If you don’t mind the slight inconvenience and increased complexity of using an equatorial mount, Orion’s StarBlast II is certainly a great choice for the beginning astronomer or a serious enthusiast looking for a smaller and more lightweight instrument to complement a larger telescope.
The StarBlast II uses the same optical tube as Orion’s regular StarBlast and the Meade Lightbridge Mini 114, but it is supplied on Orion’s EQ-1 equatorial mount instead of a tabletop Dobsonian mount, and comes with much better eyepieces.
The Optical Tube
The StarBlast is a 114mm (4.5”) f/4 Newtonian reflector. At f/4, there is some coma at the edge of the field of view with low-magnification eyepieces like the included 25mm Plossl, but even if you notice it shouldn’t hamper the image quality too much. The scope also requires precise collimation (which it thankfully has adjustments for). Orion doesn’t provide a collimation tool, but you can buy/make one or simply collimate it on a star – read our guide for more information.
The StarBlast scopes have been around for about 20 years now and Orion has managed to nail down the optical quality. Most StarBlasts are pretty good optically and capable of magnifications up to about 200x.
The StarBlast II comes with two eyepieces: A 25mm Sirius Plossl (18x) and a 10mm Sirius Plossl (45x). You may want to purchase an additional 6mm “goldline” eyepiece (75x) as well as a 2x Barlow to get the most out of your StarBlast, but the included Sirius Plossls are of very high quality and a cut above the Kellners or cheap plastic Plossls provided with most scopes at this price range – the Sirius Plossls have higher transmission for brighter images, as well as slightly sharper and wider fields of view compared to a lower-cost kit eyepiece.
The StarBlast II is supplied with a red dot sight, which is adequate for this telescope. There’s also a moon map bundled with the scope (Orion’s MoonMap 260) but I find it to be kind of outdated and mildly useful at best.
The Orion EQ-1 Equatorial Mount
The EQ-1 mount is basically the same as the mount supplied with most of the Celestron PowerSeeker telescopes, but the StarBlast is small and light enough to work on it quite well – and also has good enough optics that it’s worth talking about actually using it.
The StarBlast II sits inside two felt-lined tube rings that bolt onto the EQ-1 mount’s top plate – larger/more expensive equatorials use a Vixen dovetail and saddle which is slightly more convenient, but the simple system used with the StarBlast II works just fine.
The EQ-1 is more or less a simplified version of the larger German equatorial mounts used for large telescopes and/or astrophotography. It lacks a polar scope, and the setting circles on it are so small that they’re almost entirely useless, but for visual astronomy it works just fine – don’t expect it to work well for astrophotography, however.
Setting up and using the EQ-1 is pretty easy – just level the tripod, put the mount/scope together, balance the scope on both axes, and roughly line up the mount’s polar axis with Polaris. Coarse motion is achieved by simply pushing/pulling the scope around the sky while fine adjustments are made with the two included flexible slow-motion cables. If you need to rotate the tube to put the finder/eyepiece in a more convenient position, just slightly loosen the tube and rotate it in the tube rings (while being careful not to slide it forward/backward and ruin the balance).
If you want hands-free motorized tracking, you can purchase a Celestron Logic Drive (I believe Orion offers the same item but at a higher price) and attach it to the mount in minutes. The drive is battery-powered and will offer at least semi-accurate tracking.
What can you see?
The StarBlast II’s quality optics will show you Mercury and Venus’ phases, the dark albedo patches and ice caps on Mars. You can also see Jupiter’s cloud belts, Great Red Spot and its 4 large moons. Saturn’s rings, the Cassini Division, the planet’s cloud belts, and several of its moons are visible. Uranus and Neptune can be spotted as small turquoise and azure dots respectively, though locating them can be a bit tricky.
Outside the solar system, many double stars, open star clusters, and nebulae can be spotted with the StarBlast II as well as a number of globular star clusters and galaxies.
The Orion StarBlast II is certainly a great choice for the beginning astronomer. While there are scopes offering slightly more aperture and ease of use than the StarBlast II at the same price point, the convenience of an equatorial mount and full-sized tripod are great – provided you’re willing to take the time to learn to use the mount, and allocate additional storage space for the scope. Highly recommended.