Your Telescope Mount
Unless you purchased a hand held Rich Field instrument your telescope came with a mount—that is, some device that supports it and puts it at an easy viewing height. If it is a less expensive ‘scope, it most likely came with a variation of a camera-type tripod. This is an altazimuth mount. That’s a contraction of altitude and azimuth, meaning the telescope can move up and down and left and right.
This is the simplest type of mount, and fairly easy to set up and use. It probably came with setting circles showing declination and RA, so you can point your ‘scope to a specific object.
However, to use the setting circles, the mount must be pointed true north—at the North Star, Polaris. (This is true of any type mount, as we will see.) This can sometimes be difficult to do. It sounds simple enough. Find the Big Dipper—always easy—draw an imaginary line between the two outer stars of the bowl and continue the line until you intersect with a bright star. You’ve found Polaris!
But there are some latitudes at which Polaris is difficult to find during some parts of the year—mine for one.
A big advantage of an altazimuth mount is that you don’t have to do all this to enjoy your telescope at first. You can just point it at a celestial object and enjoy the excitement of seeing a planet or nebula as more than a point of light (but please don’t expect what you see to look like Hubble pictures).
But the altazimuth has a related disadvantage. Because it moves in two directions unrelated to the way the heavens precess across the sky, any object in your field of view will quickly move out of view. And for the same reason, it is difficult for you to follow the movement of an object. Now you can buy computerized motorized drives for altazimuth mounts that track the motion of the celestial sphere and so keep an object in view. FYI—they cost more than your telescope did—by a lot.
There is one type of altazimuth mount that is much simpler to use than the tripod based mount. It is a Dobsonian. This is used strictly for larger reflector ‘scopes. The mirror end of the ‘scope rests on the mount, and it is very easy to move in any direction. It too can be motorized, and the drives for Dobsonians are less expensive in general.