Selecting the Perfect Telescope Mount

Gazing at the Universe
Gazing at the Universe

As we gaze into the vast expanse of the night sky, exploring the mysteries of the universe, having the perfect telescope mount is very important. It provides the stability and precision necessary to track celestial objects as the Earth rotates, ensuring clear, high-quality images and uninterrupted views of the night sky.

Let’s delve into the crucial factors you need to consider when selecting the perfect telescope mount. We will also provide noteworthy recommendations that will take your stargazing experience to new heights.

Understanding the Importance of a Telescope Mount

Before we look into the specifics, let’s establish the significance of a telescope mount in your stargazing setup. A telescope mount plays a vital role in providing stability and tracking capabilities to your telescope. It allows for smooth movement and precise positioning, compensating for the Earth’s rotation and ensuring that you can focus on observing or photographing celestial objects without any interference. A solid mount enables you to capture stunning details of distant galaxies, planets, and nebulae, enhancing your overall stargazing experience.

Types of Telescope Mounts:

There are two primary types of telescope mounts to consider: Alt-Azimuth and Equatorial mounts.

1 – Alt-Azimuth Mount:

The alt-azimuth mount is the simplest and most user-friendly option, making it ideal for beginners or those who prioritise portability. This type of mount enables movement along both the horizontal (azimuth) and vertical (altitude) axes, allowing for easy navigation across the sky.

Saxon Astroseeker
Saxon Astroseeker AZ-Alt mount

Alt-Azimuth mounts come in two types manual and with motorised Go-To functionality, simplifying the process of locating celestial objects. Notable examples of a Manual Mount are the Saxon AZ3 mount and the Goto Mounts include the Saxon Astroseeker mounts and the Skywatcher AZGTi both renowned for their ease of use, compact design, and advanced features.

Saxon AZ3 Mount
Saxon Astroseeker 127Mak

2. Equatorial Mount:

Equatorial mounts are specifically designed to align with the Earth’s rotation axis, compensating for the apparent movement of celestial objects. These mounts come in Manual and Goto types. They are particularly useful for astrophotography, as they enable accurate tracking of stars and other celestial bodies. 

It features an inclined polar axis, that moves in Right Ascension and Declination axis allowing the telescope to follow the rotation of the Earth more accurately. Noteworthy options in this category include a Manual type Saxon EQ3 Mount and the Goto Mounts like the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R SynScan mount, renowned for its sturdy construction, advanced tracking technology, and high load capacity.

Saxon EQ3 Mount
Skywatcher EQ6-R

Skywatcher EQ6-R
SkywatcherEQ6-R Equatorial Mount

Factors to Consider:

When selecting a telescope mount, several crucial factors come into play. Consider the following aspects to ensure you make an informed decision:

Stability and Load Capacity:

Choose a mount that provides stability and can support the weight of your telescope and accessories. A stable mount minimises vibrations and ensures steady tracking performance.
The Skywatcher EQ6-R mount is a remarkable option in this regard, boasting impressive stability and a high load capacity, making it capable of accommodating heavy telescopes and equipment.

Tracking Accuracy and Motorised Systems:

For astrophotography, precise tracking is vital to capture sharp images. Look for a mount with accurate tracking rates and a motorised system that compensates for periodic errors.
Periodic error, is an inherent characteristic of telescope mounts, and minimizing its effects is crucial for achieving precise tracking and capturing high-quality astrophotography.

The Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro mount, equipped with a built-in autoguider port, advanced SynScan hand controller, and high-precision stepper motors, offers exceptional tracking accuracy, resulting in stunning astrophotography results.

Camera Mounts:

A strong camera tripod (with the correct adapter) paired with a high-quality small telescope can elevate your stargazing experience to new heights. The robust construction of a sturdy tripod ensures stability, allowing you to capture breathtaking celestial images with ease.

Whether you’re a seasoned astrophotographer or an enthusiastic beginner, the combination of a reliable tripod and a powerful telescope opens up a whole new world of possibilities. With the telescope securely mounted on the tripod, you can track celestial objects smoothly. The tripod’s adjustable legs and versatile mounting options enable you to find the perfect angle and position for your telescope, providing optimal viewing conditions.

If you are looking for a mount for camping/backpacking these camera mounts are ideal.

Star trails
Camera tripod connected to a camera or small telescope

Astrophotography and Field of Rotation:

Field rotation is an apparent motion that occurs when using a telescope with an equatorial mount or an Alt-Azimuth (AZ Alt) mount to track celestial objects across the sky. It is caused by the rotation of the Earth on its axis, which affects the orientation of the field of view as the telescope tracks the object.

