A new telescope made its debut at a recent public star party. I liked it so much I went out the next day and bought one for myself. Yes I'm talking about the f/4 4.5-inch Orion StarBlast reflector.
The telescope, which was reviewed in the June 2003 Sky and Telescope magazine, retails for $149.00. SJAA members can get the club discount from the Cupertino store.
That price includes an Orion red-dot EZ Finder reflex sight, which retails for $34.95, and two Explorer II (Kellner) eyepieces, which retail for $27.95 each. It also comes with a collimation cap (similiar to a Rigel a-line collimation device) which fits into the focuser for easy collimation of the telescope.
The Orion catalog markets this telescope for kids, and I agree - it is a telescope for kids of all ages. I used my StarBlast at a May 15 Project Astro lunar eclipse school star party, and the little scope provided great 25x and 75x views of the moon to a hundred kids and parents. Then the next weekend, May 20-23, I brought the StarBlast to Lake Sonoma for some deep sky views. I observed 24 Messier objects, including all the Messiers in the Virgo realm of galaxies, that first night. M51, the Whirlpool galaxy in Canes Venatici, looked awesome! Both components were easily visible. The magnitude 9 Leo Trio, M65, M66 and NGC 3628 were easy to find, and nice to look at, too. NGC 3628 looked like a little edge-on sliver. Spiral M65 looked like a little oval. M66 is the "fattest" of the trio of spirals, with some central bulge and a hint of spiral arm showing. Halton Arp included M66 in his catalog of peculiar galaxies as ARP 16 and this whole trio is Arp 317. The 17mm eyepiece, aimed at the Beehive cluster, provided dozens of stars in pretty trios and lines.
The next weekend I thought I should share the telescope with a real kid! So Larissa, the 9-year-old daughter of my friends Peter and Barbara Schumacher, obliged me at Fremont Peak. It didn't take any arm-twisting at all. We set the telescope on the sturdy picnic table outside the FPOA observatory, and settled in for two hours worth of observing. The picnic table made a great observing spot, with room for the observer to sit on the table next to the telescope, with eyepiece box and a star chart nearby. There was plenty of foot room on the picnic table bench for balance and for feet. It was comfortable to aim and view through the 18-inch tube. Larissa enjoyed lining up a selection of three eyepieces in the StarBlast eyepiece rack, too. I must admit she didn't like the view though the 6mm Kellner, and asked me if I had another 6mm she could use. I offered a 6mm Vixen Lanthanum, and she was happy.
As Mojo aimed the FPOA 30-inch Challenger telescope at object after object, Larissa looked at where the 30-inch was pointed and with a little help sometimes (with a green laser pointer) she star hopped to the same objects in the StarBlast. Some of the objects Larissa found in the StarBlast were M104, the Sombrero galaxy, M87 in Virgo, M86 and 84 in Virgo, M82 and 81 in Ursa Major. She also found the Whirlpool galaxy and Jupiter early in the evening. And she easily aimed at the naked eye visible Beehive cluster, M44 and the Coma Berenices star cluster, Melotte 111.
Later, she hopped to M20 the Trifid nebula, M8, the Lagoon, M24, the Sagittarius star cloud, and scanned other parts of the Milky Way. Oh, in scanning, she chanced upon the Swan nebula, M17. I can't remember what else she looked at, but her observing log had 13 objects on it by the time she was ready for a well-deserved snooze at 11:30 p.m.
Then, I went back to my 17.5-inch f/4.5 telescope for some projects of my own. When Larissa and her family left for their Fremont Peak campsite, I pointed out the rising planet Mars to her. I'm willing to bet she'll want to use the StarBlast again!
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