During the Summer of 2013 I started learning the constellations and viewing the night sky from my back yard with a pair of 8×40 binoculars. While these show many more stars than can be seen by eye and are great for viewing wide fields, I quickly became interested in closer views of the Moon, planets, and brighter deep sky objects, and began looking for a small telescope.
I wasn’t sure how much use a telescope would see and I didn’t want to dedicate space to a large one so I was drawn to Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes, which are among the most compact designs, have a reputation for excellent optical performance, and are well suited to viewing the kinds of subjects I was interested in observing.
I found that the Orion StarMax 90mm (that’s the Orion link, here it is at Amazon) and Celestron C90 (B&H, Amazon) both had many good reviews and seemed to offer great value. They are both made by Synta Optical and use a very similar Optical Tube Assembly (OTA). The main reason I preferred the StarMax was that the included accessories seemed more useful for looking at the sky than those that come with the C90, which is configured as a terrestrial spotting scope.
So in late September of 2013, I purchased the Orion StarMax 90mm Mak as my first telescope. What follows are my impressions from using the telescope over the past year and a half.
My OneSky travelscope in action. This photo was taken before adding the shroud described below.
The surest way to improve any telescope’s performance is to get it out under a darker sky. Living in suburban Massachusetts I’d have to drive significant distances to get to skies much darker than the one available from my red zone backyard. The darkest skies I regularly encounter are on family trips to rural areas.
Of course trying to fit a telescope into a car already packed with the whole family and all the associated cargo can be a challenge. Thus begins the search for a more portable telescope or travelscope. To my thinking a travelscope can be any telescope setup that prioritizes volume and/or weight over other concerns such as aperture or mount stability. Every one has their own circumstances and priorities and so travelscopes can look quite different from observer to observer.
As I mentioned in the general review of the AWB OneSky Telescope, my intent when buying the OneSky was to use it primarily as a travelscope. The OneSky appealed to me for its packed aperture to volume ratio and ease of setup.
The DwarfStar along side 2″ 38mm SWA and 1.25″ 32mm Plossl eyepieces. This photo shows the saddle rotated so the handle mounting block is within the profile of the head for minimum packed size.
A compact but sturdy mount is the foundation of any quick grab or travel observing setup. A mount that is light weight but overly shaky at the eyepiece can sap the joy out of observing, while a solid but heavy mount can be a chore to transport and deploy. When looking for a portable mount to use with small telescopes the path between these two extremes can be a fine line to tread.
Universal Astronomics is a small, New England based manufacturer of astronomical mounts. While researching the options for well built, manual alt-az mounts their products seemed widely recommended so I decided to take a closer look at their line-up. After spending some time on the UA web site and contacting the owner, Larry Patriarca, for his recommendations I chose the DwarfStar for my purposes.