But this result isn’t as definitive. The animals might also have come from Iceland, but not from the Barents Sea,” Barrett says.
Finally, the researchers looked at how the bones had been processed. When the walrus tusks were exported, they were still attached to a piece of the snout bone. Remains of this bone are what the archaeologists found. Walruses have extremely strong muzzles, since they like to support their entire body weight on their tusks when they relax. In order to make it easy to break off the tusks, the muzzle was therefore “thinned” before export. This was done in a particular way in Greenland.
Everything points to Greenland
“Six of the bone fragments were clearly worked in the typical Greenland fashion. The last three are too fragmented for us to say with any certainty how they were modified. Of course, this conclusion isn’t definitive either, since these techniques could have been copied,” says Barrett.
Overall there’s no doubt, however.
“All the source materials point to the same source—Greenland—so this is a result we can trust,” says Bastiaan Star, an associate professor at the University of Oslo. He was the project’s expert on archaeological DNA.
Taking into account the historical sources, we can also reasonably assume that ivory from Greenland also found its way to the Islamic world and Asia. Kyiv was a very important trading city in the Middle Ages, centrally located on the banks of Europe’s fourth longest river, the Dnipro, where traders from the north and south met.
“In the 12th century, Kyiv was a medieval metropolis and the capital of a state with an economy built on trade. Archaeological research shows that the largest amount of imported finds stem from the end of the 11th century and the 12th century,” says Khamaiko.
“What we’ve now discovered about the walrus bones shows that Kyiv was an unusually large trading center, with goods flowing through from distant parts of the world.”
Global trade network
It is conceivable that the ivory was sent from Greenland to trading hubs like Trondheim and Slesvig. The bone remains in Kyiv are in fact very similar to finds from these cities. From there they might have been sent across the Baltic Sea, on down the Dnipro and Volkhov rivers to Kyiv, and probably further south- and eastward from there.
“I find it pretty amazing to think these walruses found their way to such wide-reaching places, all the way from the Old Norse colonies in western Greenland,” says Star.
“Today we’re very aware that we live in a global economy. But these finds show that global trade networks actually have a really long history—maybe much longer than most people imagine,” says Star.
The results of the study are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
James H. Barrett et al, Walruses on the Dnieper: new evidence for the intercontinental trade of Greenlandic ivory in the Middle Ages, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.2773
Old Norse settlers traded walrus ivory with Kyiv (2022, June 16)
retrieved 16 June 2022
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Best telescopes under $500 of 2022
Published Jun 27, 2022 9:00 AM
Telescopes, in their basic function, are our connection to the stars. For millennia, humankind has gazed skyward with wonder into the infinite reaches of outer space. And as humans are a curious bunch, our ancestors devised patterns in the movements of celestial bodies and gave them names and built stories around them. The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, and Greeks indulged in star worship. But you don’t have to follow those lines to geek out over the vastness of the night sky. It’s just so cool. Fortunately, whatever your motivation for getting under the stars, there is an affordable option for you on our list of the best telescopes under $500.
- Best overall: Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ
- Best for viewing planets: Sky-Watcher Skymax 102mm Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope
- Best for astrophotography: William Optics Guide Star 61
- Best for kids: Orion Observer II 60mm AZ Refractor Telescope Starter Kit
- Best budget: Popular Science by Celestron Travel Scope 70 Portable Telescope
How we chose the best telescopes under $500
The under-$500 telescope market is crowded with worthy brands and models, so we looked at offerings in that price range from several well-known manufacturers in the space. After narrowing our focus based on personal experience, peer suggestions, critical reviews, and user impressions, we then considered aperture, focal length, magnification, build quality, and value to come up with these five models.
What to consider when buying the best telescopes under $500
To get the best views of the stars, planets, and other phenomena of outer space, not just any old telescope will get the job done. There are levels of quality and a wide range of price points and features to sort through before you can be sure you’re making the right purchase for what you want out of your telescope, whether it’s multi-thousands or one of the best telescopes under $500.
There are three types of optics available on consumer telescopes, and they will help you achieve three different goals. Refractor telescopes use a series of glass lenses to bring celestial bodies like the moon and near planets into focus easily. Reflector telescopes—also known as Newtonian scopes for their inventor, Sir Isaac Newton—swap lenses for mirrors and allow stargazers to see deeper into space. Versatile compound telescopes combine these two methods in a smaller, more portable form factor, with results that land right in the middle of the pack.
Photographers will recognize this one—like on a manual camera, the aperture controls the amount of light entering the telescope. Aperture is the diameter of the lens or the primary mirror, so a telescope with a large aperture draws more light than a small aperture, resulting in views into deeper space. F-ratio is the spec to watch here. Low f-ratios, such as f/4 or f/5, are usually best for wide-field observation and photography, while high f-ratios like f/15 can make deep-space nebulae and other bodies easier to see and capture. Midpoint f-ratios can get the job done for both.
All the lens and mirror power in the world won’t mean much if you attach your telescope to a subpar mount. In general, the more lightweight and portable the tripod mount, the more movement you’ll likely get while gazing or photographing the stars. Investing in a stable mount will improve the viewing experience. The two common mount types are alt-az (altitude-azimuth) and equatorial. Altazimuth mounts operate in the same way as a camera tripod, allowing you to adjust both axes (left-right, up-down), while equatorial mounts also tilt to make it easier to follow celestial objects.
The best telescopes under $500: Reviews & Recommendations
Best overall: Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ
Why it made the cut: Solid build and specs, paired with the remarkable StarSense Explorer app, make this telescope a perfect introduction to celestial observation.
- Focal length: 650mm
- Aperture: 130mm, f/5
- Magnification: 65x, 26x
- App aids in finding stars
- Easy to operate
- Steady altazimuth mount
- Eyepieces are both low power
Newbies to astronomy today can have a decidedly different experience than beginners who started stargazing before smartphones were a thing. Instead of carting out maps of the night sky to find constellations, the StarSense Explorer series from Celestron, including the DX 130AZ refractor, makes ample use of your device to bring you closer to the stars.
With your smartphone resting in the telescope’s built-in dock, the StarSense Explorer app will find your location using the device’s GPS and serve up a detailed list of celestial objects viewable in real-time. Looking for the Pleiades cluster? This app will tell you how far away it is from you and then lead you there with on-screen navigation. The app also includes descriptions of those objects and tips for observing them, as well as other useful info.
The StarSense Explorer ships with an altazimuth mount equipped with slow-moving fine-tuning controls for both axes so you can find your target smoothly. And for those times you want to explore the night sky without tethering a smartphone, the scope’s red dot finder will help you zero in on your targets. The two eyepieces, measuring 25mm and 10mm, are powerful enough to snag stellar views of the planets, but not quite enough to see the details a high-powered eyepiece would deliver.
Best for viewing planets: Sky-Watcher Skymax 102mm Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope
Why it made the cut: This telescope punches above its weight class in size and power, making it an ideal scope for viewing planets.
- Focal length: 1300mm
- Aperture: 102mm, f/12.7
- Magnification: 130x, 52x
- Great for viewing planets and galaxies
- Sharp focus and contrast
- Not ideal for deep-space viewing
Let’s be real—most consumers in the market for a moderately priced telescope are in it to gain spectacular views of the planets and galaxies, but probably not much else. And it’s easy to see why. Nothing makes celestial bodies come alive like viewing them in real-time, in all their colorful glory.
If that sounds like you, then allow us to direct you to the Sky-Watcher Skymax 102, a refracting telescope specializing in crisp views of objects like planets and galaxies with ample contrast to make them pop against the dark night sky. The Skymax 102 is based on a Maksutov-Cassegrains design that uses both mirrors and lenses, resulting in a heavy-hitting scope in a very compact and portable unit. A generous 102mm aperture pulls in plenty of light to illuminate the details in objects, and the 1300mm focal length results in intense magnification.
Two included wide-angle eyepieces measuring 25mm and 10mm deliver 130x and 52x magnification, respectively. The package also includes a red-dot finder, V-rail for mounting, 1.25-inch diagonal viewing piece, and a case for transport and storage. If you’re looking for pure colors across a perfectly flat field in a take-anywhere form factor, look no further.