• With an Equatorial Mount:

An equatorial mount is designed to align with the celestial coordinates, particularly the right ascension (RA) and declination (Dec). The RA axis is aligned parallel to the Earth’s axis of rotation, while the Dec axis is perpendicular to it. This alignment allows the telescope to track celestial objects by moving along a single axis, mimicking the rotation of the Earth.

EQ field rotation
Field Rotation with an Equatorial Mount

Field rotation is minimised with an equatorial mount because it compensates for the Earth’s rotation. As the telescope tracks an object across the sky, it only needs to move along the RA axis, keeping the object centred in the field of view. The Dec axis remains fixed, maintaining the orientation of the field.

However, due to the nature of the equatorial mount’s design, there will still be some degree of field rotation over extended periods. This is because the Earth’s rotation causes the orientation of the sky to change gradually over time. The field rotation becomes noticeable when observing for longer durations or with high magnification.

• With an AZ-Alt Mount:

Field rotation is more pronounced with an AZ Alt mount because it lacks the automatic compensation for the Earth’s rotation. As the mount tracks a celestial object, it moves in both altitude and azimuth axes, attempting to keep the object centred in the field of view. However, since the mount does not align with the celestial coordinates like an equatorial mount, the field of view appears to rotate over time.

The rate of field rotation with an AZ Alt mount depends on the object’s position in the sky and the duration of observation. Objects closer to the celestial pole experience less rotation, while objects near the celestial equator exhibit more rotation.

AZ field rotation
Field of Rotation with an Alt-Az Mount

To mitigate field rotation with an AZ Alt mount, you have a few options:

Adjusting the AZ mount
Adjusting the azimuth axes.

a) Manual Tracking: Constantly adjust the altitude and azimuth axes to keep the object centred. This can be challenging and may not be suitable for longer observations.

b) Image Stacking: Capture multiple shorter exposures of the object and combine them during post-processing. This can help reduce the effects of field rotation by aligning and stacking the images in image processing.

Stacking software
Image Stacking Software

In summary, while an Equatorial mount minimises field rotation due to its alignment with the Earth’s rotation axis, an AZ Alt mount lacks this automatic compensation. Field rotation can be mitigated with an AZ Alt mount through manual tracking, image stacking, or software correction techniques.

Portability and Ease of Use:

Consider your need for portability and ease of use. If you frequently travel to darker skies or prefer a lightweight setup, opt for a mount that is easy to set up and dismantle.

The ZWO AM5 Harmonic mount provides an effortless setup, intuitive control and is lightweight for on-the-go stargazing adventures.

ZWO AM5
ZWO AM5 Harmonic Equatorial Mount

Budget:

Saxon AZ3 mount
Saxon AZ3 mount

Set a budget that aligns with your needs and expectations. Fortunately, there are mounts available in various price ranges.
The Saxon AZ3 is strong and an excellent entry-level option for you to use with your telescope.
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi is also aimed at astrophotographers on a budget. It also combines portability, and precise tracking, allowing you to capture stunning wide-field images of the night sky.

Additional Considerations:

Apart from the main factors mentioned above, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind:

Go-To Functionality:

To simplify the process of locating celestial objects, consider a mount with built-in Go-To functionality. The Celestron Advanced VX mount, for instance, provides computerised Go-To capabilities, enabling you to explore a vast database of over 44,000 celestial objects with ease.

Celestron Hand Controller
Celestron Nexstar Hand Controller with 44,000 objects

Compatibility:

Telescope Saddle
Dual saddle – Vixen or Wide Losmandy dovetail fitting

Ensure the mount you choose is compatible with your telescope. Check for matching mounting styles, dovetail plate compatibility, and attachment options. Modern mounts offer a variety of adapter options and are compatible with numerous telescope brands, providing flexibility for your specific setup.

Future Expansion:

If you anticipate expanding your astronomical pursuits in the future, choose a mount that allows for upgrades and additional accessories.

The Celestron Evolution mount, for example, offers upgradability using a Wedge to convert it into an Equatorial mount. This versatile mount also accommodates a range of accessories like motorized focusers and auto guiders, allowing you to advance your astrophotography journey further.

Wedge
A wedge turns the AZ mount into an equatorial mount.

Conclusion:

Selecting the right telescope mount is a crucial step in elevating your stargazing experiences. By considering factors such as stability, tracking accuracy, portability, and compatibility, you can find the perfect mount for your needs. Remember to explore recommended options like the Saxon Astroseeker, Sky-Watcher EQ6-R, Celestron Evolution mount (with a Wedge) and Saxon AZEQ-GT to enhance your astronomical pursuits. Prepare to be captivated as you immerse yourself in the enchanting wonders of the universe with a telescope mount that perfectly complements your stargazing aspirations. Happy exploring!

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