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SkyScanning in Utah – and Claremont

July 25, 2016
SkyScanner in classroom

Everyone should have one of these.

I’ve been interested in Orion’s SkyScanner 100 tabletop Dob ever since 2012, when I got to look through the SkyScanners owned by Terry Nakazono and Doug Rennie. In particular, the evening I spent stargazing with Doug up in Oregon that October is in my short list of all-time favorite observing sessions. See that observing report here, and be sure to check out Terry’s guest post on the SkyScanner 100 here.

After spending literally years contemplating the purchase, what finally tipped me into SkyScanner ownership was my own forgetfulness. On July 3 I was driving to Utah to spend 10 days hunting dinosaurs with friends and colleagues. I knew I’d want some dark-sky time so I packed my C80ED, eyepiece case, sky atlas, and binoculars. About the time I hit Barstow – just too far to turn around and go back – I realized that I’d forgotten to pack a mount and tripod. So my choices were to roll with binos only, or come up with Plan B on the fly.

The number of dedicated telescope stores on the direct route between Barstow and Moab continues to hover near zero. However, I was already planning to pass through Flagstaff, which has the Lowell Observatory, which has a gift shop. I called ahead: did they have any telescopes in stock? Why, yes, the Orion XT8 and SkyScanner 100, and both were 10% off as part of a holiday weekend promo. Not long after, I had a SkyScanner in the back seat of the car and a song in my heart.

Matt with SkyScanner 100 at July 2016 PVAA meeting

Demonstrating how the SkyScanner can ride on any tripod with a 1/4 or 3/8 bolt.

I spent that first night in Bluff, Utah, after having driven through Monument Valley, which I’d never visited before. Bluff is truly remote – the nearest towns with more than 5000 people are Moab (5046), 100 miles north, and Kayenta, Arizona (5189), 68 miles southwest. So the skies are inky dark. I rolled in pretty late and I really needed to get some rack, but there was zero chance that I was going to pass up first light for the SkyScanner under those jet-black southern Utah skies. I drove about five miles outside of town and pulled over on a dirt road.

The sky was just incredible, even better than out on Santa Cruz Island back in June. Again, the Milky Way looked like an astrophoto and the Messiers in Scorpio, Scutum, and Sagittarius were almost all naked-eye visible (minus a few of the minor globs). I did look at a handful of things with the SkyScanner, and they all looked fine, but honestly I spent more time with my 10×42 binos and even more time than that just staring around with my naked eyes. In skies like that, a telescope can almost be a distraction.

Still, I’m glad I got that first light session in on the evening of the 3rd, because opportunities would be thin for a while. I did set up the scope on the 4th of July, on the trunk of the car in the driveway of my friends’ place in Moab, and we looked at a few things, but everyone was pretty pooped after a day of hunting dinosaurs and partying so we didn’t push very late. And after that, the sky was at least partly cloudy for most of a week.

Finally on the evening of July 10th we got nice, clear skies. I drove out southeast of Moab on the La Sal Loop Road with a couple of new friends and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours rocking through the best and brightest. The SkyScanner performed like a champ.

Howard Karl and Matt at July 2016 PVAA meeting

Karl Rijkse (center) shows his heirloom German binoculars to Howard Maculsay (left) and me.

I’ve only had it out a couple of times since betting back to Claremont, both times for quick peeks. As a grab-n-go scope it is, as far as I’m concerned, unparalleled. With an assembled weight of just over 6 lbs, it is the definition of a one-hander. The tabletop tripod works great, very smooth, and the rubber feet provide a good grip even on the precarious edge of a sloping car hood. And it goes on my Manfrotto tripod (3.5 lbs) for a 10-pound setup that’s perfect for a long session seated or standing.

As you can see from the photos (kindly provided by Terry Nakazono), I took the SkyScanner to last Friday night’s meeting of the Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers, where it drew a lot of interest. I was going to set up the scope outside after the meeting so we could all have a look at Saturn, but the night sky was almost completely blocked out by smoke from the wildfires and the air quality was terrible, so we packed it in. I think I’ll get in the habit of taking the scope to meetings so we can do a little observing after – it’s always seemed to me that an astronomy club should have at least one working scope at each meeting.

Here’s my number one thought regarding the SkyScanner 100: how extremely stupid of me not to have gotten one sooner. If you’re interested in this scope and you’re on the fence, just do it. Heck, if you’re shopping for a big scope and you’re not sure what you want, get a SkyScanner to keep you busy in the meantime. It’s an insane amount of scope – and mount – for a little over a hundred bucks.

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12 comments

  1. Nice report! How difficult is it to collimate this little guy? My understanding is that the faster the f/ratio, the more important precise collimation is to excellent viewing. Also, how do you compare it to, say, something like the Orion ST-80? Sure, it’s got a little more aperture and no chromatic aberration, but I love the heck out of my little three-pound refractor, and no collimation needed! I know it’s a widefield scope, but did you take it up past the 40x you get with the included 10mm EP, and if so, how were the views?


