Have you ever looked at NASA or Hubble Space Telescope images and became mesmerized by the beauty of our universe? Have you ever looked up at the stars on a clear night and wished you could see more than just points of light? Most people think that you need a telescope to see the wonders of the cosmos, and while that can be true in some cases, a telescope isn’t always necessary. With a decent star map, dark skies, and just a simple pair of binoculars, there are plenty of objects to see in the night sky!
While the view with binoculars isn’t as large as it can be with a telescope with powerful magnification, you can still see some amazing things! In fact, lots of people (including myself) got their start in astronomy by using binoculars. In this edition, we’ll look at more objects that you can easily find and see with just binoculars.
First up are the 3 open clusters in the constellation Auriga, M36, M37, and M38. Auriga is easy to find during winter evenings. While these open star clusters are better viewed in a telescope, they’re still visible in binoculars. They’re fairly small in the field of view, and resemble fuzzy blobs. Each cluster contains dozens of stars, and if you have a tripod or if you can hold really still, you may even be able to distinguish a few individual stars in each cluster. These clusters are a good, easy find and will help to increase your skill at finding celestial objects.
Another easy open cluster to spot with binoculars is M35 in the constellation Gemini. It is a little bit larger in binoculars than the Auriga clusters in the field of view. Also containing several dozen stars, M35 is also an easy, gorgeous find.
In the constellation Hercules, there are two globular clusters that can be seen. One is the M13 cluster which I’ve discussed in my first Astronomy With Binoculars post. The second is the M92 globular cluster. This globular cluster is almost as large and as bright as M13. With binoculars, it will appear as a large fuzzy ball and individual stars can’t be resolved. However, it’s still easy to spot and is a treat to see so many stars packed into such a small area.
Star clusters aren’t the only objects that can be seen in binoculars. There are several easy-to-find, prominent nebulae as well. In the constellation Orion, in the vertical alignment of 3 stars is the Orion Nebula. It will appear as a fuzzy star as well, except the fuzzy appearance is the nebula gas. It will appear as a grayish blue color because the human eye can’t distinguish color at such a low light level. Still, seeing the Orion Nebula is pretty neat!
In the summer skies is another prominent nebula, the Lagoon Nebula in the constellation Sagittarius. This nebula is a treat because the small open star cluster NGC-6530 is also visible. Also appearing a grayish blue, this nebula can be best appreciated with binoculars on a night where the Sun has fully set, and the Moon isn’t lingering around. See if you can make out any of the stars of NGC-6530 next to the nebula.
You can even spot galaxies with binoculars too! In the spring constellation of Corvus, you can find the M104 Sombrero Galaxy. It will appear as a dim, flat smudge with the brightest part being the center. It will be far too small in binoculars to make out any kind of detail. However, it’s one of the few galaxies that are bright enough to see with binoculars. At nearly 30 million light-years’ distance, it is one of the furthest objects from Earth that you can see in binoculars.
Another galaxy you may be able to spot given dark skies is the M33 galaxy in the constellation Triangulum. M33 is the second closest large galaxy to us next to the M31 galaxy. It will appear as a medium-sized smudge in binoculars. M33 is very easily hidden by light pollution and/or moonlight, so make sure you have dark, clear skies before you attempt to view M33.
Using binoculars to see objects in the night sky is a great way to break into astronomy. Binoculars are easier to come by, and cheaper than a telescope. They also come in handy when it’s too inconvenient to break out the telescope, and are much more portable. With a basic understanding of the constellations and a decent star map, almost anyone can find something amazing to look at in the night sky with binoculars. Next time you find yourself outside on a clear night, grab a pair of binoculars and see what interesting things you can find!
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