What does “error” mean?

In your product reviews, when you state that a telescope drive has a periodic error of, say, 10 arcseconds, do you mean that it has a tracking accuracy of ±10 arcseconds or ±5 arcseconds?

Gaussian function

The Gaussian function is used as a model to estimate errors. The total error can be given or the error can be given relative to the measurement.
Vierge Marie / Wikipedia Commons

All gear systems have inherent mechanical errors that limit the accuracy with which a telescope drive can track the sky’s motion. In modern worm-gear drives, most of this error is caused by the worm and repeats with the worm’s rotation period. Typical times are 4 to 15 minutes, and many are close to 8 or 10 minutes.

Our test reports measure a drive’s total angular departure from one extreme to the other during a full worm rotation. This would be the amount of apparent trailing a star would have in an unguided photograph made with a camera mounted on this drive. Specifying this error as a plus-or-minus departure from a mean position would yield a number half as large (which looks better on paper), but the drive would still produce the same amount of star trailing. My informal survey of telescope manufacturers reveals that they also cite total drive error. But they’re specifying its value less frequently in this era of electronic periodicerror correction. More important now are the manual guiding skills of telescope owners when they “train” the electronics to reduce periodic error.

— Dennis di Cicco

All comments must follow the Sky & Telescope Terms of Use and will be moderated prior to posting. Please be civil in your comments. Sky & Telescope reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter’s username, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.