An accurate polar alignment is key to being able to take longer deep sky astrophotography exposures and to capture more information in your images. It’s important to take your time and get it as accurate as possible.
Polar alignment, leveling your mount, and balancing your camera/lens and counterweight are three important steps to ensure accurate tracking of your Deep Sky Object (DSO).
This checklist was created for the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Equatorial Mount, but should work for any EQ mount. The Polar Alignment process is intended for astrophotographers in the northern hemisphere. The polar alignment process is different for the southern hemisphere.
A couple of notes before you get started:
- Adjust the focus and practice locating objects in the polar scope ahead of time and in the day light. Use a distant tree top, cellular tower or telephone pole to focus the polar scope.
- After balancing your camera/lens with the counter weight, reconfirm your polar alignment. You need to add the polar light extension to use the light after the dec bracket is mounted on the scope.
- Take several test exposures of different lengths to confirm your polar alignment, composition, and focus. If you are not happy with the results of your Polar Alignment, you may need to readjust your alignment.
- The SAM Console app is a free app by Sky-Watcher for both iOS and Android to assist with polar alignment.
1. Find the North Star (Polaris). See the above diagram. Find the big dipper and the 2 stars at the end of the pan of the dipper (Merak and Dubhe). If you take the distance between these two stars, Polaris will be 5 times that distance from Dubhe. After you do this a few times, you’ll be able to quickly locate Polaris in the night sky.
2. Rough align the Polar Scope toward Polaris. I usually bend down behind the mount and try to align this as accurately as possible so I’m able to find Polaris in the polar scope.
3. Press down on tripod so it is secure / stable.
4. Adjust the length of your tripod legs so the bubble in the level is in the center. Some astrophotgraphers believe that these bubble mounts are not accurate. You can check yours ahead of time by comparing with another level.
5. Turn on the polar scope light. There is no on/off switch, to turn the light on and off loosen/tighten the battery cover. Put polar scope light in the polar scope. There is a dial to adjust the brightness of the scope.
6. Slightly loosen adjustment screws on Equatorial Wedge using an allen wrench.
7. Loosen latitude adjustment handle.
8. Bring up your polar alignment app (SAM Console App) and go into the Polar Clock Utility.Go to location on the top and find your latitude.
9. Adjust the latitude using the latitude adjustment knob and latitude indicator. Steps 7 thru 10 can be done ahead of time to save time. It also helps to have the correct latitude when doing the rough alignment to Polaris (Step 2).
10. Loosen the black clutch bracket and rotate the mounting platform so zero is as the top of the clock diagram in your polar scope. Tighten the clutch bracket.
11. Look for Polaris in the eyepiece. You may need to use the latitude and horizontal adjustment knobs to align Polaris in the eyepiece
12. Go back in the Polar Clock Utility in the SAM Console App and look for a gray dot. This is the position of Polaris in its rotation around the north celestial pole. You will want to place Polaris at this location in your polar scope.
13. Align Polaris on the clock face in the polar scope to match the position in the Polar Alignment App
14. Lock down the latitude adjustment handle and the adjustment screws using an allen wrench.
14. Turn on tracking on the mount by moving the mode dial to the picture of a star for celestial tracking.
Written by Martin Belan
How to Set Up the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer for a Deep Sky Astrophotography Shoot
Beginning Deep Sky Astrophotography – Planning Your Photo Shoot (DSO Targets)
Learning Deep Sky Astrophotography – Planning Your Composition