  2. Hi Jon – what I did on mine was to center spot the primary (parabolic) mirror and then just adjust the three tilt screws on the secondary holder to collimate. Compared to the ST80, it’ll provide slightly brighter views and pull-in more dimmer deep-sky stuff. I did a test between the two scopes a while back.


  3. I have this as my primary scope – I’ve been really impressed with it, although I don’t have a lot to compare it to – my other scope is a 90mm refractor – so probably fairly similar with respect to light gathering, once you factor in the obstruction – but what I really like is the super wide field of view I get with it. I actually bought mine a couple of years ago based on Terry’s comments on this blog and on Cloudy Nights. Terry – one question (sorry, don’t know much about this stuff) – to collimate based on the secondary holder – are you just looking to get the center ring in the middle of the secondary mirror? Or is there more to it than that?


  4. Hi Jim – you would use a collimation cap or simple Cheshire eyepiece inserted on the focuser end to insure that the two mirrors are aligned/collimated.


  5. Thanks Terry – I’ll give that a shot (although for DSOs the collimation I currently have looks pretty good – although again I don’t have much to compare it with).


  6. Regarding collimation – I haven’t center-spotted mine yet, but it’s on the to-do list. It arrived a touch out of collimation but nothing ghastly. I used my laser collimator to get it pretty close to dead-on.

    Thanks, Jon, for asking about the magnification – I should have mentioned that in the post! I actually haven’t used it with the included EPs yet. I had a whole case of nice eyepieces with me in Utah so I used those instead. The 5mm Meade MWA 100-degree gave a very satisfying view at 80x – in fact, it’s my go-to high-power eyepiece with this scope, and they play very well together. The scope will split Epsilon Lyrae, which is my rough rule of thumb for acceptable optical quality in a small scope. Haven’t pushed it past 100x yet.

    Funny you should mention your Short Tube 80 – I am thinking of picking up an ST80 OTA to use with this mount, it’s just so versatile and easy to use.

    I do have a lot of hacks and upgrades planned for the scope:
    – I want to put an actual handle on the single-arm base to make it even easier to pick up and carry;
    – I think there’s juuuuust enough room to put a three-hole eyepiece rack on if I mount it diagonally, so I can make a little kit of EPs that will just live with the scope;
    – I’m going to drill new holes for the dovetail to put the focuser and the dot finder base both facing upwards at a diagonal, because the straight-up focuser and straight-sideways RDF base are driving me nuts;
    – I’m probably going to hack the primary mirror so it can be collimated. As shipped, secondary collimation is all you get, and the primary doesn’t even have a collimatable cell. However, I heard from some folks on CN that you can use a circular file to extend the holes for the little bolts that hold the primary mirror cell into the tube. Then by loosening those bolts you can shimmy the primary around to adjust its collimation.

    So I’ll probably be completely disassembling and reassembling the scope this week. I’ll take pictures and post them soon.


  7. Matt, looking forward to seeing the mods you make on this scope!
    I’ll need to get a wide field 5mm EP to use on my fast scopes – I prefer doing this than using a Barlow to reach high magnifications.

    Jim – is your 90mm the Astromaster 90EQ, where you commented on the wobbliness of the CG-3 mount (EQ-2 class) a while back?


  8. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your mods as well – but mine is working pretty well as far as I can tell, so I’m a little nervous about taking things apart and making things worse :-). I think I can probably handle center-spotting though – although good to know that I can maybe just find someone with a laser collimator and get pretty close…

    Terry – my 90mm is a Meade on an AZ mount (the AZ ADR). The images are nice – but compared to the Skyscanner, it really is like looking through a straw. The included eyepieces (Skyscanner) are OK – but I usually use a super wide angle 20mm ep that I got online somewhere – it has a 70 deg FOV, which in the Skyscanner is a whole lot of sky.


  9. Thanks Jim – just looked up your scope online. At least it makes a good higher-magnification compliment to the wider field SkyScanner.
    The slow motion controls on the alt-azimuthal mount are a really nice feature too. Good for the planets and smaller (and fainter) DSOs that require higher magnifications.

    My Astromaster 90EQ has a slightly longer focal length – 1000mm (F/11.1) – compared to the Meade AZ ADR (900mm or F/9.8).


  10. […] for a little over a hundred bucks. I recommend the Orion SkyScanner 100 – see this and this for more […]


  11. The sky over Bluff Utah is simply stunning! I get through there periodically with my 18-wheeler. I pull over at the intersection of US191 and US163 where there is room for me to park next to the quarry. I stopped there one night when my late wife was on a ride along. I shut off all of the lights for a few minutes. She asked what we were doing. I just said “let’s get out for a minute”. When she got a look at the sky, she nearly fell over in amazement. She always remembered that as “the night you gave me the stars”.


  12. That is a beautiful story – thanks for sharing it with us!



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