Mountings

The most optically perfect telescope money can buy will not do you the slightest bit of good if it sits on a mounting that is poor or poorly maintained. It is important to ensure that all the connections are tight and the telescopes axes and locks are properly maintained. Clock driven telescopes may have internal batteries that must be properly cared for if they are to deliver maximum performance. It is as important to take care of your telescope's mounting as it is to take care of the telescope itself.

The heart of the mounting is the telescope's tripod. Take the time to ensure that the legs operate smoothly and that all of the connections are tight. The tripod should not exhibit even the slightest amount of wobble when it is erected. Verify this with the tripod's legs fully extended and the tripod fully loaded with the telescope and all of its accessories. If you are using a German style equatorial mount, make certain the counterweights are properly set. What I liked about my first mounting is that it has only one hinge to look after and it is made of solid cast iron. This type of mounting is called an isostatic mount or "wedgepod." It combines the concepts of a tripod with an equatorial wedge. Two legs of the tripod serve as the wedge, connected by the cast iron hinge. The telescope bolts directly to them. The two legs are then supported at the appropriate angle by the adjustable length third leg. I used this mounting for sixteen years and never had to do any maintenance on it of any kind. The only drawback of this mount is that I find it more cumbersome to polar align than a standard Celestron with tripod and equatorial wedge. I must physically move the entire mount around while looking for the pole. If I need to adjust the third leg, I cannot do that and see through the telescope at the same time. The wedge/tripod arrangement lets you do this with the aid of two simple adjustment knobs. It allows the telescope's polar axis to be pointed at the pole with great ease of efficiency. The wedge and tripod arrangement greets the user with an intimidating array of knobs, nuts and bolts to keep tightened. It only takes one to work its way loose to turn a joyous observing session into a frustrating evening. Make certain you spend some time with your tripod and your telescope's other related support equipment. I decided for advanced astrophotography to get such a wedge and tripod for myself.

My telescope itself consists of the optical tube, a fork mount that the telescope swings through for storage and the drive base. In 1986, internal batteries were not common. I bought mine from a dealer who specialized in innovations such as these. Roger W. Tuthill of Mountainside, NJ was one of the first to specialize in retrofitting new telescopes with internal batteries. Tuthill devised a means of placing two lead acid batteries inside the drive housing of a Celestron telescope allowing it to be taken away from any source of power for up to eight hours at a time. A DC voltage regulator and an AC inverter turn the battery power into household current for the standard telescope drive motor. Today, all the major manufacturers offer this feature standard, but this was a revolution in telescope portability in 1986. Batteries need to be cared for just as telescopes do. Nickel-cadmium batteries in particular need to be looked after in a careful way. Believe it or not, for a "ni-cad" to work at its best, you need to be a little nasty to it. The first time you use the battery, don't be concerned about running it until its dead. Kill it. Run your scope until the battery will not run the scope anymore. Don't be afraid about running the battery so low that you won't be able to charge it again. When you unload a ni-cad battery, the voltage "bounces back" sufficiently to allow it to accept charge. By depleting the battery like this you help to extend its life by exercising all of its internal cells completely. Users who only use batteries for a short period of time before powering down or connecting to external power are actually harming the prospect of getting a long life from their batteries. Some telescopes that were among the first to have internal power provided by the manufacturer used size AA lead acid batteries. If you have one of these and you are planning to store your telescope for any length of time, make sure you remove the batteries and store them somewhere safe. Batteries left in the telescope or any other user will eventually leak as they age and ruin the contacts inside the battery compartment. There may be other accessories with your telescope that employ battery power. LED illuminated finders use small calculator size batteries. These small batteries have very short lifetimes if you leave them running. Be gentle with these batteries. Find and center your target, then turn the light off.

Speaking of finder scopes, remember that just as they deserve the same care as your main telescope does, so does its mounting deserve to be treated in the same way as the main scope's. The scope is usually mounted in a bracket with three centering screws set at 120-degree intervals. Tightening or loosening the screws can adjust the aim of the scope to keep it in line with the main telescope. Loosening one screw always means tightening two others. If you do not, the scope will be loose in the bracket and slip out of alignment. Check it regularly and keep it precisely aligned. There are few things more frustrating to deal with than being unable to see your target because the finder is out of whack.

As a general rule, keep everything clean. Heavy-duty mountings have heavily reinforced brackets that may be heavily ribbed. These ribs make excellent hiding places for dust and dirt. Any such nook or cranny makes a great place for corrosion or rust to crop up. Don't let it happen. Be aggressive about keeping every part of your telescope clean, not just the glass surfaces. Keep all of the bolts tight and lubricated. Make certain that batteries are treated the way they're supposed to be. Use tender loving care for those small ones, but remember some batteries like it when you're a bit nasty to them.

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