# Mounts and Coordinate Systems

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1 Mounts and Coordinate Systems Part 2: Our Mounts A Quick Review Last month we looked at coordinate systems and found there are two systems that we commonly use. Altitude-Azimuth Coordinates A local or terrestrial coordinate system with the origin located wherever and whenever you are with axes defined by the horizon and due north. Altitude is measured either positive, above the horizon, or negative, below the horizon and can be from -90 to +90. Azimuth is the bearing from true north and can be from 0 to Since this is a local coordinate system it has some distinct disadvantages in that the coordinate of a celestial object is fixed only for a particular time and location. Equatorial Coordinates Also called Polar Coordinates. A celestially based coordinate system with the origin located at the vernal equinox and axes of the celestial equator and the celestial meridian, an arbitrary meridian running from the north celestial pole through the Vernal Equinox to the south celestial pole. We found that measurements along the equator are in right ascension and measured in hours of 15 each with 24 hours making one full sidereal rotation. Measurements along the celestial meridian are in declination and are measured in degrees with declinations in the northern celestial hemisphere being positive and in the southern being negative. Since this system is celestially based, an object will always have the same equatorial coordinates but these coordinates will be revised from time to time to account for precession and other relativistic motions. Each time these coordinates are revised a new astronomical epoch is established. We re currently using J2000 coordinates for the epoch established in January of Time for Some Hardware Figure 1 Alt-Az Mount Now we re going to look at mounts and how we use them. Let s start with the simplest mount type. Altitude-Azimuth Mount General Configuration Figure 1 shows the general configuration of an altitudeazimuth mount. You can see the two axes of rotation. At the bottom is the azimuth rotation around the vertical axis and up near the optical tube is the altitude rotation around the horizontal axis; real simple and easy to understand. If such a mount has tracking capability it s important that the mount is leveled prior to alignment. Any tip or tilt of the axes off of level will cause the mount to track inaccurately. Higher end tracking scopes on alt-az mounts can electronically compensate for some tip and tilt. Correcting factors are determined during the alignment procedure. However any tracking mount will perform at its best if it s leveled prior to alignment. The Dobsonian Mount This mount is usually just called a Dob. In its simplest form it s an alt-az mount that consists of a wood rocker box that has a lazy-susan kind of bottom to allow rotation in the azimuth axis around the vertical and a pivot cradle to allow rotation in the altitude axis around the horizontal. Many of our members say Figure 2 Dobsonian Mount they own Dobs and they do. But don t confuse the label Dob as having anything to do with the telescope itself. Usually a scope that uses a Dobsonian mount is a Newtonian reflector but it doesn t have to be. Any type of telescope could be mounted on a Dobsonian mount. That said, you ll rarely see anything but a reflector on a Dobsonian. The advantages of a Dobsonian mount are its simplicity, its low cost and the fact that they are easily home built. They are also advantageous for larger aperture reflectors because the short design keeps the eyepiece at the top of the tube at a reasonable height for most observations. That lazy-susan base you see in the figure usually sits on the ground. This is why these mounts are so popular with owners of reflectors. In contrast, this is a disadvantage for telescopes that have their eyepiece mounted at the rear. Another disadvantage of these mounts is that they are somewhat difficult to motorize for tracking purposes although this can certainly be done and is more and more. The Alt-Az Fork Mount By Dan Lessmann Mechanically, this design is actually the same as the Dobsonian mount in that it has a vertical azimuth axis and a horizontal altitude axis with the optical tube supported on either side by vertical supports in the form of

