Saturday, October 24, 2009

Astronomy is for Everyone, Part Two

Today we have the second installment of our tips for getting started right in amateur astronomy.


Every observer should own a good pair of binoculars. These gather far more light than the eye, they magnify images and use the capacity of both eyes. Binoculars are the ideal instrument for the beginning observer for the following reasons:

1. They are portable.

2. They have a wide field of view.

3. They are relatively inexpensive.

4. They will still be of use even if you later progress to a telescope.

Binoculars are ideal for helping the beginner find their way around the night sky. Star colors are more noticeable through them.

Binoculars are well suited for:

* Scanning star clusters

* Picking out nebulae and galaxies

* Recording light changes in variable stars

* Watching for novae and comets

* Observing Jupiter and its 4 main moons

* Observing Mercury in twilight

* Observing the crescent of Venus

* Searching for dim Uranus and Neptune

* Observing bright asteroids

* Getting to know our closest neighbor, the Moon

Choosing Binoculars

The beginning observer might be tempted to think that bigger is better. However, when choosing binoculars, a pair with a magnification of 7 to 10 times is advisable because of the
increased weight. Anything larger would be difficult to steady by hand.

Consider this progression before choosing high magnification binoculars.

1. Higher magnification

2. Heavier binoculars

3. More difficult to steady

4. Bigger images with bigger and more frequent shakes

5. Unhappy observing

High magnification binoculars are used by many experienced observers, but they are normally mounted in order to provide the steadiest images possible.

Binoculars require prisms in order to give the observer a right side up image. Porro prism binoculars are the most common type. Binoculars of the roof prism design are also very good and they also have the added feature of compactness.

Many stores have seasonal sales on binoculars. This makes it possible to own a good pair of binoculars on even a tight budget. Before buying, you should try them out first to make sure that the images appear sharp and clear. If you cannot find a good brick-and-mortar store where you can pick up the exact pair of binoculars you are considering, make sure that the online store you use has a no-questions-asked policy on returns.

Unwrap the binoculars and focus them on a point of light as far away as possible and check for flaws in the image. If you see any distortion in the light, that will only be intensified when you are gazing at a sky full of pinpoint light sources! Don't let someone else pick out a pair for you because their eyes might not see an image exactly the way yours do. Another important point when examining binoculars is to check for the presence and amount of coatings on the optics. A good pair of binoculars will have anti-reflective coatings on each surface of every lens and prism in the binoculars. This reduces the possibility of glare and reflected images when observing. Beware of manufacturer packaging. While all say they use coated optics, not all use only completely coated optics.

Stay tuned for the next installment, telescopes...

No comments: