In the last article, I wrote about buying a telescope and some of the factors you should consider when getting started in astronomy. Some of those factors included portability, storage and cost. In some situations, a pair of binoculars could be a much better place to start in astronomy. There are many reasons one might choose binoculars over a telescope.
- Generally, binoculars can be purchased cheaper than a telescope.
- They are really easy to store and move around.
- There is no setup time, so if you get a short clear period you can make the best use of it.
- They are very flexible and can be used in the daytime to watch wildlife etc. Most people don’t realise that a telescope shows an invertered view. It doesn’t matter when looking at the sky, but it makes normal telescopes useless for terrestrial viewing unless you buy extra lenses.
- They are more comfortable to use because they have two eyepieces.
- They offer a wider field of view, so they are ideal for looking at large objects in the sky.
When looking for binoculars, one of the first things you will see is a number representing the power and aperture. It will be something like 7X50, 10X50 or 25X80. The first number of this is the magnification the binoculars provide and the second number is the size of the front lens in mm. For example, 10X50 means 10x magnification and a 50mm lens. Similar to a telescope a larger lens is the better for astronomy. This is because you want to get the most light possible into your eye. When choosing a magnification, I’d recommend picking something around 7 or 10. The reason for this is that you will probably hold them in your hands and the bigger magnification means the wobble will also be magnified. If you magnify too much the image will be very shaky unless using a tripod.
Have a look at the weight of your binoculars too when buying them as your arms can quickly get tired using them if they are too heavy. Try to avoid binoculars with features such as zooming as they are normally not suited to astronomy. If you can see the binoculars before buying them have a look at the front lens. The less light you can see reflected from them the better. Also avoid any lens that have a coloured tint in them.
I strongly recommend you don’t purchase a binoculars from anywhere other than an astronomy shop. The reasons are, in general the binoculars in camera shops and other high street stores are not good quality. They will likely be handled incorrectly and could be damaged when you get them. Probably the most important reason is that you will get much better advice and aftersales service from an astronomy shop.
What Can I See with Binoculars?
There is lots to see with binoculars. The Moon looks spectacular through binoculars. When it comes to the planets, you will be able to make out the disk of Jupiter and you will be able to see that Saturn is not completely round, but you won’t see the rings very well. You will easily pick out Jupiter and Saturn’s moons. Where binoculars really shine is wide field objects like star clusters. There are lots of deep sky objects that can been seen in binoculars. Some include the Orion nebula, the Andromeda galaxy and the Pleiades star cluster.
Similar to a telescope, none of these objects will look like they do in the photos by telescopes like Hubble but there is something special about seeing it with your own eyes. The effect is much more immersive when using binoculars as both eyes are used nearly giving a 3D effect. This is particularly spectacular if you get your binoculars and sweep them over and back across the milky way. This area of the sky is full of stars and you will almost certainly come across star clusters and other objects. Best of luck with your decision and in the third part of the series, I will write about some books and accessories you can buy to get started in astronomy before buying binoculars or a telescope.