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Astronomy lovers often view telescopes as tools that take them on a tour of the universe’s wonders- allowing an up-close observation of celestial bodies and unveiling mysterious phenomena in outer space. Among the many vital components is a telescope GoTo mount system. In this article I will include an in-depth exploration of what GoTo mounts are – their concept, operation, usefulness and how best to set them up for your astrophotography imaging session.
I will also give you my personal take on telescope Goto Mounts and what I have discovered by using them. I hope you find this post helpful, especially if you are considering buying a Goto system.
What is a Telescope GoTo Mount?
Above we can see a picture of the first telescope I used for astrophotography. It is a Celestron 130slt with a telescope Goto mount. This telescope introduced me to the goto system. This kind of mount is a computerized mount with a hand controller that can locate and move to different astronomy targets which are programmed into its large database.
The telescope Goto mount here is an alt az version and I found this model to be very easy to use, even as a beginner. When I first got the telescope, I expected it to instantly move to and locate the object as I selected it in the hand controller. I have a comical memory of the first time I went out and tried to go from one target to the next and could not see anything at all. What I failed to understand is that the Goto mount must be first aligned to at least two stars, three is better. Once you do this, it knows where it is pointing and can then find your chosen target.
Although this kind of Goto system was easy to use, I did find it difficult to bend over sometimes into difficult neck-twisting positions kneeling on the ground and trying to centre the star in the eyepiece. Several times the hand controller just kept telling me the alignment hadn’t worked and I had to start again. With practice this can work but it is sometimes very tricky. In the end with this telescope I found I could get near the target by aligning on two stars separated by some distance in the sky. How easily you can align your model of Goto telescope will vary on the model and method of alignment.
My Ioptron CEM 26 equatorial mount provided me with new challenges as I had to Polar Align for the first time. I also found it more difficult to align the scope. It was definitely a more complex system than for my previous Alt Az Celestron Goto mount. With time I got better at this but in the end, I resorted to plate-solving which is much easier and saved me so much time.
With telescope using the Goto system everything is normally controlled from the handset and this is a very sensitive piece of equipment you need to take care of. I didn’t use my Celestron for several months and when I switched it back on the handset no longer works. Pity!
How does a Goto Mount Work?
In the case of my alt az model, there are two motors that move the scope horizontally and vertically to find your object. Therefore, the scope moves in two directions. This is easy to understand but is not as good as an Equatorial mount at tracking the movement of stars and deep sky objects. I often got odd shapes and sudden movements when trying to take pictures longer than about 30 seconds. This meant I had to reject many images that I took and had less to stack.
With an equatorial telescope goto mount the tracking is easier once the object is found because the mount is aligned with the Celestial Polar Axis around which all the stars rotate. All the telescope needs to do is move in one direction around the polar axis. This makes the tracking more accurate. With my newer computerized telescope mount, (an Ioptron CEM 26), I could easily take two-minute-long exposures without any guiding and the star trails were not noticeable. I did sometimes have to reject perhaps 10-20% of these though as there were small movements which spoiled the image.
With the first telescope I had I did ensure the mount was level and I believe this is even more important with an equatorial mount. There has been some discussion about just how important this is, and you can check out this video by Cuiv the Lazy Geek who questions how important levelling of a mount actually is.
When I began using a guide scope, I found that my rejection rate was almost zero and I could track for as long as I wanted. I tend to only use exposures of a maximum of ten minutes, but I could do much longer without any problems. I recommend an Equatorial mount.
The Benefits of a Telescope Goto Mount
There are a number of benefits to the telescope Goto mount for both amateur astronomers and astrophotographers. With swift and accurate positioning, even elusive targets can be tracked efficiently, granting more valuable observation and imaging time. The telescope GoTo Mounts’ computerized system ensures an exceptional level of accuracy making them easier to use than other kinds of mount. This computerized system helps in the following ways:
- saves time by reducing the manual search for celestial objects.
- swift and accurate positioning
- elusive targets can be tracked efficiently
- more valuable observing or imaging time.
In my experience, I would advise anyone looking for a telescope setup to consider a telescope Goto system because it simplifies everything. With all the above benefits it doesn’t make sense to me to cut corners and go for a model that does not have this computerized feature.
It is equally important for observation and for astrophotography that your mount makes it as easy and quick as possible to find the object you want to target. Astrophotography requires an accurate auto-tracking telescope mount even more so than for observation, so this is even more of an important benefit if you want to photograph astronomical objects.
Bear in mind though that both my setups so far have used this system and I have not tried a manual system without Goto, so not everyone will agree with what I have said but I am sure that if you are new to astrophotography, it will be a big advantage to have a telescope Goto mount.
Which Types of Telescopes can be Used with Goto Mounts?
Generally, any type of telescope can be used with a Goto mount. These include:
- Newtonian reflectors (this is what I use)
- and more.
Considerations when Choosing a GoTo Mount
There are a number of important factors to consider before choosing a telescope Goto mount. These include:
- How much weight can your mount carry? You need to make sure it can support all the extra equipment you have such as a camera, guide scope etc.
- How good is the tracking? You need this especially for astrophotography.
- Does the mount have a large enough database with the kind of targets you want programmed into it?
- How easy will it be to use the Goto system and hand controller? The easier the better!
Tips for Using a GoTo Mount Effectively
To make the most of your GoTo mount, consider the following tips:
- Calibration: Regularly calibrate your mount to maintain its accuracy and performance.
- Astronomy Apps: Utilize astronomy apps or software that can sync with your GoTo mount to expand your observational or imaging opportunities.
- Object Catalogs: Explore various object catalogs available for GoTo mounts, such as Messier, NGC, or IC catalogs, to discover interesting celestial targets.
- Observing/ Imaging Plans: Plan your observing sessions in advance by creating a list of objects you want to observe. This allows for efficient and focused stargazing. There is a lot of software you can also use for this such as astrophotography tool which I use.
- Tripod legs: One final but most important tip I’ve found is this: keep your mount tripod legs as short as possible and make sure they are tightened to increase the stability of your setup. By doing this I have been surprised that the wind is much less of a problem even though I image in a very windy location near the sea.
Maintenance and Care of GoTo Mounts
There is not much to think about in terms of care for your mount. The most important things can happen when you are using it, so let’s start with how to store it.
Make sure if you store it for short periods, you set the weights for an equatorial mount into zero position with weights pointing down. This removes any load from the mount. If you store it for a long time without using it take the weights off or disassemble the mount completely.
Make sure to regularly clean the mount from grease or dirt. Be careful when doing this!
Always ensure while using the mount that you monitor the mount at critical times such as the meridian flip. I have experienced crashes where the mount weight or balance bar hits the legs, and this can damage the motor. The best reaction if this happens is to immediately switch off the motor and release the clutch moving the mount to remove any pressure on the motor.
When slewing you should watch your telescope carefully and ensure nothing snags or strains. Don’t leave these things to chance. A Goto telescope mount is probably your most important and valuable piece of equipment and damage is bot inconvenient and costly!
I hope this article has helped you understand what a telescope Goto mount is and how it can help you. If you are confused or need help choosing a mount, please send me your question. I’ll be glad to help you out!