Best for astrophotography: William Optics GuideStar 61
Why it made the cut: Top-notch specs and an enviable lens setup make this telescope ideal for astrophotography.
- Focal length: 360mm
- Aperture: f/5.9
- Magnification: 7x (with 2-inch eyepiece)
- Well-appointed specs
- Sturdy, durable construction
- Carrying case included
- Flattener is an extra purchase
Sometimes you want to share more than descriptions of what you see in the night sky, and that’s where this guidescope comes in, helping you to focus in on the best full-frame image. You can go as deep into the details (not to mention debt) as your line of credit will allow in your quest to capture the most impressive images of space. Luckily, though, this is a worthy option at a reasonable price.
The Williams Optics Guide Star 61 telescope is a refracting-type scope with a 360mm focal length, f/5.9 aperture and 61mm diameter well-suited to capturing sharp images of planets, moon, and bright deep-sky objects. The GS61 shares many specs with the now-discontinued Zenith Star 61, including focal length, aperture and diameter, as well as the FPL53 ED doublet lens for high-contrast images.
The scope’s optical tube is about 13 inches long and weighs just 3 lbs.—great for traveling with the included carrying case—with a draw-tube (push-pull) focuser for coarse focusing and a rotating lens assembly for fine focus. Attaching a DSLR camera to the Guide Star 61 is a fairly easy job, but note that the flattener for making that connection is a separate purchase.
Best for kids: Orion Observer II 60mm AZ Refractor Telescope Starter Kit
Why it made the cut: The entire package is designed to get kids exploring space right out of the box.
- Focal length: 700mm
- Aperture: 60mm, f/11.7
- Magnification: 70x, 28x
- Capable of detailed views of moon and planets
- Lightweight construction
- Lots of handy accessories
- Not enough optical power to reach deep space
Parents have a limited window of time to recognize and develop their kids’ interests. That’s what makes the Orion Observer II such a great buy. Seeing the craters on the moon or the rings of Saturn for the first time can not only affirm your kids’ curiosity about space but also expand their concept of the universe—and they can get those goosebumps while learning through this altazimuth refractor telescope.
The Orion Observer II is built to impressive specifications, with a 700mm focal length that provides 71x magnification for viewing the vivid details of planets in our solar system. True glass lenses (not plastic) are a bonus at this price point, and combined with either included Kellner eyepieces (25mm and 10mm), the telescope delivers crisp views of some of space’s most dazzling objects.
Kids and parents can locate celestial objects with the aid of the included red-dot finder. The kit also includes MoonMap 260, a fold-out map that directs viewers to 260 lunar features, such as craters, valleys, ancient lava flows, mountain ranges, and every U.S. and Soviet lunar mission landing sites. An included copy of Exploring the Cosmos: An Introduction to the Night Sky gives a solid background before they go stargazing. And with its aluminum tube and tripod, the entire rig is very portable, even for young ones, with a total weight of 4.3 lbs.
Best budget: Popular Science by Celestron Travel Scope 70 Portable Telescope
Why it made the cut: With its feature set, portability, and nice price point, this scope is ready for some serious stargazing without a serious investment.
- Focal length: 400mm
- Aperture: 70mm, f/5.7
- Magnification: 168x
- Bluetooth remote shutter release
- Ships with two eyepieces
- Pack included
- Lacks optical power for deep space
Getting out of town, whether you’re camping in the wilderness or taking a drive in the countryside, is one of the attractions of stargazing. Out in the great wide open, far away from streetlights, the stars explode even to the naked eye. Add a handy telescope like the Popular Science Celestron Travel Scope 70 Portable Telescope—our pick for the best portable telescope under $500—and you’ll see much farther into space. The fact that it’s as affordable as it is moveable just adds to the value.
The Popular Science Celestron Travel Scope 70 Portable Telescope is a well-equipped refractor telescope built for backpacking and adventuring but without skimping on cool gadgets. Whether you’re gazing at celestial or terrestrial objects, the smartphone adapter will aid you in capturing images with your personal device, with an included Bluetooth remote shutter release.
Designed with portability and weight in mind, the entire package fits into an included pack with a total of 3.3 lbs.—that includes the telescope, tripod stand, 20mm and 10mm eyepieces, 3x Barlow lens and more. Download Celestron’s Starry Night software to help you get the most from your astronomy experience.