2 fork arms. However, pretty much all of the alt-az fork mounts you ll see are commercially manufactured and usually are used with catadioptric scopes like Schmidt- Cassegrains or smaller refractors, spotting scopes and binoculars. This type of mount is almost always mounted on a tripod or a pier since the telescopes most commonly used with it have the eyepiece mounted at the rear of the optical tube. Figure 3 Alt-Az Fork Mount Fork mounts are easily motorized for tracking and commercial ones for larger scopes typically are. Since it s necessary to track simultaneously in both axes, there are two sets of motors and worm gears. One will be mounted in the base of the mount to rotate in the azimuth axis and the other is mounted in one or the other fork arm to rotate in the altitude axis. Okay. That s the two most common alt-az mounts. Now we get to the weird stuff. Equatorial Mount General Configuration Figure 4 Equatorial Mount axes and orientations. Figure 4 shows the general configuration of an equatorial mount, also called a polar mount. Again, there are two axes of rotation. The right ascension axis is the one mounted to the pier and is aligned parallel with the polar axis of the earth. The declination axis is the one with the counterweights and the optical tube and is parallel with the plane of the celestial equator. There are other types of equatorial mounts but they all share these same So as shown in this diagram and assuming it s properly aligned, you re standing on the east side of the telescope looking toward the west and the north celestial pole is to your upper right. You know, looking at this figure, and imagining it oriented as described, you might be wondering, What s the big deal? Why does he say this is confusing? What s confusing is achieving that alignment in the first place (actually that s more difficult than confusing) and the motions necessary in these axes to get to another part of the sky other than due north. I ll get to that and, hey, maybe it s just me! Regardless, using and aligning an equatorial mount is more complicated than an alt-az mount at least when you re starting out. German Equatorial Mount Figure 5 GEM Mount The mount shown in Figure 5 is a German Equatorial Mount or GEM. We ll assume it s setup out at AHL, i.e., in the northern hemisphere, so it is pointed at the NCP and you re standing west and a little north of this scope. Since it s pointed to the NCP it s pointing to a declination of 90 and no right ascension or actually all right ascensions since the right ascension meridians all meet up there. A scope so aligned is said to be aligned to German Equatorial North. GEM mounts are the most common of all of the equatorial mounts and they all look more or less like this. There s a method to mount the optical tube as shown on the top with some sort of a counterweight arrangement below. By sliding the optical tube forward and back and by moving the counterweights up and down on the counterweight rod, it s possible to balance the scope in both axes. If this is a tracking mount, this is critical for proper tracking and in fact, leaving things out of balance can damage the mount s worm gears and other components. Equatorial mounts must be accurately leveled to track properly. Good ones include a couple of sprit levels permanently mounted on the base for this purpose. Others will have bubble levels. Some may not have any levels but should always have a flat location where a level can be situated to level the tripod and the mount s base. Stay away from mounts that don t have such a location. Some equatorial mounts are not motorized so they don t sidereal track. Others have a tracking motor only in the right ascension drive that being all the tracking necessary for a properly aligned mount. Such mounts are said to have clock drives as they rotate at near the same rate as a 24 hour clock. That is they rotate about the R.A. axis once per sidereal day. Figure 6 Equatorial Fork Mount Equatorial Fork Mount These are usually alt-az fork mounts that have one addition, an equatorial wedge. The idea s pretty simple really. By adding a wedge under the mount s base, we can tilt what was the azimuth axis parallel to the earth s axis turning it into a right ascension axis. Of course that also changes the altitude axis to a declination axis.

6 should need to be made to center the second star. If there s a bunch, you ve done something wrong, probably during the entry of the time. Using a Polar Alignment Scope Most equatorial mounts have a hole parallel to the R.A. axis that can accept a polar alignment scope. This scope is designed to help align the mount to the NCP. Most have an image displayed that allows you to align on Polaris and while orienting the scope in R.A. to align both the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. Again, after rotating the telescope in R.A. to match the orientation of these constellations, you use the mount s azimuth and elevation controls to center Polaris in the reticule. After doing so, you ll have a reasonable polar alignment. Certainly one that is accurate enough for visual observations. I Don t Have a Polar Alignment Scope Not a problem. You can do essentially the same thing using the main tube. Set the scope in German Equatorial North and sight through the eyepiece. You should see Polaris and several other stars. Now rotate the scope in R.A. while continuing to look through the eyepiece. If you re well aligned, the stars will sweep circles around the center of the field. If they don t maintain a consistent distance from the center of rotation, adjust in azimuth and/or altitude until they do. When they do, the scope is pointing to the NCP. That s it for this month. Next month we re going to look at some more advanced topics with our mounts. Then, I m sure you ll be happy to know, we ve pretty much covered hardware and can look at some astronomy!

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