Dobsonian Telescopes: A Universe for Every Person
As the cosmic decade of the 1960’s was dawning, a gentle Ramakrishna monk named John Dobson found a unique way for ordinary everyday people to connect with the majesty and mystery of the Universe. He hit upon a way to help average citizens – with no special training – experience the night sky from the sidewalks of San Francisco.
Dobson and his colleagues placed large-aperture, Newtonian Reflecting telescopes on simplified altitude/azimuth mounts. Ordinary citizens could build these scopes themselves from cheap plywood, repurposed construction material and recycled glass. John Dobson started a quiet revolution in amateur astronomy.
Orion and other telescope makers have brought mass-production quality control to the Dobsonian form-factor. And Orion retains a little of the homebrew flavor – there’s a fair amount of set-up to the StarBlast 6i. But it’s fun and you will painlessly learn about astronomy in the process.
The "6" in StarBlast 6i means 6 inches – 150mm – the diameter of this Orion’s parabolic primary mirror. Both primary and secondary mirror are nicely finished soda-lime plate glass; not the most expensive or exotic stuff, but it’ll bounce nice images your way.
All curved mirrors distort light a bit. Such "spherical aberrations" increase towards the edges of the mirror. Preventing these is the quest of every mirror maker. But they can spend an infinite amount of time and money and still never reach a perfect image.
The factory that makes this StarBlast 6 has arrived at a respectable compromise. The StarBlast offers you high enough performance that distortions introduced by the atmosphere will be more noticeable than any contributed by Orion’s optics. So why pay more?
Finding & Tracking Targets: "Push-To" Computer
We’ve chosen to show telescopes with computers that help you find targets on the sky. The "i" in StarBlast 6i stands for "IntelliScope," Orion’s name for their "push-to" navigation. Once you’ve aligned the StarBlast and chosen an object from IntelliScope’s database of more than 14,000, illuminated arrows will prompt you where to point. It’s like playing "Warmer – Cooler" or "Marco Polo" with the sky.
To get you rolling, Orion has pre-loaded 12 tours. You tell IntelliScope what month you’re in; it tells what what’s up and what’s cool. Your can turn the tables on IntelliScope too: hunt around the sky by eye until you find something interesting; push a key and the display tells you what you’vediscovered.
Easy to use
The Starblast 6 has the largest aperture of the beginner instruments we looked at. With that much aperture, you’d expect this unit to weigh more than the others; and it does – 23.5 pounds when fully assembled. However, that’s pretty light for a "Dob," certainly not too heavy to grab and go. And it will fit into the front seat of a sub-compact car.
Out under the night sky, it’s easily intuitive to operate. As you push and pull on the heavens, there’s just enough physicality involved for you to have a "star-walking experience" – you can feel suspended and present in the cosmos with this instrument.
My kingdom for a solid surface!
One word of caution about the StarBlast 6: It’s small for a Dobsonian. Most others are big enough to sit on the ground and still swing the eyepiece into comfortable range of your human head. This one is not! You’ll need a stable table to put it on.
Since it’s hard to know in advance if somebody has been kind enough to leave a solid, level surface at your next observing site, many StarBlast6 owners travel with a plastic or wood crate (think Staples, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes … ). You can carry other gear in it – eyepieces, filters, IntelliScope remote, cables, red-lens flashlight, star-charts, laptop, tablet, and so on. Then invert it to make a simple stand.
And bring a chair. Stooping for hours over a scope – or kneeling on cold, rocky ground – is a quick ticket to a lousy night of observing. Be committed to your hobby. But don’t suffer for it!
Help & Support
Orion’s telephone support is excellent. You’ll usually find a knowledgeable and friendly astronomer on the line – not a sales person. The StarBlast’s manual is straightforward and simple; totally in the Dobsonian tradition. And Orion’s website is deep. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself buying accessories and dreaming of owning more telescopes. Welcome to the lifelong hobby of astronomy!
Your big new light-bucket can easily swing across the whole sky in seconds. All of those jewels are now yours. Oh, and, next time you’re in San Francisco, seek out the Sidewalk Astronomers. They’ll be there – with their big simple Dobsonians – making converts to our cult of Universal sky-watchers. Welcome to the club!
More beginner telescope types:
For more choices, please check our interactive chart comparing our top ten telescope picks for beginners.