How do I collimate my telescope by using the stars?

Night Time Star Collimation

After successfully completing daytime collimation, night time star collimation can be done by closely adjusting the primary mirror while the telescope tube is on its mount and pointing at a bright star. The telescope should be set up at night and a star's image should be studied at medium to high power (30-60 power per inch of aperture). If a non-symmetrical focus pattern is present, it may be possible to correct this by re-collimating only the primary mirror.

To star collimate in the Northern Hemisphere, point at a stationary star like the North Star (Polaris). It can be found in the north sky, at a distance above the horizon equal to your latitude. It’s also the end star in the handle of the Little Dipper. Polaris is not the brightest star in the sky and may even appear dim, depending upon your sky conditions. For the Southern Hemisphere, point at Sigma Octantis.

If there is a lot of twinkling or unsteadiness in the atmosphere, this is what astronomers call a night of poor seeing. It is best to wait until a night of very good seeing (stable atmosphere) before star collimating your scope.

Prior to re-collimating the primary mirror, locate the collimation screws on the rear of the telescope tube. The rear cell has three screws which are used for collimation and three screws which are used to lock the mirror in place. The collimation screws tilt the primary mirror. You will start by loosening the small locking screws a few turns each. Normally, motions on the order of an 1/8 turn will make a difference, with approximately a 1/2 to 3/4 turn being the maximum required for the large collimation screws. Turn one collimation screw at a time and with a collimation tool or eyepiece see how the collimation is affected. It will take some experimenting but you will eventually get the centering you desire.

It is best to use the optional collimation tool or collimating eyepiece. Look into the focuser and notice if the secondary reflection has moved closer to the center of the primary mirror. With Polaris or a bright star centered within the field of view, focus with either the standard ocular or your highest power ocular, i.e. the shortest focal length in mm, such as a 6 mm or 4 mm. Another option is to use a longer focal length ocular with a Barlow lens. When a star is in focus it should look like a sharp pinpoint of light. If, when focusing on the star, it is irregular in shape or appears to have a flare of light at its edge, this means your mirrors are not in alignment. If you notice the appearance of a flare of light from the star that remains stable in location, just as you go in and out of exact focus, then re-collimation will help sharpen the image.

Take note of the direction the light appears to flare. For example, if it appears to flare toward the three o'clock position in the field of view, then you must move whichever screw or combination of collimation screws necessary to move the star’s image toward the direction of the flaring. In this example, you would want to move the image of the star in your eyepiece, by adjusting the collimation screws, toward the three o'clock position in the field of view. It may only be necessary to adjust a screw enough to move the star’s image from the center of the field of view to about halfway, or less, toward the field's edge (when using a high power ocular).

Collimation adjustments are best made while viewing the star's position in the field of view and turning the adjustment screws simultaneously. This way, you can see exactly which way the movement occurs. It may be helpful to have two people working together: one viewing and instructing which screws to turn and by how much, while the other performs the adjustments.

Important: After making the first or each adjustment, it is necessary to re-aim the telescope tube to re-center the star again in the center of the field of view. The star image can then be judged for symmetry by moving just inside and outside of exact focus and noting the star's pattern. Improvement should be seen if the proper adjustments are made. Since three screws are present, it may be necessary to move at least two to achieve the necessary mirror movement. When satisfied with the collimation, tighten the small locking screws.

Updated 12/19/13