Popular Science has teamed up with Celestron on a line of products. The decision to include this model in our recommendation was made by our reviewer independently of that relationship, but we do earn a commission on its sales—all of which helps power Popular Science.
Q: What is the most powerful telescope for home use?
The most powerful telescope for home use from this list is the Sky-Watcher Skymax 102, which tops out at 130x magnification with its included eyepieces.
Q: Is a 90mm telescope good?
Yes, a 90mm telescope is good for viewing planetary features like the rings of Saturn and the Great Red Spot on Jupiter.
Q: How much does a telescope cost?
The cost of a telescope varies depending on the brand, model, and construction but there are plenty of affordable options—like the ones on this list.
Q: How powerful does a telescope have to be to see planets?
A telescope with a minimum 60mm aperture has enough power to see planets.
Q: What size telescope do I need to see the rings of Saturn?
You can see the rings of Saturn with as low as a 60mm aperture.
Q: What size telescope do I need?
The size of telescope you need depends on what you want out of it. This list of best telescopes under $500 gives a good rundown on telescope types, sizes, and uses.
Final thoughts on the best telescopes under $500
Although this group of sub-$500 scopes is fairly diverse, the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ stands out in our best telescopes under $500 as the best place to start your interstellar journey due to its versatility and sky recognition app, which make for a fun evening of guided tours through the star patterns, no experience necessary.
Sort your entire photo library with this AI
This article was originally featured on Popular Photography.
I sometimes feel like the odd-photographer-out when it comes to working with my photo library. I’ve always seen the value of tagging images with additional metadata such as keywords and the names of people who appear (I’ve even written a book about the topic).
However, many people just don’t want to bother. It’s an extra step—an impediment really—before they can review, edit, and share their images. It requires switching into a word-based mindset instead of an image-based mindset. And, well, it’s boring.
And yet, there will come a time when you need to find something in your increasingly growing image collection, and as you’re scrolling through thumbnails and trying to remember dates and events from the past, you’ll think, “Maybe I should have done some keywording at some point.”
In an earlier column, I took a high-level look at utilities that use AI technologies to help with this task. One of the standouts was Excire Foto, which has just been updated to version 2.0 (and branded Excire Foto 2022). I was struck by its ability to automatically tag photos, and also the granularity you can use when searching for images. Let’s take it for a spin.
A few workflow notes
Excire Foto is a standalone app for macOS or Windows, which means it serves as your photo library manager. You point it at existing folders of images; you can also use the Copy and Add command to read images from a camera or memory card and save them to a location of your choice. If you use a managed catalog such as Lightroom or Capture One that tracks metadata in its own way, Excire Foto won’t work as well. A separate product, Excire Search 2, is a plug-in for Lightroom Classic.
Or, Excire Foto could be the first step in your workflow: import images into it, tag and rate them, save the metadata to a disk (more on that just ahead), and then ingest the photos into the managed photo editing app of your choice.
Since the app manages your library, it doesn’t offer any photo editing features. Instead, you can send an image to another app, such as Photoshop, but its edits are not round-tripped back to Excire Foto.
For my testing, I copied 12,574 photos (593 GB) from my main photo storage to an external SSD connected to my 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is configured with an M1 Max processor. Importing them into Excire Photo took about 38 minutes, which entailed adding the images to its database, generating thumbnail previews, and analyzing the photos for content. Performance will depend on hardware, particularly in the analysis stage, but it’s safe to say that adding a large number of photos is a task that can run while you’re doing something else or overnight. Importing a typical day’s worth of 194 images took less than a minute.
To me, those numbers are pretty impressive, considering the software is using machine learning to identify objects and scenes it recognizes. But still, do you really care about how long an app imports images? Probably not.
But this is what you will care about: In many other apps, the next step after importing would be to go through your images and tag them with relevant terms to make them easier to find later. In Excire Foto, at this point all the images include automatically generated keywords—much of the work is already done for you. You can then jump to reviewing the photos by assigning star ratings and color labels, and quickly pick out the keepers.
