I’ve found two apps and a couple of pieces of photo kit that I think could be a big help to other raw beginners like me. But before I get into detail on those, I would just like to mention my experience with my red dot finder.
The Sky-Watcher RDF which came with my Sky-Watcher 130M failed on its second outing. As I was reluctant to accept a replacement, FLO kindly gave me a voucher to set against the cost of a Baader 30mm SkySurfer III. I don't have a reticle eyepiece so, to make sure I was setting up the RDF accurately, I first sighted a target about 2 kms away from me using a 25mm eyepiece, getting the target in the centre of the EP as best I could judge (in daylight this is). I then adjusted the RDF until it fell on the target. I then swapped the 25mm EP for an 18mm and found that the target was off-centre slightly, so I re-aligned the scope and made further adjustments to the RDF. Finally, I changed the 18mm EP for an 8mm and did the same again. At the end of this, my RDF was absolutely spot on.
OK, moving on to the apps, the first is called PolarAligner, the second is called SkEye.
PolarAligner comes in two versions, free and paid for. The ‘Pro’, paid for version (which is cheap enough) has a ‘Daytime Alignment’ setting which I don’t think is available in the free version. Using ‘Daytime Alignment’, you lay your phone down on its back, on your mount, and parallel with the axis of the mount. You then adjust the azimuth and altitude positions of the mount with the aim of centring a white cross against a red target. Et voila! When you’ve done that, your mount is pretty much polar aligned! And in daylight! I lay my phone along my EQ2 mount axis by resting each end of the phone on the bottom of the two tube rings, holding it there with an elasticated hair band, kindly donated by my partner. See the image below taken in my home at around midday today.
SkEye is a free app which is similar to other sky map apps, except that it allows you to enter a target object and then shows you in which direction to move your phone in order to find that target. After you’ve selected your target, the app creates a circle with an arrow projecting from it, the arrow pointing in the direction in which you have to move the phone. When you have located the target, the circle brightens and expands, the arrow disappears, and the target is shown inside the circle.
To put the two apps into use, I swapped the tube rings on my mount, placing the one carrying the ¼” tripod screw at the front. After daytime aligning my mount with PolarAligner Pro, I fully tightened the azimuth and altitude settings on my scope and then fixed the OTA in place. In my case a Sky-Watcher Explorer 130.
The two pieces of photo kit I happened to have in my collection of bits and pieces were a spring-loaded smartphone holder with a ¼” tripod bush, and a dual camera photo bracket. The latter is about 25 cms long, and has a ¼” tripod bush at the centre with two 1/4" tripod screws on either side, each adjustable along a length of about 7 cms. I fixed the dual camera adapter to the front tube ring and then attached the phone holder to the right side of the adapter, as per the pics below. Then it was simply a case of putting my phone in the holder and making sure that it was exactly perpendicular to the OTA in both planes.
When I fired up SkEye and searched for Polaris... bingo!... I saw Polaris located in the circle as you can see in the photo below... so 10/10 for PolarAligner.
Using SkEye in a phone properly fixed to the OTA like this, you have yourself a brilliant ‘PUSH-TO’ facility. You can then obviously refine your target fix with your properly aligned RDF.
PolarAligner cost me £2.49, SkEye was free, and, as I said, the two bits of kit I already had. But you can get a tripod-bushed phone holder from £7 upwards, and the dual camera bracket is available on Amazon for £9. So, say £20 in total. And for that you get a brilliant polar aligning aid together with a Push-To sky map screen which makes operating your scope so much easier, especially if it’s an EQ2 mount like mine.
I hope this is of help to all absolute newbies like me