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How to Mount, Balance, and Polar Align an Astrophotography Rig

Updated: May 31, 2023


   Setting up your brand-new mount can be pretty confusing, especially if you are worried about breaking anything before even using that shiny, new telescope!


We made a video showing exactly how to mount everything, balance the telescope, and polar align the mount, which you can see at the bottom of this page.


Below, you will find the written version of this video, in case you would like to keep it in your notes and take it with you for your first outing (however, we strongly recommend setting up everything in your living room the very first time!).


how to mount astrophotography rig

Steps to Mount, Balance, and Polar Align:


Step 1: Set Up the Tripod First

This is the base of our entire mounting process. At the top of your tripod is a raised cube-like piece which will be important in the next steps. As you open the legs of the tripod, be sure to point this cube toward the north, AKA toward Polaris (the North Star).


 

Step 2: Attach the Motorized Mount

This piece of equipment is the most important and ironically is the heaviest. Therefore, always handle it with care! Now, remember the raised cube we talked about? To best secure the mount onto the tripod, you will place it atop it. Along with the cube, there is a large screw in the tripod that screws into the mount. Follow the mini-step below before continuing.


Step 2.1: You will next grab the support for the tripod base, which also doubles as a lens holder. This strange piece of metal with holes in it will fit in between the tripod legs and is supported by the screw at the base of the tripod (the same one that went into the mount). As you put it into place and then tighten the knob it will ensure the tripod legs are fully open and secures the mount as well.


All this happens BEFORE attaching a telescope. Make sure it is tight for now, but know that you will have to loosen it later during the polar alignment step.


Don't know what target to shoot tonight? Buy an astrophotography book to keep handy at night.


 

Step 3: Attach the Counter-Weights

Where do you attach the counter-weights? A knob at the end of the mount pointing to the ground will reveal a pole that is conveniently tucked inside the mount. However, in our case, the standard pole was not long enough so we attached an extender first.


Once attached you can place the weights and screw them into place. Be careful not to smash your toes with loose weights by remembering to screw in the end piece, also called a "toe saver."


 

Step 4: Attach the Telescope

Next is the telescope! First, loosen the knobs on the top of the mount and ensure there is enough room for the telescope’s dovetail (the part that attaches to the mount) to latch on, then tighten the knobs on the mount again. Never, EVER, attach the telescope before the weights or the entire setup will fall on the concrete once you let go.


In our experience, we found it helpful to mark the general area of the dovetail with a pencil so we do not have to waste time finding the right balance with the counter-weights.


How to balance astrophotography rig
 

Step 5: Attach Astrophotography Accessories

Remember that you will need to balance - so if you plan to image ensure that you attach everything that will be on the telescope while it is taking photos. All of that weight needs to be accounted for so that you achieve perfect balance in the next step.


 

Step 6: Balance the Telescope

This part is extremely important because, without proper balance, the mount will constantly be under stress while tracking the stars.

  • Start with the RIGHT ascension axis, simply move each weight little by little until the telescope stays still.

  • Then comes the Declination Axis, simply slide the telescope in whichever direction is needed, try not to do this alone unless you are used to it.

You’ll know you’re successful when you can swing the telescope gently in all directions and it stays still in place without moving or tipping over.


 

Step 7: Collimate the Telescope

Once you achieve perfect balance, you can then remove the camera and replace it with a collimation laser. Note: we use a reflector telescope which requires collimation; if you use a refractor telescope, you can skip this step as it is not required.


The collimation laser is a device that will help you collimate the telescope in seconds. Rotate the laser so that the target faces toward the back of the telescope. What's important here is to never forget to bring the correct size screwdriver for the screws needed to adjust the mirrors.


  • Screw/unscrew the three bolts in the front gently until the laser beam points to the middle of the mirror.

  • Then use your hands to screw/unscrew the three thicker knobs on the opposite end of the telescope until the red dot is eclipsed in the target center.

  • Note: You will need to unlock the metallic knobs before turning the thicker ones.


 

Step 8: Prepare to Polar Align

Remember how we suggested you point the metal cube of your tripod to the north? This means you are pointed toward the Polaris. If you miscalculated, now is a good time to gently turn the mount by picking it up (be careful to support it as well) and point it to Polaris.


In the video that accompanies this written tutorial, we already know exactly where the North Star is even during the day. If you don’t know, use an app and ensure you have it as close as possible because it is more difficult to do in the dark. Then plug in everything needed for the night, such as the guiding camera cords, the laptop, the controller, and the power source!



 

Step 9: Polar Align the Telescope

The most important thing about polar aligning the mount is that you successfully pointed the tripod towards Polaris during Step 1. You will need to use the 2 small metal handles the very first time to set the coordinates of your mount, but once this is done, those 2 handles should always be left untouched unless changing location. Make sure the mount is on, and look through the little mount lens. Rotate the declination (telescope) axis so that the big dipper and Cassiopeia's angles match the night sky.


All there is left to do is unscrew the metal lens holder a little bit, and use both handles on each side of the motorized mount to slightly move left or right and put Polaris inside the little circle!


how to polar align astrophotography rig
 

Summary of Steps

Keep this checklist with you or bookmark this page if you need to practice setting up your astrophotography rig. To summarize the steps made above:


  1. Set up the tripod first

  2. Attach the motorized mount

  3. Attach the counter-weights

  4. Attach the telescope

  5. Attach astrophotography accessories

  6. Balance the telescope

  7. Collimate the telescope

  8. Prepare to polar align


 

Final Thoughts


You did it! Now you have all that you need to know to properly mount, balance and polar align your astrophotography rig. Since the mount is already on, the telescope should always be pointing to whatever target you set it to. We highly recommend a guiding camera for even better tracking, but we’ll talk about that more in detail soon.


Watch the video below for a visual and see us complete each of the steps above.


Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter




 

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