I know I sound like a great big photo nerd about this, but it’s exactly the type of situation where computational photography can make a big difference. To not care about keywords and still get the advantages of tagged photos without any extra work? Magic.
I find that Excire Foto does a decent-to-good job of identifying objects and characteristics in the photos. It doesn’t catch everything, and occasionally adds keywords that aren’t accurate. That’s where manual intervention comes in. You can manually delete keywords or add new ones to flesh out the metadata with tags you’re likely to search for later. For example, I like to add the season name so I can quickly locate autumn or winter scenes. Tags that the software applies appear with blue outlines, while tags you add show up with gray outlines. It’s also easy to copy and paste keywords among multiple images.
All of the metadata is stored in the app’s database, not with the images themselves, so you’re not cluttering up your image directories with app-specific files (a pet peeve of mine, perhaps because I end up testing so many different ones). If you prefer to keep the data with the files, you can opt to always use sidecar files, which writes the information to standard .XMP text files. Or, you can manually store the metadata in sidecar files for just the images you want.
Search that takes search seriously
The flip side of working with keywords and other metadata is how quickly things can get complicated. Most apps try to keep the search as simple as possible to appeal to the most people, but Excire Foto embraces multiple ways to search for photos.
A keyword search lets you browse the existing tags and group them together; as you build criteria, you can see how many matches are made before running the search. The search results panel also keeps recent searches available for quick access.
Or consider the ability to find people in photos. The Find Faces search gives you options for the number of faces that appear, approximate ages, the ratio of male to female, and a preference for smiling or not smiling expressions.
Curiously, the people search lacks the ability to name individuals. To locate a specific person you must open an image in which they appear, click the Find People button, select the box on the person’s face, and then run the search. You can save that search as a collection (such as “Jeff”), but it’s not dynamically updated. If you add new photos of that person, you need to manually add them to the collection.
It appears that the software isn’t necessarily built for identifying specific people, instead, it’s looking for shared characteristics based on whichever source image is chosen. Some searches on my face brought up hundreds of results, while others drew fewer hits.
Identifying Potential Duplicates
New in Excire Foto 2022 is a feature for locating duplicate photos. This is a tricky task because what you and I think of as a duplicate might not match what the software identifies. For instance, in my library, I was surprised that performing a duplicate search set to find exact duplicates brought up only 10 matches.
That’s because this criteria looks for images that are the exact same file, not just visually similar. Those photos turned out to be shots that were imported twice for some reason (indicated by their file names: DSCF3161.jpg and DSCF3161-2.jpg).
When I performed a duplicate search with the criteria set to Near Duplicates: Strict, I got more of what I expected. In the 1007 matches, many were groups of burst photos and also a selection of image files where I’d shot in Raw+JPEG mode and both versions were imported. The Duplicate Flagging Assistant includes the ability to reject non-Raw images, or in the advanced options you can drill down and flag photos with more specific criteria such as JPEGs with the short edges measuring less than 1024 pixels, for example.
As with all duplicate finding features, the software’s job is primarily to present you with the possible matches. It’s up to you to review the results and determine which images should be flagged or tossed.
It’s always tempting to jump straight to editing images, but ignoring metadata catches us out at some point. When a tool such as Excire Foto can shoulder a large portion of that work, we get to spend more time on editing, which is the more exciting part of the post-production process, anyway.
A week behind the wheel of the most powerful muscle car you can buy
The contemporary Dodge Challenger has long been known as the most honest interpretation of a modern muscle car. Ford’s Mustang ostensibly had the segment to itself when Dodge introduced the retro-inspired machine back in 2008 (the Chevrolet Camaro had bowed out in 2002 and wouldn’t return until 2010), and by that time Ford was beginning to shift the Mustang’s focus away from its muscle car roots toward that of a more svelte, high-revving sports coupe.
Dodge chose to take a different approach when reviving the Challenger nameplate, shortening and widening their existing LX full-size sedan architecture to give the car the right physical proportions as well as a significantly larger footprint. The strategy contributed to the Challenger’s additional poundage versus its rivals, which negatively affected its performance potential, but it also endowed it with more usable storage and interior space as well as greater overall presence—factors that helped the Challenger become the top seller in its segment for the first time in history last year.
