You’ve purchased a new telescope and can’t wait to use it to find celestial objects in the night sky.
But although your telescope can be set up in minutes, that doesn’t mean that you can use it straight out of the box – it needs to be aligned!
Why do you have to align your telescope?
Your telescope needs to be properly aligned so that you’ll be able to locate and track objects in the sky. You also need to align your telescope so that objects are clear.
You have to align your telescope mount and finder scope. We’ll start by showing you how to align your telescope according to the “declination drift method.” It’s really easy but does require that you take a bit of time (and maybe some patience) to achieve it.
How To Align Your Telescope With The Declination Drift Method
- The first thing you need to do is train the mount’s polar axis on Polaris, the North Star.
- Then, aim your telescope at a star that’s above the celestial equator – it should be as close to south as possible (and opposite Polaris).
- Place the star on the south or north edge of your eyepiece’s field of view.
- Defocus it a bit. If your eyepiece makes use of cross hairs, you want to center the star on them. This will make it much easier to center it.
- Turn on the clock drive. If you can see the star start to move to the south in your eyepiece, this means your polar axis is targeted to the east too much, Sky and Telescope reports. On the other hand, if you see that it moves north, the polar axis is located too far to the west.
- You should make adjustments to the polar axis accordingly so that the star doesn’t drift. It’s like lasering into it so that you can pin it down.
- Find a star that’s close to the celestial equator, but low in the eastern sky. If you see the star is moving south, this means the polar axis is far too low. On the other hand, if the star can be seen north, it’s too high. You need to make adjustments to these.
- When you have done all the previous steps, start from the beginning and repeat all the steps again (this is what we meant about being patient and taking your time!) This is done to fine-tune the process so that you’ll have precise views.
How To Align Your Finder Scope
Once you’ve aligned your mount, you’ll also have to align your telescope’s finder scope. This is essential to align this so that you’ll be able to find celestial objects in the sky. Here are the steps you need to follow to align your finder scope to your telescope.
- First, it’s worth mentioning that if your finder scope doesn’t have knobs or screws on it that you can use to adjust it, it doesn’t need adjusting. If it does have knobs and its removable, you want to tighten its mounting screws so that it’s securely in place on the telescope.
- Start by finding a target, such as a tree in the distance, and make sure that it’s in the middle of your field of view of the main scope. The object should be about 800m away from you. If you’re indoors, make sure that you have a clear sight of an object that you will be able to see through a large window.
- If you’re aligning your finder scope at night, try to focus on a bright light, such as a streetlight or light from someone’s home. It’s tempting to choose a star but don’t choose a star other than Polaris as the star will drift out of sight and make it difficult for you to focus on it.
- Insert an eyepiece into the telescope’s focuser tube, and choose one that has the lowest power.
- Look through the eyepiece and center the object you are focusing on. It might appear blurry so you want to adjust the focuser to make it clear.
- Your telescope might have a cross-hair attachment that you’ll attach to the eyepiece. This will help you to ensure that the object is right in the middle of the field of view, so use the cross-hair attachment by adjusting the finder scope. You will need to use the small screws that are fastened to it.
- Now, when you’ve centered the object by looking at it through the eyepiece, you should look through the finder scope to ensure that it looks the same. If it looks off center, you should use the knobs to bring it into the center.
- Once it’s been centered, you should look through the eyepiece again to double-check that it has indeed been centered.
How To Align Your Telescope During The Day
Now, if you don’t want to align your telescope at night, you might wonder if you can try to align it during the day. You can – here’s how, and it only takes 30 seconds.
What you’ll need
- App (like SkEye)
- Elastic band
How to polar align your telescope during the day with your phone
- You’ll first need to download an app called SkEye as this is what will help you to align your telescope. It works by aligning with the sky by using the phone’s internal accelerometer and internal compass.
- Set up the telescope mount so its polar axis is pointed north.
- Open the app on your phone and put the phone on the lens cap. You want it to be flat against the cap – you can use an elastic to keep it in place.
- Adjust the controls on the mount’s polar axis and make use of the EQ grid on the app – you’ll see it will adjust.
- You want to continue doing this until you see the grid become aligned with the south pole.
- When the pole is behind the crosshairs, you’ve successfully polar aligned your telescope (via Sky and Telescope).
This method will give you the chance to track an object, like the sun, during the day for about four minutes.
How To Align A GOTO Telescope
If you own a GOTO telescope, you’ll know that it makes tracking the stars and planets so easy because it is programmed with a sky map. Despite its technology, however, a GoTo telescope still needs to be aligned. This is to ensure that it has a point of reference.
You’ll have to point the telescope to a star which will be centered in the eyepiece and selected in the telescope’s database. You’ll have to repeat this a few times with the star you’ve selected.
This gives your telescope a reference point in the sky so its in-built computer will be able to calculate the location of thousands of other celestial objects.
The exact alignment process will obviously differ a bit depending on the GoTo brand you have.
For example, with some entry-level Meade telescopes, you’ll have to manually punch in the time, date, and location and then the telescope will go to where it assumes a certain star will be.
You’ll then have to use the electronic keypad to ensure you center the star in the eyepiece and let the telescope know when it’s centered so that it’ll move to a different star.
With Celestron telescopes, you’ll find a bright star, point your telescope at it and then choose two other stars. The telescope will calculate what stars you’ve chosen and then align the telescope. It’s so easy!
Why can’t you see anything with your telescope?
If this happens to you, it’s a sure sign that you need to align your telescope with its finder scope.
Why are you seeing upside down images?
This isn’t a problem with your alignment – it’s totally normal for the view to be upside down, but you can correct it with equipment known as a diagonal.
You can’t start using your telescope until you’ve properly aligned it. Otherwise, it will be like a musical instrument that’s out of tune – or simply not show you anything at all when you try to use it, which will cut your stargazing adventures short.
In this article, we’ve provided you with the important alignment telescope information you need to properly and easily align your telescope as well as a finder scope. Do it before your exciting stargazing trip so you can be guaranteed of clear, sharp views of celestial objects.