Soon, winter will be upon us and with it, some cool crisp nights featuring skies festooned with stars, planets and of course, our moon. For most of us, it’s a bit chilly to go out and set up a telescope. Binoculars to the rescue! If you have never looked at the night skies through a pair of steadily mounted binoculars, you really are missing something!
Binoculars, when held steady are a great way to view the heavens. The 4 moons of Jupiter, many star clusters, some nebulae and a few galaxies are seen very well through binoculars. The Milky Way comes alive as you sweep through it high in the sky in summer months.
In some ways, binoculars have advantages over many telescopes in that they are very portable and will give you a much wider field of view. Even if you have an excellent telescope, once you have mounted your binoculars steadily, you will keep going back to them again and again.
So, how best to use them?
Here are 7 tips and some great links that will really help!
Click on any of the images for a larger view.
At left is a binocular holder device my son made for me in high school shop class (great job Andrew). It is similar to commercially available units. It mounts on top of a standard camera tripod.
Most binoculars (not all) have a threaded insert in the center just ahead of the focus knob. This insert will accept the threaded end of the device. To get to this insert you may need to unscrew a plastic plug that is usually there to protect the threads.
At left is the head of a camera tripod. You can see the threaded bolt in the center of the flat top section protruding upwards a little bit. This threaded bolt will screw into the bottom of the binocular holder as shown in the next picture.
Voila!! Binoculars mounted on a tripod.
You should be able to find a holder like this from your favorite telescope store, some camera shops and also you could try bird watching shops as they tend to carry a wide range of binoculars and binocular accessories.
Tip 2: Buy a good tripod.
You can find them used in places like craigslist, ebay and often at your local good will store. When I say a good tripod, I mean one that is steady and has a smooth head on it. A well made tripod will last you a lifetime. You can use it day or night with your camera, binoculars or even small spotting scopes. By the way, if you want a great little spotting scope at a very reasonable price, check out the Celestron C90 MAK Spotting Scope. I have one and I love it! I opted for the weather proof version shown in that link.
Tip 3: Plan a bit.
If you are not that familiar with the night skies, then get your self a good star chart that shows you what is up in the sky, when it it is up, and where to look. Start by getting familiar with the constellations as most of these charts will reference the constellations to direct you to what you are looking for. Some useful links are:
Orion Starry Night Pro 6.3 (Great Software)
Tip 4: Allow your eyes to get “dark adapted” and learn to use your “averted vision”.
As your eyes adjust to the darkness, you will be able to see fainter and fainter objects. It takes about ½ an hour to get your eyes dark adapted. Here is a great article on that subject from Orion called How The Human Eye Works.
Tip 5: Know the phases of the moon.
If you go out when there is a full moon overhead, your eyes will never get dark adjusted. That said, if the moon is what you want to see, then go when you know its up in the sky! I would add to this that its also useful to know (for starters) what to expect to see if you are looking for Jupiter. Here are 2 very useful links.
Tip 6: Get yourself a small red flashlight.
If you need to reference your charts, a bright white flashlight will totally ruin your dark adjusted vision and you will have to wait again for your eyes to adjust. A dim red flashlight (red light) is all you need to read your charts and it will not affect your night vision.
Tip 7: Pick a dark place.
If you live where there are lots of street lights or any kind of light pollution, hop in your car and go for a ride into the country. Most of us are but 10 – 15 minutes away from a nice dark place where we can really enjoy the wonders overhead! This does not mean you can’t use the binoculars from where you live. You’ll just get more out of them in darker places.
Now, all you need is a clear night , about a 1/2 an hour to let your eyes become dark adapted and then, the sky’s the limit. Have fun!
If you have any tips or links that can help, please share them with our readers by leaving a comment.
The Moon and Feature Image – Microsoft Clip Art Collection
All other images © Gil Namur — All Rights Reserved