Newtonian Telescope Collimation with the Astrosystems LightPipe

Newtonian Telescope Collimation with the Astrosystems LightPipe
Newtonian Telescope Collimation with the Astrosystems
LightPipe/SightTube and Autocollimator
Mechanical Alignment with the Crosshair SightTube
Optical Collimation with the LightPipe collimator
Fine Optical Collimation with the Autocollimator
Checking Optical Collimation - Star Test
Secondary Offset
References / Further Reading
The first two steps, preparation and mechanical alignment, need only be performed the first time the
telescope is assembled. Thereafter, only the optical alignment and star testing are needed to
collimate your telescope. Don't underestimate the importance of mechanical alignment. Most
troublesome collimating jobs can be traced back to mistakes or assumptions regarding the
placement of components.
Quick Tour: If you are familiar with your telescope’s collimation and only want an abbreviated
guide to using the AstroSystems collimating tools, just read through the lines in bold type at the
beginning of each paragraph.
Position the telescope
Place the telescope on a horizontal surface or move it to the horizontal. Position the focuser so it is
easily accessible. You will be moving back and forth from the rear to the front of the tube assembly
to check progress and it helps to have things positioned for convenience.
Assemble the proper tools
Gather the necessary tools required to adjust the primary mirror holder, secondary mirror holder,
and spider and focuser base.
Center spot the primary mirror
It is necessary to "spot" the center of the primary and secondary mirrors. To facilitate collimation at
night, a white mark on the primary is most visible. The ideal spot can be made from any type of
adhesive backed white paper or label. Cut a square 1/2" on a side or a triangle 5/8" on a side and
use a paper hole punch to make a smooth 1/4" hole in its center. An adhesive backed paper
reinforcing ring such as the type used on notebook paper also works. The spot is placed at the
center of the primary mirror.
NOTE: To avoid possible damage to your optics, remove rings, watches, bracelets, pens, pencils
and any other loose articles from your person or around your work area that could fall on or scratch
your mirror. It is also advisable to use a plastic or wooden ruler when measuring your optics.
The center of the primary mirror can be determined by first finding its diameter and dividing by
two. Use this radius to measure in from the edge at six or eight positions around the mirror. After
several measurements, you will begin to zero-in on the exact center. Use a fine tipped permanent
marker to mark the center and then accurately position and attach your paper "spot." Use acetone or
alcohol on a cotton swab to remove the permanent marker in the center of the spot.
NOTE: Don’t worry about placing a spot on the mirror, the center of the primary is shadowed by
the secondary mirror. The reflection from the primary back towards the secondary mirror has a
"hole" in its center from the secondary mirror shadow, leaving a small central portion of the
secondary mirror shadowed.
Mark the secondary mirror
There are two ways to position the secondary mirror, on axis or offset. On axis is recommended
since the advantages of offset are not visually perceptible and it makes collimation more difficult.
Offset should be incorporated if the telescope is going to be used photographically, here the unequal
illumination at the edge of the field will occur, or if the telescope is f/4 or less, requiring a large
Mark and position the secondary mirror on-axis
Measure the center of the secondary and place a small dot with a permanent marker at that location.
If you prefer there is a technique to align the secondary under the focuser without a center spot.
The spider is also positioned in the center of the tube.
Mark the tube opposite the focuser
Mark a spot on the side of the tube opposite the focuser by carefully measuring from the front of the
tube down an equal distance (on the outside of the tube) as the center of the focuser drawtube. A
piece of adding machine paper works well to find the dimension around the tube (or upper cage).
Wrap this paper around the outside, measure its center, rewrap the paper and drill or punch a tiny
hole through to the inside. Place a mark or spot on the inside to complete preparations.
Mechanical Alignment with the Crosshair SightTube
Mechanical alignment is the accurate positioning of components in the tube assembly. The
importance of mechanical alignment lies in the fact that all the collimation steps that follow are
either easy or difficult, depending on how well the telescope components are mechanically
NOTE: Truss tube owners are proceeding on the assumption that when the telescope is assembled
the upper cage is centered over and square to the mirror box. Measuring to verify this will save
time and frustration later.
