My 9.5-pound observatory

June 27, 2016


In the last post I introduced my new small scope, the PICO-6 60mm Mak-Cass. After having a positive first light, I decided the scope was good enough to be the center of a new travel observing kit. Here’s the scope mounted on a Universal Astronomics DwarfStar alt-az head and a Manfrotto CXPRO4 Carbon Fiber Tripod.


Here’s the kit broken down. The case is an AmazonBasics Medium DSLR Gadget Bag, which Doug Rennie helpfully put me on to. The Pocket Sky Atlas and small Night Sky planisphere go in the back pocket. In front of the bag from left to right:


Here’s everything packed away. This was just a first pass. The final arrangement I came to is as follows:

  • The left-hand slot holds the DwarfStar head with the handle removed and stowed separately, as shown here, and the 6mm eyepiece in its cardboard box, wrapped in a small piece of bubble wrap.
  • The middle slot holds only the PICO-6 OTA, just as shown here.
  • The right-hand slot holds the 32mm Plossl and the 8-24mm zoom eyepiece on the bottom, both of them in the beige metal cases that the zoom eyepieces come in (I had a spare). The tops of the two cases form a horizontal shelf which holds the diagonal, wrapped up in a small drawstring bag.
  • Finally, a piece of bubble wrap goes across the tops of all three slots and gets tucked in at the edges and corners.

Oh, the vertical dividers in the case are held in with velcro so they can be adjusted or removed as needed.


For flight, the tripod can go in a backpack or in checked luggage, and the AmazonBasics case goes as my carry-on “additional item”. The tripod weighs 3.5 lbs, the fully-packed case weighs 6. For a total of 9.5 lbs, I have a full-size tripod, a smooth, variable-resistance alt-az head, eyepieces giving magnifications of 22x, 29-88x, and 117x, a scope which will show the Cassini Division and split Epsilon Lyrae, a planisphere, and a mag 7.6 all-sky atlas.

Oklahoma dig

This past week I was out at Black Mesa, at the northwestern corner of the Oklahoma panhandle, to dig up dinosaurs. I took the whole kit, and I used it. On Sunday night I showed half a dozen people the moons of Jupiter, the ice caps of Mars, the rings of Saturn, a couple of double stars, and the full moon. Monday night I was too pooped for stargazing. Tuesday I spend a couple of hours observing with my parents and a couple of other visitors who were also staying at the Black Mesa Bed & Breakfast. We looked at the same run of stuff as I had Sunday evening, plus a couple more double stars, the open clusterM7, and the False Comet Cluster in southern Scorpio, which is a visual amalgam of the open clusters NGC 6231 and Trumpler 24. After that, we were clouded out for the rest of the week, but it was still more than worth it to have the little scope along.

Verdict: an amazingly flexible and capable setup. I look forward to many more adventures with it.


Here’s one more shot from the road. Nothing telescopic – on Thursday morning the rising sun was accompanied by a pair of sun dogs. This is a raw shot with my iPhone 5c. The best sun dogs I’ve ever seen in my life.


  1. i also whant to have a pico6 🙂

  2. It looks like a very mobile observatory! 😀

  3. Matt,

    I really love your travel observatory. May I ask what prompted you to go with the pico-6 over the pico-8? There doesn’t seem to be that much in form factor and the extra aperture seems as though it would be handy.

    Also, Since I haven’t seem many reviews on either pico, I wondered what you thought of them for DSOs?

    You had almost convinced me to buy a SV50, so now I am in a real quandary.

  4. Hi Matthew,

    I picked the PICO-6 out of curiosity. I’ve had 90mm Maks and figured an 80mm wouldn’t be that different, but a 60mm would be something new.

    For DSOs, as long as you have reasonably dark skies and stick to the Messiers/better Caldwells/110 Best of the NGC, you should get recognizable but unspectacular views. In light-polluted skies, or when chasing truly faint fuzzies, the views will be disappointing.

    If you can swing the extra dough, the PICO-6 is vastly more capable than the SV-50.

  5. […] and DwarfStar alt-az mount that I have previously only used for much smaller scopes (example 1, example 2). Orion was going down over LA so it was pretty stinky, but I still had a long look at both the […]

  6. […] securely and comfortably on my Manfrotto CXPRO4 plus DwarfStar rig, because that is an eminently flight-worthy mount and tripod combo. BUT the previous testing was just a short session in the driveway. I was curious to see how the […]

  7. […] a hardcore observer, you’re probably going to want a range of tools to fit different observing settings and different targets. And you may want to try out loads of scopes, on the chance that the next one […]

  8. So, I bought my wife a Skyscanner100 for xmas (thought it might be an interesting hobby for us) and it turns out shes quite crazy about it. I chose that telescope because of your writings, and because of its size, we like to do a lot of camping. Now that she is getting so into it, I am also quite intrigued and have decided to get something for myself. I would like something small that won’t break the bank, and that will compliment the SkyScanner. Am I right in thinking that this Pico-6 could be a nice compliment to hers?


  9. Hi Dayne, thanks for stopping by! I’m so happy that my writing played some small role in you and your wife finding your way into this wonderful hobby – that made my day.

    You are absolutely correct that a small Mak would be a good complement to the SkyScanner. The SkyScanner is perfect for low-power, widefield scanning, but it is going to hit its limit pretty quickly on the moon and planets. A small Mak will excel on solar system targets but do less well on the deep sky, with its smaller aperture and narrower field of view. So the two should click together like puzzle pieces, each one strongest where the other is weakest.

    With all that said, I wouldn’t get a PICO-6. Compared to the many excellent 90mm Maks out there, it’s too small, too finicky, and too expensive for what you get. I got mine for two reasons: the tiny, _tiny_ observing package described in this post (which is the rationalization), and because I’m a sucker for little Maks and kinda feel the need to collect them all (the real reason). If you get a PICO-6 you’ll still need a mount of some kind, and most mounts that can handle a 1.5-lb PICO-6 will also handle a 3.5-lb C90 or equivalent. The Celestron C90 has been getting rave reviews lately, and the Orion StarMax 90 comes nicely equipped for not much more. I think you’d be pretty happy with either one. I have several friends who own C90s, and I’ve owned several of the Orion/Synta 90mm Maks, and all of them have been good performers.

    Good luck with the quest. If you do get a little Mak, I’d love to hear how it works out.

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