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Three Simple iOptron Improvements


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Three Simple iOptron Improvements

Michael A. Covington


Michael Covington is the author of Digital SLR Astrophotography and observes clouds, and sometimes celestial objects, from Athens, Georgia.


In what follows I want to tell you about three things I've done to improve my early-model iOptron GEM45 mount. With a bit of adapting, you can apply the same ideas to many other mounts, both iOptron and other brands.


1. Better saddle knobs


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Fig. 1: Saddle knobs made from bolts and wing nuts. Note also added declination index mark.


After finding the original iOptron saddle knobs hard to turn, and even experimenting with larger knobs from an industrial supplier, I figured out what I actually needed to do: make my own out of bolts, wing nuts, and ordinary nuts. Because the GEM45 saddle has been through several engineering changes, I'm not going to give exact specifications; instead, remove one of your existing knobs, go to a hardware store, and see what you can put together to substitute for it.


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Fig. 2: A hex-socket-head bolt, a wing nut, and two ordinary nuts make a good saddle knob.


Mine had M4 metric threads, and I was able to build the new knobs around hex-socket-head bolts that take the same hex wrench as the mount uses for polar axis adjustment. Now I can tighten and loosen them by hand and also use the wrench if they get stuck. After confirming sizes, I put a dab of epoxy on the threads to hold the nuts onto the bolt.


2. Index marks

Unlike Celestron mounts, iOptron mounts don't have index marks to show zero position. That leads us to do various tricks with bubble levels and the "Search Zero Position" electronic function on mounts that have it.

But index marks are easy to make. I used white-on-black tape from a Brother labelmaker with just the letter I printed in the middle of each piece. You can see the added declination marks in Fig. 1 above, and the R.A. marks in Fig. 3 below. They aren't perfect, but neither are the index marks on any other mount; they certainly make it easy to get close to zero position quickly, and to confirm that you've returned to it at the end of a session.


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Fig. 3: Added index marks for right ascension. (For dec. index marks, see Fig. 1.)


3. User-friendly labeling


Good labels on scientific equipment make it easier to use and prevent mistakes. And if they make it looks a bit less elegant, a bit less like fine furniture and more like a piece of laboratory equipment — well, that's what it is!


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Fig. 4: Added labels prevent mistakes and make equipment easier to use.


With that in mind, I've added several labels to my GEM45 to indicate what I normally plug into each socket. Besides what you see in the picture, I added, elsewhere, a label with my name, cell phone number, and e-mail address, and another saying "Delicate equipment — iOptron GEM45 mount — read instructions before moving or handling," just in case someone else, perhaps a non-astronomer, has to handle my mount in an emergency. These were made with a Brother labelmaker that was connected to a PC and equipped to make larger labels.


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