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Orion Skyquest XX12

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Orion Skyquest XX12

By Terri Welisek

This evaluator is not easily given to emotional praise but the Orion Skyquest XX12 with Intelliscope gets a huge Yippee complete with Snoopy dance from me.

The XX12 is set up next to my 10" Lightbridge for comparison.

An amateur astronomer for the better part of 25 years, my most recent tool a 10" Meade Lightbridge, I am justifiably impressed with the Skyquest. Orion has brought together the portability of truss-tube construction with push-to functionality, the perfect solution for those of us who want or need as this petite star gazer does, a lightweight grab-and-go telescope complete with substantial light gathering capability.

The boxes where pretty savagely handled by FedEx Home delivery but the contents basically survived with the exception of one plastic OTA cover which was cracked by a puncture wound.

The Skyquest XX12 ships in three well-packed cartons. One cover was broken in shipping and Orion immediately shipped a replacement.

The initial build takes about 3 hours to complete. The instructions are clearly written and pictures very helpful. The trickiest part to assemble is the base encoder for the azimuth. The spacing on the encoders is critical and the attachment at the base is a bit awkward to accomplish accurate assembly. Since the base is not to be placed on its side, it requires raising the base only slightly and then working in the small area underneath the base which makes it difficult to see if alignment with the holes provided is correct. Thankfully this should be a one-time activity.

The hand box has some very helpful diagnostic routines to test the signal strength and functionality of the encoders. The hand box is simple to use and requires only two known stars for precise alignment. For planets it also requires the date for calculations. The rack holds one 2" eyepiece and three 1 1/4" eyepieces. The blue band is actually a rubber band for holding a heat pack on the controller in sub-zero weather. The cord is a little short and the hook and loop a little cheap for mounting the box, but overall it is easy to use.

Once the initial assembly is completed the Skyquest XX12 field assembles in minutes with the largest piece being the base cradle weighing only 34 pounds. Caution is needed when placing the mirror box into the base as it would be easy to damage the altitude encoder which could catch on the side rotational wheels on the main mirror tube. The instructions suggest assembling the trusses and then the cage. However, at 5'4" I found the height where the secondary cage would align with the trusses to be a bit uncomfortable. Putting two trusses in the base and the other two on the secondary and then bringing them together was easier for me to handle solo. Once assembled I have no problem accessing the eyepiece when the OTA is in the vertical position, no step tool or ladder is necessary.

The mirror cell has a cooling fan as standard equipment and the battery pack takes four D cell batteries. Collimation adjustment is three point with three locking screws. Collimation is very easy and the knobs come standard on the primary but the secondary requires an allen wrench.

The optional carry cases are superb construction. Though not necessary, these cases make moving the scope even more convenient and provide security that the mirrors are protected from the elements. I use them for storage too, especially nice for slow acclimation on those bitter cold nights of viewing. In fact, a recent night at zero degrees F proved that this unit can handle extreme cold very well. Assembly and the reverse was quite easy as there are no small parts that would make tear down difficult with gloved hands or numb fingers.

The optional soft cases consist of case for the cage, (complete with felt sock for the secondary), a truss bag that rolls up and a main OTA/mirror cell bag with side pouch for the 50mm finder and control box. Note that the handles for the main bag are off center to balance the load of the mirror cell at one end. A nice touch.

Here is a close-up of the 8 truss supports and their knobs. Field assembly of the telescope is tool free with the exception of an allen wrench for the secondary. Also notice the friction brake for altitude hold. There are hard covers provided for both the cage as well as the lower OTA.

A standard two speed focuser and 50mm finder scope complete the unit. A steering knob is also provided on the bottom of the cage but is rarely used. Movement in altitude and azimuth is stiffer than the Lightbridge but is acceptable.

The LED screen on the Intelliscope controller did have the same fading in clarity and slowed response seen on other LCD units in very cold conditions, a shortcoming of the technology that has yet to be overcome. However, the Skyquest XX12 was easily aligned with a vertical point entry, then two alignment stars. Although I enjoy struggling to find objects without the technology first, it is great to have the backup of the Intelliscope. The Skyquest XX12 offers a truly satisfying experience.

So how about the accuracy of the Intelliscope? Orion promotes the accuracy of the Intelliscope as having the desired object within the field of view if using a 25mm or higher lens on the initial search. Pleasantly conservative on their part. I would argue that the accuracy is better still. I use a 13mm Ethos and was finding dim objects like NGC 7331 galaxy within the field of view on the first attempt.
The weather has been terribly inhospitable here in Wisconsin since getting the Skyquest at Christmas, (isn't the new equipment curse just typical). We've used the scope for two, cold and windy nights so far.

The collimation of the Skyquest XX12 was straight forward for using a Glader laser and Blug. Optically the scope is very good. We were running a TV paracor and primarily using a 13mm and 8mm Ethos which seem to be a good combination with the scope for medium and high power. Both nights were not good enough to see the E and F stars in the Trapezium, but I'm sure it would be no issue on a calm night. The scope comes with a 10mm and 35mm eyepiece. The 10mm is still in the box untried and the 35mm doesn't appear to be the best quality. The light gathering of the 12" is noticeably closer to our C14 than it is to the 10" Lightbridge.

With the so-so conditions we started by finding an 11.6 magnitude galaxy. Not bad given to conditions. We moved off to NGC 7331 and using the encoder system, looked for Stephan's Quintet, which appeared on the edge of visibility. The Quintet is even difficult for the C14 with the sky glow we typically have. We moved to M31 and could see a hint of dust vanes. M110 and M32 were no problem. M33 with the 35mm eyepiece looked like a fuzzy ball without definition or embedded stars, but switching to the 13mm Ethos the embedded stars were tack sharp and NGC 604 became visible. As high ice clouds came in from the south we took a quick look at NGC404 off of Mirach. To finish up the night we used the push-to system to find the Blue Snowball off of Polux and also M1. For as bad as the sky conditions have been we haven't had a chance to give the optics a really fair test under dark skies. From what I have seen with the limited use we've been afforded, the Orion Skyquest XX12 looks to be a nice addition.


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