By: Vlad Fedosov
Solar observing has been a bit of my astronomical interest over the years. I was never too into it as by the time I had the money to get any decent equipment to observe the sun it had already entered its solar minimum and showed noting in white light. What really sparked my interest was trying out one of my club’s telescope library’s H-Alpha scopes! With these scopes you are not just limited to observing sunspots but also solar prominences and other surface details. After owning a Coronado PST(see review) for a while I heard of a device called the Daystar Quark that lets you turn ANY refractor into a solar scope!!! Since I’m kind of a refractor addict, I had to try the device out! Let’s see how this little guy performs in the real world!
The Quark is available in either a chromosphere or prominence model. I bought the prominence model as that’s what I’m most interested in viewing. It includes a built in 4.2x Barlow and is a self contained unit the size of a large eyepiece. The only thing that are not included to let you use it with a small refractor(80mm or smaller) is a power supply and an eyepiece. You are able to use most USB power bricks or batteries to power the Quark. I have tried a variety of batteries that are designed to charge a smartphone and they all worked. As far as eyepieces Daystar recommends a 32mm plossl, though again you can use most any 1.25” or 2” eyepiece.
So, lets start from the top. You setup your refractor as you normally would for night observing(make sure its not initially pointed at the sun and that the finderscope or ANY other optics are removed from it). If your scope is 80mm or smaller you would simply put the Quark into your diagonal and proceed to plug it into your power source. It takes about 10 minutes to get to its operating temperature. I find that this is one of the biggest downsides but usually not an issue unless you have a very limited time to observe. Once the unit is equalized in temperature you are ready to observe adding your favorite eyepiece. Narrow field of view(FOV) eyepieces work best with the Quark and Daystar recommends the 32mm TeleVue Plossl or similar. I have tried several eyepiece in the 32mm-15mm range and they all seem to work well. After trying several brands of 32mm Plossls I did not see a significant difference. I ended up using the Badder 32mm Plossl just because I have the rest of the Orthos in that same line.
The experience of using the Quark is very similar to that of the PST that I previously had with the difference being that I could use my 5” APO for a much, much brighter and detailed view. Now to back up for 1 second you do need a 2” IR-rejection filter in front of your diagonal in a refractor that is 80+mm-130mm(larger APOS require a very expensive full aperture energy rejection filter). Otherwise the setup is exactly the same. I used this setup fairly extensively with a SV130EDT without having the Quark ever even getting warm to the touch on the exterior housing. When there are prominences that are visible using a larger scope certainly nets you a more detailed view compared to a smaller scope. You do lose the ability to see the entire disk of the sun in a scope that’s aver about 480mm in focal length. This is a bit of a downside but once you see the extra detail you will soon forget about that. With a 5” APO even with the 32mm Plossl I was only able to fit about a quarter of the sun into the FOV of the eyepiece.
The Quark does have a tuning knob that theoretically lets you adjust the band pattern its operating at. After some trial and error I honestly did not see too much of a difference at any of the settings. I have kind of found that for my unit two clicks to the left seems to produce the best image of prominences but from what I understand this will vary from unit to unit. Again, at any setting there is not much of a difference though. Another thing that I want to touch on is the difference between the chromosphere or prominence models. I have only tried the prominence model so can’t comment on a direct comparison. From what I understand most people do recommend the chromosphere model as its closer to a dedicated double stacked H-Alpha scope. There does not appear to be too much of a difference no mater witch way you go though. Again, I’m more interested in seeing the most detail in prominences so that’s the model I went with. It does also show a fair amount of detail on the disk itself. At this point its kind of hard to judge that as the disk is very inactive…
I have been using the unit pretty regularly and have not ran into any issues with it. In fact I have recently setup a little ETX-80 achro that I can attach to my observatory scope and do some quick solar. Speaking of the achro if you are wondering if it makes much of a difference upgrading to an APO? Well from what I can tell its not a huge difference. I have not done a side-by-side comparison though. One very obvious difference is the focuser. It is of course quite a bit more difficult focusing with the achros focuser compared to my 80mm APO’s Feather Touch. But the normal issue of secondary color in the achro is not an issue in regards to H-Alpha performance. Attached is an example image of what you can expect to image if your really not good at it at all like me😉
So is the Quark a better option than a dedicated H-Alpha scope? Well assuming that you already have a refractor and your comparing it to something like a PST I would say YES its majorly better. I love the fact that I can do to a multi night star party and not have to bring yet another scope with me if I had a dedicated solar scope. In a lot of cases I will already have a larger instrument and my 80mm APO, so that cuts down on one scope that I need to bring. If you are comparing it to a high end double stacked 60mm+ scope and are really into H-Alpha than from what I understand the dedicated units will probably give you more detail. They are also quite a bit more money so that is perhaps not much of a surprise. For me this has been one of the cooler additions to my astro arsenal in a while(closely matched by EAA). I love having the option of being able to do some observing during the day(sometimes not my wife😉)!
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