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RIP Peter Smitka, creator of the Porta-Ball

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#1 Astrosetz


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Posted 17 October 2013 - 10:54 PM

Peter Smitka, who many will remember as the creator of the Porta-Ball reflecting telescope and proprietor of Mag-1 Instruments until he sold the business in 2007, passed away a few days ago from complications related to leukemia. I don't have more details and an obituary hasn't been posted online yet, but more information will become available in the coming days. Just didn't see anything posted on CN and thought folks would like to know.

#2 sqrlman


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Posted 17 October 2013 - 11:33 PM

Sad to hear this. I remember him from Astrofest and Hidden Hollow.


#3 Mr. Marbles

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:47 AM


#4 Erik Bakker

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:58 AM

That is very sad news. R.I.P. Peter.
And thanks for creating those wonderful Portaballs. The first time I saw one, the 14.5", I was very impressed. What a unique and elegant design with great optics!

#5 Astrojensen


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Posted 18 October 2013 - 02:14 AM

Sad news, another great person in our hobby has joined the eternal star party on the other side.


Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

#6 Chucky



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Posted 18 October 2013 - 04:21 AM

I talked to him at several large star parties and always thought good things about Peter. Really sad to hear this news.

#7 Jarad


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Posted 18 October 2013 - 05:34 AM

Very sorry to hear this. He has a very nice guy, came up with a great design and really supported his product and owners of his scopes.


#8 SkyRanger



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Posted 18 October 2013 - 07:03 AM

Thanks, Peter, for the two wonderful scopes you made for me!

Gordon G

#9 Sgt



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Posted 18 October 2013 - 11:53 AM

RIP. People who didn't know or deal with him, like me, will remember his legacy of innovative and COOL scopes.

#10 ckwastro


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Posted 18 October 2013 - 04:13 PM

Very sad. RIP Peter.

#11 okieav8r


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Posted 18 October 2013 - 04:29 PM

I'm sad to hear of Peter Smitka's passing. He certainly was an innovator!

#12 Tom T

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Posted 19 October 2013 - 10:17 AM

His FB page is here:


#13 Diana N

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Posted 19 October 2013 - 10:26 AM

RIP, Peter. You changed the face of amateur astronomy with your wonderful scopes, and those of us who are lucky enough to have one won't forget you!

#14 Tom T

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Posted 19 October 2013 - 11:55 AM

There is a CN interview and visit to Mag 1 located here:


#15 Bill Jensen

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Posted 19 October 2013 - 08:56 PM

very sorry to see this, Peter was a wonderful guy. I owned 3 of his scopes at one time or another, the 8, 10, and old 12 inch scopes. He was very supportive of his customers. I was glad to have met him once while picking up one of the scopes, and then other times at star parties, including hidden hollow.

#16 azure1961p


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Posted 19 October 2013 - 10:14 PM

Sad news, another great person in our hobby has joined the eternal star party on the other side.


Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

Well said Thomas. I'm curious as to why the ball thing hasn't take off even more. I know its not the cheapest way to go but its one of the most efficient and elegant at that.

Clear sky's Mr. Smitka.


#17 Lamb0



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Posted 20 October 2013 - 02:54 AM

Aside from co$t like any premium scope, the Portaball is weight sensitive so balancing a widely varied heft of glassmongery can be problematic. As many of us prefer 1 or 2 reference axes it may be easy to get lost with a Portaball when star hopping; but if you are comfortable with no reference axis you're good to go.

#18 sparkyht



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Posted 20 October 2013 - 07:32 AM

I knew him when I was a MAS member back in the late 80s/early 90s. Seems like yesterday when he revealed his first Portaball to us at the member meetings. He was a great guy and an innovator who loved sharing his passion with others. R.I.P. Peter.

#19 Full Sun

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Posted 20 October 2013 - 05:00 PM

Peter was a great person! My experience with him was all positive. He would go an extra mile for his clients, in my case about 600 miles...
The Portaball was/ is just about the simplest high quality , user friendly telescope that money can buy.
Peter saw the big picture , I just hope his last few years were good ones.

#20 GeneT


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Posted 20 October 2013 - 05:34 PM

Truly sad news. I did not know he was ill. Peter built my 12.5 inch Portaball about 18 years ago. It is the favorite telescope I have ever owned. I have bought and sold several telescopes along the way, but my Portaball is my keeper.

#21 Rinaldo



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Posted 20 October 2013 - 11:23 PM

I met Pete some years ago at NEAF while I was drooling over the 12.5 inch Portaball. At f/5 it was too long for me to use such a large scope from the wheelchair I use to get around, but I was really having the urge to upgrade from my 10" Dob.

At first he was hesitant when I asked him if he could make it at a shorter F-ratio, but after a nice conversation we had, he told me to give him a call the next day. He agreed to build me a 12.5" f/4.5 scope. It was to be the perfect design for my seated position, with the ability to rotate the eyepiece upward when pointed near the horizon, and the eyepiece pointed downward when the scope was at higher altitudes.

As it turned out, I was in one of the last run of scopes that he built when he shut down the business. I was very thankful that he honored his commitment when when many others might have bailed.

I was also very thankful that he modified his innovative design to suit my disability. Thanks Pete!

#22 Bob S.

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 09:32 AM

Peter was anything but a saint as I read these glowing testimonials. He was a very funny, very knowledgeable and sometimes troubled individual like most of us humans. At the end, sadly, he did leave numerous customers (including myself) and vendors holding the bag for many undelivered scopes/promises/payments including a raft of 18" PB's that reportedly had deposits or were fully paid for. His electrical systems were ultimately pretty cruddy. I had a brand new PB that even Peter had a difficult time figuring out why the electrical systems would not work properly as we diagnosed the problems over the phone. We eventually got things straightened out.

Peter was just a hoot to talk with and we had many very lively conversations over the years. Sadly, toward the end of his business run, things went a bit haywire and obligations were not always met. These facts are not meant to hurt Peter's reputation but to present him as an innovative scope builder that has made most people happy and a few very aggravated. I have owned at different times, about 6 of Peter's PB's and they were superb performers.

Dave Jukem, the present owner of Mag 1 Instruments and a really solid and busy guy, took over Peter's company reportedly at great expense and made good on unkept promises.

I will always think about the fun times I had shared with Peter and the really superb views that I got through his scopes. I join in wishing Peter the restful/peaceful sleep that he deserves and hope that he is able to enjoy the stars even without his beloved PB's. Bob

#23 munirocks


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Posted 22 October 2013 - 12:34 PM

I never knew Peter, never had a portaball myself, and have only been on this site for a few days. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to take a few moments to honour the designers and innovators such as Peter who have made the science and hobby of astronomy what it is today. I just wanted to say Thank You. We can see further, literally, because we stand on the shoulders of giants.

#24 Scott Watson

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Posted 22 October 2013 - 06:18 PM

RIP. may we all innovate as well.

#25 photiost



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Posted 24 October 2013 - 08:33 PM


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