As you all probably know, Joni and I are (OK, I am) in the process of revamping our telescope collection. After months of fooling around with the Celestron 925 SGT that Joni purchased before the last Black Forest Star Party, I determined that it was too much telescope for either of us to be moving around. It is a chore for me to lift the OTA onto the mount and polar align it, let alone Joni doing so on nights that I am not around. I have made a purchase that should give similar views and be easier to move around, and it will be the subject of at least two future newsletter articles.
I decided that it was time to sell all of the telescopes that would not be needed after the new acquisition, both to make more room in the house, and to finance the purchase of the new telescope. What I did not count on was the fact that having a smaller grab-n-go is still a “nice to have,” but I had already sold the ETX-70. I decided to try out the Orion StarBlast 4.5” f4 Newtonian. Most of the reviews have stated that not only is it a great starter scope, but also is good enough to be a portable grab-n-go for serious astronomers. I wandered on out to Rider’s Hobby where John K. was happy to accommodate my needs.
I got the telescope home and unboxed it. It was pretty much ready for action out of the box. One only needs to affix the “red-dot” finder and plop in one of the supplied (17mm and 6mm) Kellner eyepieces and you’re on your way. Well, almost.
First things first. The collimation was WAY off. Now, a newbie setting this scope up for the first time would probably not know anything about this problem, and the instructions are fairly clear but most likely confusing to someone without experience. The only thing supplied with the scope for this purpose is a “collimating cap” which is essentially a poor man’s Cheshire. The optical path was far enough out of line that it took me 1/2 hour to get it straight, with iterations of Cheshire-Laser-Cheshire-Laser until things were aligned. I don’t know what the views would have been like without properly collimating it, but my guess is that they would not have been good.
Now, off to observe. First light came that very night (unusual for Michigan and a new scope). It was actually early (3 AM) the next morning and Jupiter was riding high. I set the little guy up on my roll-a-table, which is not all that stable, but, amazingly, everything worked out fine. I attempted to align the “red-dot” and found that, between the cold temps and operator error, I could not get it exactly aligned. It stayed about 1 degree under the target. So I used this fudge factor and motored on. The skies were not that great, with transparency ~ 6/10 and seeing ~ 4/10. Jupiter looked good, though, with both the supplied eyepieces (more on those later). I tried unsuccessfully to locate M65 & 66 but did spy some brighter galaxies in the Virgo cluster. I also stumbled across 81 & 82, which actually looked pretty good too. I was pretty satisfied for the first night out with this little “toy.”
Next, improvement. I decided to add my Rigel QuikFind TM to the scope, which meant rotating the tube “upside-down,” but it fit perfectly. I removed the “red-dot” finder for the time being and probably will never re-install it. Some people like them, and, like any other such item, I imagine that it is what you get used to that you use the most. After many nights with the PortaBall, I’ve become a Rigel guy. I threw out the Kellner eyepieces. No eye relief, and looking through the 6mm was worse than looking through a straw. More like looking through one of those little coffee stirrers. I decided that my next observing session would be with the Orion Expanse set.
Second light. Unbelievably, 2 AM the next night/morning was pretty much the same as the last, so I hauled the little scope back out and went to work. With the Rigel and the Expanse eyepieces, things were much easier to find and I saw lots of really great stuff. The “Realm of the Galaxies” was alive with puffs of far away star gatherings. I saw around a dozen, just scanning through the area with the 6mm Expanse, including M65 & 66. What a joy having a nice eyepiece with some decent eye relief. M81 & 82 were so much easier to find, and so much brighter.
The verdict. For a low cost starter scope, the StarBlast is definitely worth a look. The motions in both Alt and Az are reasonably good, and can be easily adjusted to taste. The optics, when properly aligned, are better than anything else I’ve seen in this price range. I did a star test on Regulus and the primary shows a very slight bit of coma where the optics might be pinched. Not enough to bother either me or the views. Planetary views looked good at 75x and were better than the ETX, and almost as good as the f10 C5 SCT.
I have a feeling that I’ll be using this scope a lot when I’m in the mood for observing at the same time the laziness bug bites.