So what exactly is a telescope tripod? Almost everyone knows that a tripod is a three-legged arrangement that holds something steady - but there's a lot more to it than just that. What parts are on a telescope tripod? How do they work? What types of telescope tripods are there? How do you use them? If you have questions like these, then follow along as we take a closer look at the telescope tripod.
A Telescope Tripod
Be it fashioned from metal or made from precious wood, a telescope tripod is nothing more than three supports that form a stable surface on which to mount a telescope. Each branch of the tripod is called a "leg" and they are joined at a pivot point.called the platform. Most telescope tripods have extendable height legs. This allows the user to adjust for personal comfort and to level the platform when the tripod is placed on an unlevel surface. Between the tripod legs, there is always some type of arrangement - be it a folding brace, chain, or a rigid tray - that keeps the tripod legs from continuing to fold outwards.
Now that we have our telescope tripod, note there is no way of attaching the telescope to the legs! This is a common misconception. When most people think of a telescope tripod, they think of the entire assembly that holds the telescope, but a tripod is only the legs and platform.
The Telescope Tripod Mount
A telescope mount is a mechanical device upon which a telescope tube is attached. Telescope mounts are designed to support the weight and length of the telescope, to keep the assembly balanced and to allow for accurate pointing of the instrument. The very first were designed to do nothing more than hold the telescope steady, but quickly progressed to allowing the instrument to follow the progression of the stars as the Earth rotates.
The most important thing to remember is that a telescope mount is not a tripod or pier which holds the assembly to a certain height. A telescope mount is the axis - or pivotal point - from which the optical tube assembly of a telescope is attached.
What Types Of Telescope Tripod Mounts Are There?
All telescope tripod mounts belong to one of two basic types - altazimuth or equatorial. There are many different styles that belong to these two basic types, but first let's more closely examine the basics.
Altazimuth Telescope Mount: The most basic type of telescope mount is the altitude-azimuth, or alt-az systems. The name refers to the way the system allows the telescope to be moved in altitude, up and down, or azimuth, side to side, as separate motions. Typical modern altazimuth mounts have clutch/braking systems incorporated into their mechanics - as well as panhandle, or knob controls to assist in movements.
Equatorial Telescope Mount: An equatorial mount is a mount that has one rotational axis parallel to the Earth's axis of rotation. This type of mount is used with telescopes, satellite dishes, and cameras. This allows the optical tube to stay fixed on any object in the sky that has a diurnal motion by driving one axis at a constant speed - be it by the attachment of a mechanical clock drive or the use of a manual slow motion cable. Because an equatorial mount is fixed with both proper ascension and declination on the sky, it is usually equipped with setting circles - a numbered set of rings which allows the user to manually aim the telescope at a set of celestial coordinates to achieve an object when the telescope is properly aligned to the polar axis.
How Does A Telescope Tripod Work?
The legs of a telescope tripod also "telescope". In other words, they slide inside of each other to extend. To extend a tripod leg, you loosen the set screw along the side, extend the leg to the desired height and securely retighten the screw. When the proper height has been set, the tripod legs are spread away from the ring shaped platform - always double checking to make sure the connecting assembly is also secure. No one wants a tripod leg to fall off or collapse with a valuable telescope on board!
Once the tripod is set up, the mount head is then placed inside the platform and secured. This is good time to check the stability of the area you have chosen to set your tripod up on and double check all fastenings. Then the telescope is attached to the mount. Always be careful to leave yourself plenty of room around your tripod to walk - or allow others to walk as well. It is very easy in the dark to trip over a tripod leg.
What Kinds of Tripods Are There?
For a very lightweight telescope, a camera tripod is usually sufficient. Always choose the tripod by the amount of weight it is specified to carry. For average telescopes, a heavier telescope tripod is needed to support counterbalance weight as well. For large telescopes, a very heavy tripod is needed to support the weight of the heavy telescope and mount.
Tripods come in a variety of materials, from light-weight aluminum to heavy metals. There are even tripods created from precious and beautiful woods, too. No matter what tripod you decide to use with your equipment, make sure the platform is compatible with the mount you will use for your telescope and the tripod is capable of supporting the load.