It wasn’t an overnight sensation, though. Soon after its debut the Challenger faced stiff competition from both Ford and Chevrolet as they dished out ever-more-capable iterations of the Mustang and Camaro. But over time, Dodge engineers refined the Challenger formula, and by 2018, they had a legitimate world-beater with the Challenger SRT Demon.
Billed as a drag car for the street, the 840-horsepower Demon was the quickest production car ever built, capable of hitting 60 miles per hour in 2.3 seconds on the way to a National Hot Rod Association-certified quarter mile time of 9.65 seconds. And if you got the launch just right, the Demon would even pop a wheelie.
But production of the Demon was limited to just 3,300 cars for the United States and Canada for a single model year, and it didn’t take long for Dodge to fill the order books. While the Demon’s engine and other powertrain components lived on in slightly-detuned form in the more street-friendly 797-hp Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye, many would-be Demon customers were still left wanting a more purposeful street-legal drag car to call their own.
But now, after something of a grace period for Demon owners (along with COVID-related production delays), Dodge has unleashed the Challenger SRT Super Stock. Not bound by production limits, the Super Stock basically serves as a middle ground between the Jack-of-all-trades Hellcat Redeye and the bonkers, limited-edition Demon, and it comes packing an array of performance hardware that’s aimed at getting this Challenger down the drag strip quicker than the car in the other lane. But Dodge also insists that the Super Stock isn’t a “Diet Demon.” We decided to spend a week with the 807-horsepower brute to suss out exactly what the new package entails.
Meet the Super Stock
Taking its moniker from a drag-racing class designed for highly modified production cars, the Super Stock package brings a variety of upgrades that go above and beyond the standard Challenger SRT Hellcat. It starts with the big fender flares that come as part of the Widebody package, a treatment that stretches the car’s overall width by three and a half inches in order to accommodate the 315mm-wide Nitto NT05R drag radials that are outfitted at all four corners.
Those tires are wrapped around the same 18×11-inch wheels that the Demon rolled around on, rather than the 20-inch wheels that are normally standard equipment on Hellcat models. Although the smaller wheel diameter allows for more tire sidewall in the same amount of space, providing a mechanical advantage during drag racing launches, the big six-piston Brembo calipers and 15.7-inch rotors that comprise the Challenger SRT Hellcat’s standard front brake system wouldn’t fit behind the smaller wheels. In order to make it all work, Dodge engineers had to switch the smaller Brembo system that was used on the Demon, which consists of 14.2-inch discs and four-piston calipers.
The Super Stock also rides on a set of uniquely tuned, electronically-controlled Bilstein dampers that help the suspension make better use of the sticky drag tires, but it’s not equipped with the Demon’s other unique suspension components, like its drag-tuned springs and light weight sway bars. Although the Demon was civil out on the street, its suspension tuning prioritized weight transfer to rear wheels above all else for more consistent drag launches, and it resulted in less body control during other maneuvers like cornering and braking.
The Super Stock, meanwhile, gets a more conventional suspension tune that’s closer in line with the standard Hellcat Redeye, and it gives the car a more buttoned-down feel overall.
But as with all high-performance Challengers, what lurks under the hood is the real star of the show. Here it’s a modified version of the Hellcat Redeye’s supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8. The engine normally makes 797 horsepower and 707 pound-feet of torque, but the Super Stock gets a unique software calibration that raises the redline from 6,300 rpm to 6,400 rpm and bumps the peak output to a healthy 807 horsepower. Also along for the ride is the SRT Power Chiller that debuted on the Demon, a system that diverts refrigerant from the air conditioning system to cool air-intake temperatures for better on-track performance. All of that grunt is routed to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that offers different shift scheduling and overall behavior based on the drive mode selected.
[Related: Meet the Hurricane, a new twin-turbocharged engine by Stellantis]
The Super Stock also comes packing plenty of go-fast tech to help put all of that power to good use. Although it eschews the Demon’s finicky Trans Brake feature (which allows the engine to build torque while remaining stationary for more forceful launches by locking the output shaft), it does come with a variety of other tricks that are aimed squarely at getting the car to efficiently put the muscle to the pavement. Along with a standard launch control system that holds the engine revs at a specified level until you side-step the brake pedal, the Super Stock also has Launch Assist, a system that’s designed to detect and eliminate oscillations in the rear suspension as the car is accelerating.