Center the primary mirror in the mirror box
With open end mirror boxes, it is a simple task to measure in from the mirror box sides to the side
of the mirror. With closed tubes, centering the mirror relative to the mirror mount and then
centering the mirror mount relative to the tube works well. Mirror cells supplied with a sling can be
adjusted in combination with cams or locating pads to center the primary mirror. It's a help to first
turn the collimating screws so they all have the same amount of travel in both directions.
Square the focuser to the upper cage (or tube)
With the secondary mirror and holder removed, insert the Crosshair SightTube into the focuser.
The focuser mounting screws are loosened and the adjusting feet, if the focuser is so equipped, are
used to tilt the focuser until the crosshairs are centered on the mark opposite the focuser. On
focusers not provided with tilt, adjustment shims made of cardboard or other suitable material can
be placed under the focuser base until the crosshairs are centered on the opposite spot.
Square the spider
The spider is next squared to the optical axis. This is checked by sighting through the spider bore
towards the primary. The spider bore should look directly at the mirror center spot. Adjustment
can be made by drilling the mounting holes slightly oversize and shifting the spider vanes to square.
Also be sure the spider screws are well tensioned to hold collimation.
Position the secondary mirror laterally under focuser
Without offset / center spot on secondary mirror - Replace the secondary mirror and holder and
position it under the focuser so the crosshairs are centered on the center spot. Washers or the
adjustment nuts can be used to position the secondary (see Figure 3).
Without offset / no center spot on secondary mirror - Replace the secondary mirror and holder
and position it under the focuser. Move the LightPipe/Sightube up and down in the focuser until
the outer edge of the secondary mirror is just visable in the bottom of the LightPipe/Sightube. It is
usually necessary to adjust the secondary mirror laterally under the focuser to get the secondary
With offset / secondary center spot is necessary - Replace the secondary mirror and holder and
position it under the focuser. Using the LightPipe/Sightube, center the offset spot on the crosshairs
of the Sightube. This laterally positions the secondary mirror under the focuser with the desired
Position the secondary mirror rotationally under the focuser
Remove the LightPipe/SightTube and look through the focuser drawtube. Rotate the secondary
holder and mirror until the reflection of the primary mirror is centered all around. Move towards or
away from the focuser until the edge of the primary is just seen in the secondary. Insert the
LightPipe/SightTube, adjusting its height in the focuser until only the edge of the secondary can be
seen. When the primary mirror reflection is centered, lock the secondary in place. This completes
the mechanical alignment.
Figure 3. Lateral adjustment
Figure 4. Rotational adjustment
Optical Collimation with the LightPipe
Figure 5. View through LightPipe/SightTube of collimated system.
Adjust tilt of secondary mirror
Insert the LightPipe/SightTube into the focuser. Adjust the secondary tilt so that the primary
mirrors reflection appears centered front to back and side to side in the secondary. After this step is
done, insure that the secondary spot is centered under the crosshair of the collimation tool. If not,
adjust the secondary lateral or rotational position and then readjust tilt. Aligning the secondary
becomes an iterative process, with each successive pass generating smaller changes to the
placement of the secondary. When it is set up correctly, the reflection of the primary in the
secondary should appear centered in the focuser. The spot on the secondary should be centered
under the crosshair of the collimation tool.
Adjust tilt of primary mirror
Now that the secondary mirror is positioned, it’s time to adjust the primary to point in the correct
direction so that the optical system becomes closed. By closed, we mean that the image at the
focuser (your eye) reflects off the secondary to the primary and then the primary reflects light back
to the secondary, which in turn reflects the light 90 degrees back to the focuser. You will then be
able to see the reflection of your own eye when you look into the focuser. The open sky or a white
wall work well to evenly illuminate the view. The primary collimation screws are now used to
adjust the tilt of the primary so the LightPipe reflection is centered on the primary mirror spot. At
this point, it becomes obvious why the center spot was cut square or triangular. It is much easier to
see the corners of the “square spot" extend equally around the illuminated LightPipe reflection
when the two become superimposed.
When you get through, the crosshairs on the collimation tool should aim at the dot on the secondary
and be exactly centered in the circle on the primary. Simultaneously, the primary must still appear
centered in the secondary, front to back and side to side.
