BBC Sky at Night Magazine

DIY Astronomy

How to use the brightest object in the daytime sky to achieve polar alignment


There’s a lot of talk about the accuracy of polar alignment being essential for achieving great astronomy. It’s true that the more accurately an equatorial mount is aligned with Earth’s polar axis, the more faithfully the telescope will track the sky. However, the accuracy with which your mount needs to be polaralign­ed will depend on what you are using your scope for. If you are just going to go out observing or imaging the Sun, Moon or planets, accurate polar alignment really is overkill. These targets will tolerate some drift. If you are autoguidin­g, or imaging faint deep-sky objects or comets, it may be a different story. More on this later.

Not everyone has an observator­y or is in the situation where the mount can be permanentl­y set up and kept polar-aligned. Perhaps you are unable to view Polaris from your location or find yourself in a situation where you need to get your telescope set up during the day. This could be, for example, to do solar imaging or observe a bright planet such as Venus, which is accessible in the daytime sky. In these circumstan­ces, there is a method you can use to get your mount reasonably polar-aligned during daylight hours – without being able to see any stars, let alone Polaris. Indeed, there is a bright object we can use to achieve polar alignment that is easily visible on a clear day – the Sun. This method (see our Step by Step guide, right) must be used with great care. Remember to always

use certified solar filters – such as Baader film over the front of the

telescope or objective, or a Herschel Wedge for a refractor. You will need to take these precaution­s due to the Sun’s excessive heat and light. These

reduce the danger of setting fire

to your clothing, or worse still, permanentl­y damaging your eyesight or equipment.

Daylight viewing

The method outlined in our

Step by Step guide will enable

you to get sufficient­ly accurately

polar aligned during the daytime. It’s been found to be accurate enough to help to get

set for solar imaging, and to find planets and even

bright stars using computer control. It’s true to say that when you are imaging Solar System objects, the methods used can be quite tolerant of a bit of image drift if your mount is not accurately polar aligned. However, when it comes to deep-sky imaging the

targets are less tolerant, but our method benefits

from allowing you to autoguide to an extent.

After carefully performing a daytime solar polar

alignment, and if the skies stay clear, you will find this alignment can be sufficient for autoguidin­g without

having to re-adjust the mount’s polar alignment so that it is re-centred accurately on Polaris. That’s the beauty of autoguidin­g: if the stars do drift slowly

across the field of view, automatic adjustment­s by

the autoguider compensate for this drift.

We don’t get many clear nights, so don’t waste those precious hours tinkering about trying to get your mount’s polar alignment absolutely spot on. In many cases you really don’t need it. Instead, try our method of polar aligning – with our simple guide – using the brightest object in the daytime sky.

 ??  ?? Dave Eagle is an astronomer, astrophoto­grapher, planetariu­m operator and writer
Dave Eagle is an astronomer, astrophoto­grapher, planetariu­m operator and writer
 ??  ?? Moment in the Sun: take care not to look at the Sun directly, and use a solar filter
Moment in the Sun: take care not to look at the Sun directly, and use a solar filter

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