Whether you’re getting your feet wet for the first time or diving in deep, bino stargazing is wonderfully rewarding.
So you’ve learned your way around the night sky well enough to identify the bright planets and most of the constellations appearing on our star chart. Now you’re poised to take the next step. You probably think that this means purchasing a telescope. And why not? Scopes are a lot of fun and offer a universe of amazing sights. But they can be a source of frustration if you’re unfamiliar with how they work. That’s why many experienced observers recommend an intermediate step: binoculars.
These double-barrelled optical wonders are great for introducing beginners to two very important backyard-astronomy skills. First, switching from a naked-eye perspective to seeing the dome of the night sky one small piece at a time requires an adjustment that many initially find difficult. Compared with telescopes, binoculars offer substantially wider fields of view, which greatly simplifies the transition. The fact that binoculars don’t present the universe upside down or mirror-reversed is a big help. Second, binoculars gently acquaint stargazers with the effects of magnification and enhanced light grasp. Appreciating how these factors alter the image really makes using a telescope much, much easier.
However, binocular astronomy is more than a stepping-stone between naked-eye stargazing and seeking faint fuzzies in a large telescope. It’s really its own thing. There are observers whose idea of a perfect night involves nothing more elaborate than basic star charts, a reclining chair and a pair of binoculars. These enthusiasts enjoy the appeal of minimalist astronomy and have no desire to wrestle a big, heavy telescope into the backyard, then fuss with eyepieces and the other assorted bric-a-brac that go with it. And there’s the not-so-insignificant consideration that most of us find viewing with two eyes more natural than with just one.
Binoculars also appeal to those seeking observing challenges. If you enjoy working at the limits of your instrument’s capabilities, you can experience the same thrills with 10×50 binoculars as you get with a big Dob—the only difference lies in the objects you seek. Think finding an obscure UGC galaxy with your 16-inch is tough? Try spotting M91 in those 10×50s! In my view (sorry, I couldn’t resist), the thrill of the hunt and the pleasure of glimpsing a difficult target are the same in both cases.
In the January/February issue of SkyNews, we’re finally taking the binocular bull by the horns (with apologies to Taurus) by introducing a new column: “The Binocular Sky” (page 26). We’re also including a guide to help you choose binoculars for astronomy (page 12) and mini-reviews of several representative samples (page 34). We hope that you enjoy these articles and that they inspire you to give binocular astronomy a try.
Check out the January/February 2018 issue of SkyNews for an expanded version of Gary’s Editor’s Report.