6 TIPS FOR USING BINOCULARS FOR STARGAZING
There are many good and useful things to do with a common pair of binoculars. One of these uses that a lot of people overlook is simply looking up at the night sky. You might be surprised just how effective a regular pair of binoculars can be for effective stargazing. You do not need an expensive telescope to enjoy the starry heavens! With our 6 tips, you’ll be able to get the most out of the night sky without having to be an expert.
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#1 Do Some Preliminary Viewing
When you first head out for some star gazing you should give yourself at least 30 minutes to allow your eyes to adjust to the dim light before doing any star gazing. This will allow you also see your surroundings a bit better for your safety.
Once you are ready, you should try and find what you want to view with your eyes first. Binoculars have a fairly limited field of view which can make it tricky to find objects. Therefore, it can be a lot easier to spot what you’re looking for with the naked eye first, and then with the binocular for an up close viewing.
#2 Select the Right Binoculars
You do not have to have an expensive pair of binocular for effective stargazing. You can, however, optimize your experience if you have a pair of binoculars with a few key features.
First, consider a magnification of somewhere between 7x and 10x. This should be more than enough for quality viewing. If you go much large it can be difficult to steady the image so you would definitely need a tripod.
Second, look for binoculars with an objective lens between 40mm and 50mm. This should be enough to let in plenty of light. The more light that enters the lenses, the more you can see in the night sky.
Finally, consider lenses that have multi-coating for high performance. You want lenses that have high resolution for sharp and clear images.
#3 Start with the Moon
You will be amazed how much of the moon you can see with a simple pair of binoculars. You can easily track the phases of the moon throughout the month as you watch the shadow of the earth progress across the moon.
The best time to start tracking the moon is when it is still a “new moon”—that is, when there is just a slight crescent of light on one side of the moon. This will allow you to track its progress throughout all its phases. Most calendars can tell you when the moon will be going through its different phases.
If you are looking for the best time to view the moon, then you should head out just after sunset. At this time, you can see a glow from the moon that is quite lovely. You will also be able to make out a good number of surface features on the moon, like large craters with even a decent pair of binoculars. Consider consulting a map of the moon to learn where to look for these features.
#4 Use a Star Chart or Planisphere
For beginner stargazing, looking up at the night sky can be rather intimidating. There are a lot of tiny dots in the sky and they can all look the same to the untrained eye. One way to learn how to distinguish all these points of light is with a book of constellations. A good star chart like this can tell you when and where to look to find all the different star formations. It can also give you the history and other distinguishing features around the constellations.
Another good resource is a planisphere. This is a particular kind of star chart that has two adjustable dials on the outside that will rotate. By setting these disks you can adjust to the particular date and time to display which stars are visible at that time and where to look. This is a great idea for beginners still getting used to when and where to look.
#5 Pick Up Some Additional Gear
There are a few other pieces of equipment you should consider using in addition to your binoculars. First, a tripod can be a good way to steady the images you want to see. You will likely find that it can be difficult to steady the binoculars enough to get a clear image of smaller objects.
Another thing that will come in handy is a compass. As you attempt to find things in the night sky you will need to know the directions to orient yourself and there’s no better way to do that than with a compass. Star charts and constellations are all identified based on earth directions so you will need to be able to find North.
Finally, because it will be dark while you are star gazing, you will find a flashlight very useful. However, see our tips below on star gazing etiquette for how to use it properly.
#6 Mind Your Stargazing Etiquette
If you are new to stargazing, there are a few bits of etiquette you should be aware of.
First, you should only star gaze in places that have open spaces that have level ground. Never stargaze from places like the side of the road, around bodies of water, or near cliffs. You will likely move around a bit as you stargaze so you need to make sure there are no hazards into which you might fall.
Second, if others are also stargazing, you should be quiet and respect of the peaceful nature of stargazing. If you are going to use a flashlight as we suggested above, make sure you have properly dimmed the light either with red cellophane a light piece of red cloth.
Third, you should never go alone. Being out in the open and looking up at the stars can make you vulnerable to someone approaching without you noticing. Having a partner with you can protect you while you are in an out of the way location.
Fourth, make sure you have permission to be on the property where you are star gazing. Do not use private property without permission or use your binoculars to encroach on the privacy of others. It is better to find a place that is not near homes where people might perceive that you are attempting to look into their houses. The last thing you want is to be accused of being a peeping Tom!