Grab-and-Go Astronomy

Enjoyable night-sky sessions sometimes last only a few minutes.

Seronik-Crescent Moon

When the clouds part will you be ready? A telescope that requires minimal set-up time is ideal for taking advantage of brief clear periods. Courtesy Gary Seronik

Late one afternoon, after days of rainy weather, I glanced out my south-facing window and noticed a crescent Moon high in the sky. It was a welcomed, but unexpected sight. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take advantage of this fleeting opportunity for some Moon gazing. Here’s why.

My favourite lunar-and-planetary scope is a Sky-Watcher 150mm Maksutov-Cassegrain. However, the Mak has one significant downside: it can take an hour or more to acclimatize when it’s cold outside. I knew that by the time I lugged the scope onto my deck, aligned the go-to mount and waited for the optics to adjust to the cool night air, clouds would roll in and cover the Moon. Indeed that’s exactly what happened. I missed what could have been a brief but pleasant session exploring the Moon.

And that wasn’t the only opportunity missed. Sometimes the problems were logistical. I recall an early morning planetary conjunction that would have meant either getting up at 4 a.m. to set up the scope and give it sufficient time to cool, or leaving the gear outside overnight and run the risk that someone might walk away with it.

What to do? The obvious answer was to get a telescope that could be used on short notice—what is often referred to as a grab-and-go scope. The ideal instrument is basic and highly portable. It has to be ready for action in an instant. A moderate-sized refractor on a simple altazimuth mount seemed like the perfect solution. There’d be no cool-down time required, no optics to collimate, no power supply to worry about, no need to polar align the mount or locate alignment stars—just grab and observe.

DAR with the grab and go

David Rodger with his grab-and-go companion, a 120mm refractor on a altazimuth mount.

After reviewing the options available at my local telescope store, I settled on a Sky-Watcher 120mm refractor on an altazimuth mount. Nothing could be simpler. Sure, it’s smaller than I’d want for my main scope, but I have other options (including the aforementioned Mak and a 10-inch Dobsonian) for nights when I have the time for an extended viewing session. The refractor allows me to take advantage of fleeting opportunities when the clouds part and a patch of clear sky presents itself. That’s where this scope really shines—it enables me to spend my time observing rather than preparing to observe.

What’s your idea of the perfect grab-and-go scope? Let me know in the comment section below.

David A. Rodger observes the sky from his North Vancouver townhouse. He was the first Director of Vancouver’s H.R. MacMillan Planetarium, and served in that capacity from 1967 to 1980.

Categories: Observing the Sky, Stargazing Gear, Telescopes and Accessories
4 comments on “Grab-and-Go Astronomy
  1. Jason Todoroff says:

    I also chose a Sky Watcher refractor for my grab and go scope, the 102mm on the same alt-az 3 mount. Tough decision between the 102 and the 120. I chose the 102 because it fit into my gym bag and could be easily be carried. 120 was just a little to big.

  2. David Griffith says:

    I also use the SW 120 rich field achromat. Lovely little scope I use often because of its portability. I did a presentation not too long ago for the Halifax Centre on my “fleet” of grab-n-gos, the 120 (the deep sky scope), the SW 127 Mak-Cass (the solar sys scope), and a Coronado PST (the daytime scope). My small but mighty “fleet”!
    -Dave G

    • I have two travel scopes – the first is an 80mm Antares achromat refractor and the second is the mighty Celestron C90 Mak of 1980’s vintage. Both mount nicely onto my Skywatcher Az4 mount. The 80mm refractor recently travelled with me to South Africa where I was able to use it while on Safari to view the outstanding Omega Centauri cluster.

      Like you, I have other scopes that do not travel easily – they are a 10 inch Skywatcher Dob and a 12.5 inch Discovery truss tube Dob.

      I invite you and others to visit my website to view my “fleet” of scopes.

      Ron W

  3. T.H. Guiler says:

    I have what I call a ‘Charlie Brown” scope; the infamous plastic 60mm Tasco junk telescope, complete with jittery alt-az mount tripod. My well-meaning wife bought it for me in 1993, when I caught the astronomy bug. She got it at at a gun shop, of all places, and paid over $300 for it. The worst part is it was used.
    I didn’t have the heart to tell her how she had been taken, and I never replaced it because I don’t want to tell her why. I mostly use binoculars and tell her the scope takes too long to set up, a white lie to spare her feelings. I rarely observe because of it, and just read Skynews instead.

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