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Star Tracker Polar Alignment in the Southern Hemisphere.

Updated: Aug 10

Star trackers are quite popular for landscape astrophotography. This kind of equatorial mount is key for capturing stunning landscapes with the Milky Way in the background. Unfortunately, setting up these special mounts can be challenging and frustrating for beginners.

Setting up a star tracker in the Northern Hemisphere is relatively easy, thanks to a bright star situated very close to the north celestial pole (Polaris). Unfortunately, there is no such bright star in the Southern Hemisphere, indicating the south celestial pole. The stars of the Octans constellation represent the closest equivalent to Polaris, but they are within the human eyesight limit, even in a dark and clear sky.

In addition to that, there are situations where there is no visual access to Polaris or Octans asterism because of a mountain, building, trees, light pollution, etc. Limiting the compositions and the scenarios that you want to capture just because of that seems entirely unreasonable.

In this article, I’m going to describe a process that not only makes this process easier and faster but also makes it possible when the celestial pole is not visible. This process does not require having visual access to Polaris or Octans asterism. It provides a reasonable alignment accuracy for visual telescopes and for astrophotography with short focal lengths. Obviously, if you have visual access to the celestial pole, you can improve the accuracy of your alignment.

If you want to use an equatorial mount for astrophotography with a telescope or long focal length lens, this process will help you in the initial alignment, but you should consider using an additional step to achieve better accuracy. Visit the SharpCap[1] or StellarMate[2] polar alignment documentation for more information. DSO astrophotography with a telescope also requires a guiding system to correct periodic errors of the mount.


You need just a few inexpensive accessories to achieve a painless polar alignment.

I previously used a rectified timber with a Vixen dovetail section and four silicone stickers to hold the smartphone. It worked reasonably well, but finally, I decided to design my own adapter to achieve better results. That particular design allows me to use a standard smartphone with a protective case and it also supports QHY PoleMaster. It is compatible with any telescope mount and star tracker with a Vixen dovetail or a 3/8” screw. The model works in the Southern and also Northern Hemispheres. You can order this adapter from the Skylabs NZ website.

Please, note that if your smartphone case is not flat, it may introduce some accuracy issues. In that case, consider removing your phone from the protective case to align your equatorial mount.

This device supports six different setups attending to the type of equatorial mount and the smartphone app / QHY PoleMaster. Check the following diagram to learn what option works best for your equatorial mount.


Set up the star tracker as usual and point to the celestial pole using the smartphone compass.

1. Star Tracker Levelling and Rough Alignment

  1. Level the tripod using the bubble level of the mount.

  2. Unscrew the azimuth screws to give more range during the alignment.

  3. Introduce the smartphone adapter to the equatorial mount dovetail bracket or 3/8" screw.

  4. Introduce the smartphone in the adapter.

2a. Polar Scope Alignment App (iOS)

  1. Place the phone parallel to the polar axis.

  2. Open the PS Align Pro App.

  3. Click on the three dots located in the bottom-right corner.

  4. Select the Daytime/No Polar scope alignment (Sun symbol).

  5. Move the mount with the AZ screws until the cross moves just in the middle of the circle.

2b. PolarAligner Pro App (Android) - suitable only for the northern hemisphere

  1. Place the phone parallel to the polar axis.

  2. Open the PolarAligner Pro App.

  3. Click on the level button.

  4. Use the azimuth screws to tune the alignment with the pole.

  5. Click on the mount text in order to adjust the RA axis.

2c. PhotoPills App (iPhone and Android)

  1. Place the phone facing the polar axis.

  2. Open the PhotoPills App.

  3. Click on the "Spot Stars".

  4. Click on the AR button.

  5. Use the azimuth screws to tune the alignment with the opposite pole.

  6. Click on the mount text in order to adjust the RA axis.

3. Further Accuracy

If you have followed the previous instructions, you should have quite a reasonably good polar alignment. The described process works quite well for wide lenses (8mm to 50mm). If you have visual access to Polaris or Octans asterism, then those stars should be already visible through the polar scope.

The following steps will give you even better accuracy in your alignment.

  1. Take your smartphone from the adapter and open the “Polar Scope Alignment Pro” or “PolarAligner Pro App” again.

  2. Change the polar scope reticle with the one that you have. In my case, Skywatcher.

  3. Rotate the RA axis until the polar scope reticle aligns with the image you can see in your app.