Summer has traditionally seen a waning in my telescope use. Longer days that see twilight stretching into night time hours put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm to spend a lot of time viewing and then there are the bugs. Dare to stay out too long without mosquito protection and you’ll quickly regret it. Of course I’ll make a point to bring a telescope on any trip to darker skies but my summer backyard viewing time is generally much more limited and oriented around binocular viewing.
Binoculars are great for getting the most viewing out of a short time under the stars since there is really no setup needed. I usually remove the lens covers when I take the binoculars out of the case in the house and just carry them outside ready to view. Often I will use them standing, which allows moving around easily but makes viewing objects at higher elevations difficult due to neck strain. Sometimes I will bring out a reclining lawn chair but more often I’ll just lay on my back on the picnic table for a few minutes if the bugs allow.
I use binoculars ranging from 2.1x to 16x power depending on what I’m looking to see. Lower power binoculars provide wider views, taking in more of the sky at a time. Higher power binoculars provide more magnification and are better for focusing on individual objects though they can become tricky to hold still as the power increases. The usual recommendation is for a pair of 8x40s for 10x50s as a primary binocular for astronomy, with the 10x showing a bit more at the cost of being a bit more trouble to hold steady.
When taking my 16x50s out for quick views hand-holding is fine but I find that adding an inexpensive monopod allows much steadier and thus more detailed views without adding a lot of hassle. I’ve tried tripod mounting binoculars but I always end up wishing I’d brought out a telescope instead.
This year I’ve also added an electronic ephemeris to my observing toolkit in the form of Sky Safari 5. I’ve found Sky Safari to fit in very well with my star hopping preferences – the ability to zoom from wide constellation level charting to detailed object locations reflects the mental exercise of finding subjects using a planisphere and paper charts.
The option to provide notifications for visible satellite passes has resulted in frequent views of the International Space Station and Tiangong as well as my first observations of Iridium flares. I had previously seen a few passes of the ISS by using the tables at NASA’s Spot the Station website but Sky Safari makes these opportunities seem much more accessible. These sightings can apparently be quite exciting for those not normally drawn to astronomy.
I’ve yet to use Sky Safari at the telescope and though I’m looking forward to trying it I doubt I’ll stop using paper charts or my planisphere completely. Though I do wonder if they’ll see more use as reference tools for session planning rather than at the scope.
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