By introducing a circle of light at the focuser, the reflection of that light will appear centered on
both the primary and secondary marks. This is precisely what a LightPipe eyepiece does. It has a
clear diffuse upper section that introduces light into the closed system while allowing you to look
through a tiny hole to see the reflection of that light in the system.
If you have aligned your secondary correctly, you will only need to tweak the primary at this time.
The dot on the secondary should be centered in the dark center of the light circle generated by the
LightPipe. The mark on the primary should be centered in the circle of light as well. Figure 5
illustrates the collimated view. A large offset will appear to make the reflection of the focuser
slightly off center in the reflection of the secondary. An offset reflection will be centered side to
side, but skewed front to back (along the axis of the telescope).
After using the crosshair and LightPipe eyepieces, your Newtonian is very close to being
collimated. The next step in fine tuning requires an autocollimator or you can use the star test on
Page 7.
Fine Optical Collimation with the Autocollimator
To understand how an autocollimator is used, consider the following analogy: a fun house has two
mirrors facing each other in a room. One of the mirrors can be moved by using a lever in the center
of the room. If you stand in the center of the room and look in one mirror, you will see your
reflection. If the two mirrors are not exactly parallel, you will also see a reflection of your
reflection in the other mirror. These reflections will go on for what seems forever, creating a line of
ever smaller images of yourself. When the mirrors are parallel, you will only see your reflection in
the mirror because your body is blocking the reflection from the other mirror. Suppose another
person is looking through a small hole in the fixed mirror. This hole is centered on the position
where you are standing. When the mirrors are slightly out of parallel, he sees you and a series of
reflections of you in the mirror behind you from his perspective. When both mirrors are parallel, he
sees only you and no reflections.
If a flat mirror is placed in the focuser of a Newtonian telescope and it has a small hole placed in it
to look through, the center of the primary along with the secondary and the mirror in the
autocollimator act like the two mirrors in the example. When a Newtonian is properly collimated
all the multiple reflections will appear as one.
Using the Autocollimator
First, it is necessary to collimate the optics with a LightPipe or Laser collimator sufficiently close to
give a "closed" light path. Insert the autocollimator in the focuser without using a setscrew, if
possible. Even better is to use an adapter or drawtube that has a compression ring. This gives a
repeatable and accurate orientation of the autocollimator in the focuser. A very loose fit or an
irregular setscrew will tend to tip or shift the autocollimator.
If the initial collimation was close, you will see a dark or partially dark view on initially looking
into the autocollimator. If part or all the view is bright, indicating the introduction of external light
and an open optical system you will need to return to the optical alignment of the primary and
secondary, Page 4.
Once you see a mostly dark view, you will see one or more reflections of the center spot, the
brightest being the first reflection and subsequent dimmer reflections being the second or third
reflection of the center spot. Reaching around and applying a light twist or tilt to the secondary
will usually bring multiple reflections into view. Make small adjustments to the secondary to get all
the reflections to converge together. If you can see multiple images that are in a line perpendicular
to the tube axis a slight rotation of the secondary will bring them together. If the images are parallel
to the tube axis (left to right) then tilt adjustment to the secondary will bring them together.
At this point, you will see very small adjustments having a great affect. Each reflection is two times
the focal length, so a third or fourth reflection is 6 to 8 times the focal length! This is very sensitive
and may need to be touched up as the night progresses due to thermal expansion/contraction.
You have now reached perfect collimation.
The advantage an autocollimator has is that it can be done in daylight or under cloudy conditions.
On fast systems (low f-ratio), it is the only way proper collimation can be obtained because the
large amount of secondary offset (if present) will make a properly collimated system appear poorly
collimated when viewed with the LightPipe.
Checking Optical Collimation - Star Test
Optical collimation can be checked and fine tuned by sighting on a star, however this is only
possible if the skies are not overy turbulent and the optics are thermally equilibrated. This is a very
sensitive test, if we tilt a f/6 mirror to shift the image in the focal plane by 1/100 inch, visually
perceptible coma results. For example, if the collimation screws have 16 threads per inch, this will
correspond to as little as 1/8 turn. Interpreting the images seen in this test will take some
experience. Locate a star of third or fourth magnitude fairly high in the sky. This improves the
chances of a good image and insures the primary mirror makes positive contact on its flotation pads.
