Binoculars are perfect for those starting out in stargazing and are a great introduction to the hobby. They offer amazing views of the Moon and are brilliant for scanning starry skies. Planets come into view, including for example the Moons of Jupiter, and you can even see some of the brighter deep-sky objects such as nebulae and even galaxies!
In general, you can observe the night sky easily with your own eyes seeing up to 3000 stars from a dark sky location. This can be dramatically reduced in an urban light-polluted area perhaps only a few hundred stars can be seen — the views in these regions being limited to only the brighter stars. A pair of binoculars enable you to see far more stars, even in light-polluted areas.
Sizes of binoculars
Binoculars come in various sizes. In most cases, their dimensions are quoted in the form “10×50”, giving an indication of how much they magnify (in this example 10 times) and the aperture of their object lenses (50mm). The more a pair of binoculars magnify the more difficult they are to point at a specific object, and the larger the lenses the heavier they are and the more difficult they can be to hold. We quoted the example 10×50 as this size of binoculars are ideal for beginners and younger astronomers. First Light Optics have an excellent range of binoculars and would be very happy to help you select an ideal pair.
Binoculars for children
Binoculars are also ideal for children who are interested in taking their first step into astronomy. They can be purchased quite cheaply and offer a good introduction, perhaps even used as a trial run before purchasing a telescope. When combined with some of the free apps that help you find objects in the sky they can be really good fun to use!
Tips for using binoculars when stargazing
Locating objects in the night sky when the view is magnified using binoculars can be a challenge at first. Begin by placing your binoculars on your chest and look at the object you want to observe with your eyes (perhaps start with a bright star). Once you are comfortable looking at the object raise the binoculars to your eyes without moving them off the target.
The human body moves as we breathe so trying to keep things stable can be very difficult. However, there are a few little tricks, firstly if you’ve driven somewhere to get a good view then use the car to stabilise yourself. Lean back on the bonnet or use the roof to rest the binoculars upon.
If you have a nearby wall or fence that is at the right height they try resting your elbows whilst holding the binoculars to your eyes. Another tip is, if at home and you have one, to use an upturned brush to rest your arms upon (the brush also acts as a pivot point so you can easily rotate whilst observing).
Fixing binoculars to a tripod
Most binoculars can also be used with a tripod. A simple L-shaped bracket fits on your tripod and also screws into your binoculars in between the large lenses — a small circular plastic cap revealing a standard-fit thread. This combination is ideal and certainly helps get the most out of your binoculars saving your arms from holding them!
Objects to observe with binoculars
For more ideas and excellent advice have a look at astronomer Steve Tonkin’s website Binocular Sky.
Our thanks go to Allan Trow from Dark Sky Wales for his help putting together this guide.