A beginners guide to using IOptron’s IPolar mount add-on for Polar alignment. I use this gear myself but many others use the QHY PoleMaster and rate it highly too so its a matter of preference really.
Using IPolar to polar alignment once it has been fitted and aligned is really easy and is my goto method for fast and accurate polar alignment. This is the only piece of software I use my laptop for and once polar alignment is done, it gets turned off and put away.
This article assumes you would do the it the same way although you can connect to it via Ascom as well if you needed to so I suggest you check out the IOptron installation guide if you want to do it this way but I have not found this necessary. The only pre-requesite is to install the IOptron software from their website (3339_iOptron_iPolar.exe) on your laptop. A health warning here, this software is Windows only it seems (sorry Mac users) – I would love a linux version for my raspberry Pi as well please!
I won’t go into detail here but after physically installing your IPolar in your mount, you will need to align the camera with the mount – this is simple and is detailed in their installation instructions – the software does this for you!
Step 1 – startup
Connect the IOptron IPolar to your laptop first so it power up (USB2) and then run the IOptron software exe file.
Hit the connect button and the IPolar camera should connect to your laptop – the usb driver should auto download and install the first time you use it but might be a good idea to do this before being away from the internet, just in case!
Step 2 – Dark Frame
Before you can use the IPolar camera, you need to take a dark frame – click settings and the then, leaving the IPolar cap on, take a dark frame.
They recommend taking a new frame each time you Polar Align but I haven’t and it works just fine – I tick the auto-load last dark frame option for this so I never have to worry but do always make sure I keep my IPolar protected from dust.
Step 3 – Settings
Setup your usual location (Lat & Long) at your site by clicking the “change” button on the settings dialog. Since we are not connecting via Ascom, these have to be entered manually.
As long as you are not near the equator you can set the expected temperature / atmospheric pressure by clicking the Default Atmospheric settings button. I have found that these do not seem to affect anything if left at the default settings – I have not changed them since.
Step 4 – Lets Polar Align
Now the fun part – roughly align your mount to Polaris (or the Southern Pole) and turn on the camera.
IPolar will take an image based on the frequency and gain you set – I raise gain to 6x and take an image every 500ms which works for me.
The image taken will be dark subtracted, darkened and auto plate solved (4 stars needed) – you will see a red cross (your mount axis) and a red dot – the virtual pole.
Guess what you do now?
Yup, you guessed it, you move your altiude and azimuth bolts until you align the red dot and cross over each other – but wait, when you get close, the red dot is enlarged to help you, fab!
I think this is the easiest visual way to Polar Align, when you get used to it, it can be done in under 10 mins.
What can go wrong?
- Plate solve failure – this can be because you are too far from rough polar alignment – move your tripod a bit, look down your scope to get it approximately correct and you will see it recalibrate or change the gain if you cannot see 4 stars minimum.
- When you retighten the mount axes, you can move alignment – don’t overtighten, just enough to hold it and I also don’t over under the fixings to reduce movement when I tighten – just leave them finger tight but moveable.
- Faulty USB cable – yep I have had that, replaced it with a better quality one…
- Windy night – I had a really bad night when the wind was gusting so much it was all over the place and I could not tell when I was aligned, the cross kept on moving off the dot – why I thought I could even image and guide that night was beyond me, doh!
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