Using a medium-power eyepiece defocus the image. Figure 8 below shows stars outside of focus
in the top row and inside of focus in the bottom row. Should your image appear like 8A., exhibiting
gross coma, astigmatism and diffraction, something is severely misaligned or has shifted and
returning to mechanical alignment may be necessary. Usually the star’s appearance will look much
like 8B., showing a small amount of decentering. For more detail, shift to a high-power eyepiece.
Work by trial and error, rather than trying to figure out which primary mirror collimation screw to
adjust. The lower arrow shows direction in which to displace the image in the field to return the
beam on axis. Once this is accomplished and checks out with high power, the telescope is
accurately collimated.
A. Large centering error
B. Small centering error
C. Perfect centering
Figure 8. Adjusting the primary mirror with a star.
Secondary Mirror Offset
Offset (repositioning) the secondary in a Newtonian reflector will even the illumination at the edges
of the field. This is not perceptible in a visual telescope over f/4. For that reason it is not
recommended for a visual telescope of f/4.5. For shorter focal lengths, especially in larger
telescopes (20"+) or photography it can provide a small benefit. To offset the secondary mirror, it
is repositioned (offset) in the light cone coming from the primary mirror (see Figure 1.). To make
better use of the full light gathering ability of the primary mirror and more evenly illuminate the
edge of the eyepiece field.
The secondary mirror is positioned a small distance away from the focuser and an equal distance
towards the primary. To realize why this offset is necessary we see that the light returning from the
primary mirror is shaped like a cone. When this cone is intercepted at a 45 degree angle, the shape
is larger in area on the side towards the primary and smaller on the side towards the open end of the
telescope. The diagonal is shaped like a 45 degree cut through a cylinder and so it is uniform in
area front to back and side to side. Obviously these two shapes are not the same, so shifting the
secondary mirror towards the "fat" side of the light cone will help equalize the illumination at the
image plane.
Figure 1. The center of the secondary mirror is offset away from the focuser and towards the
Note: The following example is given for incorporating offset into the position of the
secondary, but is not recommended for a visual telescope. To calculate the amount of offset to
maximize illumination of the field use the following formula that yields a very close approximation:
s' = N (D - N)
4 ( F - L)
s' = The secondary mirror offset N = Secondary mirror minor axis
D = Diameter of primary mirror F =
Focal length
L = Intercept distance measured from the secondary mirror to focal plane.
Secondary Mirror Offset
An example using the above formula:
A 20" telescope has a focal length of 100 inches. The tube outside diameter is 22", the secondary
minor axis is 3.1" and the focuser height is 1.5". The focal plane is 0.25" above the fully racked in
focuser; this distance is known as "in-travel."
N = 3.1"
D = 20"
F = 100"
L = 11" + 1.5" + 0.25" = 12.75"
By inserting the values in the formula for offset we have:
s' = 3.1 (20 - 3.1) = 3.1 ( 16.9) = 52.39 = 0.15"
4 (100 - 12.75)
4 (87.25)
The offset for this telescope would be 0.15", or just over 1/8". This calculated offset is the
horizontal or vertical offset, the offset along the face of the secondary is 1.414 (√2) times s'. In this
case 0.15" times 1.414 gives us 0.21".
The easiest way to introduce offset is to position a spot, using a pointed permanent marker, on the
center of the secondary mirror. Then mark a second spot, shifted by the amount of the offset, along
the centerline towards the end of the secondary mirror in the direction of the tube front as seen
above. This spot is centered under the focuser to move the secondary mirror the correct horizontal
component of offset, while the spider is repositioned away from the focuser by the vertical
component. This has the net effect of offsetting the secondary mirror along its face by the
prescribed amount. The spot can be removed with alcohol and a swab when finished. Offset will
cause the reflections to be non-concentric when viewed visually through the focuser or with a
References / Further Reading
Collimating Your Telescope
January 1981
Sky and Telescope
Backyard Astronomy
March 1988
Newtonian Collimation
Sky Publishing
Vic Menard, Tippy D'Auria
How to Make a Telescope
Willmann-Bell, Inc
Jean Texereau
Star Testing Astronomical Telescopes
Willmann-Bell, Inc.
H.R. Suiter
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