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State of the Art, Part II
Richard S. Wright Jr.'s Blog

Software Bisque’s Pyramid Portable Pier

I consider myself a portable imager:

  • I do not have an observatory, and my backyard is not well suited to setting up a permanent pier (much less the less than enthusiastic response from my wife at the suggestion of “a big hole in the ground and a pole sticking up all the time”). 

  • I do leave my mount up on my back patio for days at a time, but it comes in and out of my shed several times a month, and at least once a month if not twice I “camp” somewhere where I can get to darker skies, and a larger portion of the sky (trees, houses, etc. also obscure most of my backyard sky).

As you can imagine, setup time and effort are two aspects I seek to optimize as much as possible.

One interjection here: You should ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS try anything for the first time in your own back yard. This is the SINGLE more important piece of advice in all of portable imaging-dom. I’m not kidding.

When it comes to portable imaging, one size does not fit all. What I’m going to do for the next few blogs is talk about MY routine, which I’ve refined over the last couple of years working with the Paramount’s. No dogma here, just what works best for me… at least for now. Revisiting this topic in year or two might be interesting!

Next time I’ll talk about polar aligning the Paramount MX(ME), but the most important thing you can do before polar alignment is ensure that the mount is level. It’s been said and it’s true that with TPoint, you do not need to be perfectly level. While this is true, it’s my experience that when you’re in a hurry, it’s only true if you have an extra hour to burn. This whole process is much easier and less prone to mistakes if you take the extra five minutes it takes to ensure you're level.

The Software Bisque Pyramid Portable Pier makes this incredibly easy. The legs separate smoothly and easily, and then can be tightened down with a knob under the accessory tray.

A bubble level on the top shows me how far off level I am. At this point, I will all but sit on the tripod. Even if the ground is not soft, there will be some give and settling. If the ground is especially soft, I’ll find some wood or concrete pavers to place under the feet.


There is a bubble level on the base plate (these come with a base plate for the MX or the ME, you need to specify which if you purchase one) that will tell you how far off level you are.

How to level this tripod is a dream come true. Each leg has an adjustment knob up near the top that turns to raise or lower the leg. Using these three knobs, even for someone as mechanically impaired as I am, makes it easy to get a good level position in less than a minute. No heavy lifting, and the knobs are large so you get good torque even when the tripod is loaded down… which brings me to…

Don’t worry about getting the bubble level perfect. As soon as you put the ME or MX on top, it’s going to settle just a bit more (unless you're on a concrete pad or something).  I always put on the counterweight shaft as well, and then take another look at the bubble level.  Again, I’ll move it to center, but not fuss over being perfect.  While the tripod is not hard to level once loaded, it is more effort, and each time I re-level, I’m decreasing the amount of my last adjustment.

Now I load up my scope, counterweights, camera, and get all my cables in place after balancing the scope along both the dec and ra axis.

We are now operational weight wise, and with one last adjustment using the leveling knobs, I’ll center the bubble as perfect as I can make it.  I often will give a good shove with all my weight down on each leg to sort of pre-settle the mount if I’m not on a really hard surface.

Once where the turf was especially soft, I actually dug a small hole for each leg. I’ve learned the hard way you do not want this thing rocking in a light breeze, or settling into the ground as the night wanes on.

The last adjustment to make on the tripod is to get the mount pointing north.

There is a tension knob under the pier adapter plate that you can loosen and it allows the entire head to rotate 360 degrees, even when heavily loaded.

At this point, you want to get the mount pointed as close to north as possible using a compass or other reference point (I’ve seen some telescope pads pre-marked with north, a big help), and then you're ready to do your polar alignment, which I often actually do… in the daytime.

More on that next time ;-)

Posted 08-06-2012 11:10 AM by Richard Wright


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