Different Types of Telescopes Mounts
The telescope is often seen as the most important piece of gear for an astronomer, but another piece of equipment that is just as important, if not even more so, is the mount in which the telescope rests. The mount is entirely unnecessary for smaller telescopes – one’s hands can support its weight with ease, and it is often not worth the trouble to set up a mount if one simply wishes to look quickly at something from a distance away. However, for the serious astronomer, a telescope mount is a must.
Generally, larger telescopes are required for greater detail in astronomical observations. The problem is that larger telescopes are bulkier, heavier, and are nigh impossible for unassisted humans to manipulate. In addition, astronomical observations often require the telescope to be turned on a particular patch of sky for an indefinite period of time. No human’s stamina is indefinite, and so the solution is the telescope mount.
At its simplest, a telescope mount is simply a carriage for a telescope that turns on two axes: up and down and left to right. There are two main subsets of this: the altazimuth mount and the equatorial mount. Altazimuth mounts are the simple types mentioned above – they cover the altitude (up and down) and the azimuth (left to right) movement of the telescope, hence their names. Altazimuth telescope mounts are the cheapest and simplest kind, and are generally recommended as the entry-level mount for amateurs and casual stargazers.
Equatorial mounts are more sophisticated versions of altazimuth mounts; they differ in that the horizontal base of the mount is tilted to become parallel to the equatorial plane. As a result, the azimuth axis will swing the telescope on a path that can follow the movement of stars in the sky as a result of the Earth’s rotation. This makes long observations easier; particularly those that need to follow a particular patch of sky. Equatorial mounts are obviously more expensive and are generally reserved for a more professional strain of astronomer.
Transit telescope mounts are a strange beast – they are mounted so that they only observe objects in the sky crossing the local meridian, an event known as a transit. While their elevation can be changed, they rely on the Earth’s rotation to bring them into view.
Finally, we have the fixed telescope mount. These are generally reserved for purposes which require the utmost accuracy and a fixed observation point, such as determining astronomical and the measurement of small differences of zenith distance.
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