Re: Newbi in need of help.
Hi Amy -
To answer your questions...
Can I Polar align only? Or do I also have to go through a 2 or 3 star alignment?
If you're using ExploreStars, you'll need to do both. It seems to be a well kept secret that if you're not taking pictures, centering the north star (Polaris) in an eyepiece will get you polar aligned close enough so that a 2 or three star alignment will put objects in or near the center of the eyepiece.
If you're using your computer and a program like Cartes du Ciel, polar alignment is much more important as the computer program is relying solely on the physical alignment of the mount to find objects.
Are the knobs in the RA and DEC supposed to be loose or tight?
The RA and DEC knobs (clutch knobs) should be tight when you're sending the mount to a target.
Here's a video of how to set up an equatorial mount in general...it's not a PMC8, but there's good advice on balancing and polar aligning. Don't get too caught up in the details of polar alignment unless you have a camera on your telescope. Centering Polaris in the eyepiece will get you close enough to do a 2 star or 3 star alignment in ExploreStars so you can start observing.
As far as what to observe...check out some of the Astronomical League's observing programs:
*The Urban Observing Program is a good place to start...if you want to earn the certificate, you'll need to record your observations. Details here: https://www.astroleague.org/al/obsclubs/urban/urbanld.html
Hope this helps...