The Best Telescope - Part 2: Look

Now that you've gotten to where you're reasonably comfortable looking at constellations and pointing them out to other people1, you might want to consider improving the view.

Part 2: Look

Start by looking in your closet because you may already have what you need.

Remember those binoculars you got for watching football from the bleachers? Or maybe you got them for bird watching. Maybe you got them for spying on your neighbors.2

Those binoculars are just two telescopes. And a good pair of 10x50 binoculars are better than almost any telescope that Galileo had available to him.

If you can, get an adapter that will allow you to put your binoculars on a camera tripod. After about an hour of looking around the sky, you'll be surprised how tired your arms can get. Besides, the tripod will give you a steadier view and, if you find something cool to show someone, the binoculars will already be pointed at the object.

If you don't have a tripod, then steady your elbows on something to help you keep the binoculars from moving. You might put them atop a picnic table, on the top of your car or even lean against a tree.

Start scanning slowly across the sky. You might just happen across something of interest.

Next, try looking at the moon. But don't start with a full moon. It'll be extremely bright. No, it won't damage your eyes but it will take you a few minutes to get dark adapted again. Besides, the moon is far more interesting to look at when it isn't full because you can see the craters and mountains highlighted in the sunlight.

While on the topic of sunlight, I cannot put too much emphasis on the following sentence.


Doing so can result in permanent and instantaneous blindness.

There are professional instruments that are made for viewing a magnified view of the sun. But you shouldn't try these until you've got some experience behind you and know fully what you're doing.3

It's simply not worth the risk.

What else can you look for with binoculars? Here are a few recommendations that will get you started.

The Orion Nebula (M42)

This is visible from very late summer to mid-spring but the best time to view it is in the winter. It's easy to find by looking for Orion's belt then scanning down his sword.

See that hazy patch? That's the Orion Nebula, an area where new stars are forming.

The Pleiades (M44)

This starts becoming visible in the morning skies in mid-summer but is better in autumn and winter skies. It rides on the back of Taurus the Bull and is visible even in moderately light polluted skies.

In dark skies, most people can seen six stars but keen-eyed viewers can see seven stars. Several cultures around the world called this group of stars The Seven Sisters. These are relatively young stars. With binoculars, you'll see those seven stars surrounded by dozens of other stars of the same cluster.

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31)

Rising in the northeast at sunset in late summer, this is best through the fall. It will be between the constellations Pegasus and Cassiopeia.

In very dark skies, it can actually be seen naked eye as a hazy patch of light. For most people, it is the most distant object that they can see without a telescope.

Through binoculars, it will still be a hazy patch of light but easier to see. What you're seeing is the combined light of more than 300 billion stars at a distance of about 2.2 million light years.

Of course, there is so much more to see and your star charts will help you find them. You're an explorer so that what you should do.

After a while, you still might want to get a better look. Before you plunk down money, there are some things to consider. Part 3 will show you where to go for answers.

1You are sharing your new found enthusiasm with other people, aren't you?
2I'm not going to judge you.
3There isn't anything you can make at home from cheap materials that you can use with a telescope for safely viewing the sun through the eyepiece. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


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