Also on hand is Torque Reserve, which allows the supercharged engine to build boost pressure while the car is stationary, and a Race Cooldown mode that’s designed to minimize the effects of supercharger heat soak by keeping the engine fans and low-temperature circuit coolant pump running after the engine has been shut down. Also aiding in the pursuit of quick quarter mile times is the drag-focused Track drive mode which, among other adjustments, tweaks the shocks’ compression and rebound characteristics to provide better traction when launching the car from a standstill.
Push the big red button
Our loaded tester vehicle ($97,711 with destination fee) was outfitted with several optional packages that bring suede-like Alcantara and real carbon fiber into the interior, but the cabin is otherwise mostly standard Challenger fare. The good news is that the Super Stock is just as comfortable for long stints behind the wheel as any SRT Challenger we’ve come across since 2015, and there’s still acres of head and leg room, even for taller passengers. And if this particular example were optioned with a back seat, it would probably be just as usable as the back seats in other Challenger models that we’ve tested, too. (Like the Demon, the rear seat of the Super Stock can be deleted for one dollar to shave off some weight for better performance. If so optioned, a cargo net is installed in its place.)
Although the Challenger’s infotainment looks a bit dated by contemporary standards, it has seen a number of hardware and software updates since the 8.4-inch Uconnect 4 system debuted in 2015. As a result it still offers an intuitive menu layout and fast response to user inputs, and the SRT Dashboard works well as a centralized pathway into all of the car’s different performance parameters, drive modes, and telemetry data. But it’s still a generation behind the latest Uconnect systems in vehicles like the Dodge Durango and Ram 1500, and it’s a bummer that the Challenger still lacks modern features like wireless Apple CarPlay.
A lot of problems seem to vanish when you push the big red ignition button, though. A cold start brings the supercharged Hemi V8 to life with a quintessential muscle car roar, but once everything comes up to operating temperature, the active exhaust system settles down to rumble that’s a bit more neighborhood-friendly.
[Related: A unique new ‘Nettuno’ engine powers this $212,000 Maserati]
If you can keep your foot out of it, driving the Super Stock around town in the default Auto drive mode can be a surprisingly mellow experience. The suspension isn’t quite as compliant as the Demon’s super-soft spring rates were, but the ride quality is arguably better than a standard Hellcat Redeye thanks to the additional sidewall offered by those big drag radials. Meanwhile the eight-speed automatic works quietly in the background to ensure it’s in the most efficient gear when the car is in its default drive mode.
Prod it with some throttle, though, and this muscle car reveals its true nature. A deliberate stab of the loud pedal delivers sonic savagery from the V8 and its twin-screw blower, and despite the ultra-wide drag rubber, the Super Stock will light up the tires at freeway speeds before the electronics intervene to collect everything back up.
On a drag strip surface with the right technique, the Super Stock is capable of hitting 60 mph from a standstill in 3.25 seconds on the way to a 10.5-second quarter mile time, and it won’t let up until it hits its electronically-limited top speed of 168 mph. (A standard Challenger Hellcat Redeye will blow past 200 mph before it runs out of steam, but the design of the drag radial tires limits terminal velocity to 168 mph.)
Replicating those acceleration numbers isn’t a simple point-and-shoot affair, though. Even if launch control is set conservatively for the conditions, the drag radial will still go up in smoke if the road surface or other situational circumstances aren’t quite to the Super Stock’s liking, so extracting its full potential tends to take a bit of trial and error. But if you get it right, this big coupe is capable of rivaling some of the quickest performance cars on the market today. It’s also surprisingly good in the corners thanks to the abundance of grip on tap, but the downgraded brakes keep spirited runs through the canyons fairly brief.
As with most modern Challengers, the Super Stock is really in its element when you’re out cruising or blasting down the highway. While the package brings a stronger focus on drag strip performance, the Super Stock is still more of an everyday hot rod than a purpose-built drag strip terror. And even though the platform’s age has been showing for some time now, it still delivers muscular charm by the bucketful.
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