Using Binoculars to Search the Heavens

You are probably looking at this headline and saying to

What is with this guy and binoculars? It seems like every other
month he brings up this subject.

By David Baumgartner

You are probably looking at this headline and saying to yourself, “What is with this guy and binoculars? It seems like every other month he brings up this subject.”

Well, what is with this guy is that every time I use my binoculars, I ask myself why I even mess with these other complicated scopes. Binocular views are spectacular. Sometimes I write these columns just to remind myself about things, and I get all excited again. So, here we go.

You might be asking why anyone would want to search the heavens using binoculars with all the huge telescopes, exotic equipment and accessories readily available today. Why even bother with those light, easy-to-handle, wide-field, store-anywhere and less-expensive binoculars anyway? I guess I just told you why.

And don’t forget one of the best reasons to use binoculars: Two eyes are definitely better than one when it comes to viewing the skies. Your power of resolution and the ability to see faint objects are improved dramatically when using both eyes.

Next time you are out in your back yard on a clear night, try this test: Cover one eye and notice what faint stars you can see. Then uncover it. You can actually see more stars with both eyes than you can with one. They say you can see about 10 percent more when viewing with two eyes. (I’m not really sure who “they” are, but they seem to know an awful lot.)

I often have classes from different schools come by to visit and look through my 14-inch telescope. I usually start out by showing them the sky with my 20-by-80 binoculars first.

Here the students are, standing in line and waiting to take a peek through the binoculars, when all the time they are thinking to themselves,”Why are we bothering with this when we could be looking through the big telescope?”

Well, they do eventually get to use the big scope, but I must admit, I get just as many exclamations of “wow, look at that!” from the kids looking through the binoculars as I do when they’re looking through the 14-inch scope.

The best advantage the binoculars have compared to a large telescope is the large area the binoculars can cover in one view. Take the Andromada Galaxy for instance. This is the farthest object we can see with the unaided eye, existing some 2.2 million light years away. I can’t even begin to get the entire galaxy in my view with the large telescope; the object is just too big. But with the binoculars, I can see the Andromada Galaxy in its entirety. And what a sight it is.

There are many other fascinating things to see through the binoculars, such as open star clusters, the moon, planets and so much more. With my 20-by-80s, I can see four of the moons of Jupiter. As for our moon, it almost looks like you can reach out and touch it.

What about the sun? You are now asking yourself, “Is he crazy?” But binoculars are fine instruments for viewing the sun. However, before looking at the sun, take this warning: Do not look directly at the sun, not even for an instant! Without proper safety precautions, directly looking at the sun can cause permanent eye damage – even blindness.

The best and easiest way to view the sun is to use your binoculars to project an image of the sun onto a piece white cardboard. It is fun to check daily to see the movement of the sun spots as they circle around the sun’s surface.

You understand now that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy the evening skies. If you don’t have a pair of binoculars, maybe your dad has a pair he might let you use, or maybe a friend. Whoever they belong to, make sure you take care when using the binoculars, or you may not get the chance to use them again.

So there you are. Two eyes are better than one. Portability, affordability and ease of operation make binoculars a simple and enjoyable tool to use when viewing the heavens.

Happy holidays. Clear skies.

December Sky Watch

Dec. 2 New Moon

Dec. 4 Moon is 2.3 degrees south of Venus

Dec. 5 Moon is closest to Earth (perigee-223,564 miles)

Dec. 6 Moon is 4.1 degrees south of Neptune

Dec. 7 Moon is 2.1 degrees south of Uranus

Dec. 8 Moon at first quarter

Dec. 12 Moon is 1.2 degrees north of Mars

Dec. 12 Venus is at brightest magnitude -4.7

Dec. 13 St. Lucy’s Day, formally regarded as the middle of winter

Dec. 14 Germinid meteors

Dec. 15 Full Moon

Dec. 19 Moon is 3.7 degrees north of Saturn

Dec. 21 Moon is farthest from Earth (apogee-251,483 miles)

Dec. 21 Winter solstice. Days are shortest and nights are longest.

Dec. 23 Moon at last quarter

Dec. 25 Merry Christmas

Dec. 27 Moon is 3.8 degrees south of Jupiter

Dec. 29 Moon is 4.9 degrees south of Mercury

Dec. 31 Mercury is 7.5 degrees south of Pluto


David Baumgartner is in local real estate and is an avid amateur astronomer. His Sky Watch column appears monthly.