Category Archives: Binoculars

Fourth of July

Firstly, I would like to wish my American friends a very happy Fourth of July! I hope you all have a great day. 🙂

It was clear last night but, as it’s only the beginning of July, it still isn’t 100% dark, so I didn’t take the 12 inch outside (although once the shed’s up and the scope installed, that will change as I won’t have the effort of lugging it in and out of my room) but I did do a quick binocular session.
My first interesting object – two objects in fact – wasn’t a natural celestial body but the International Space Station, at 2300 BST (2200 UT). The ISS flight path takes it over here and you see it about every 90 minutes on a clear night, not much of a big deal these days as it’s familiar enough. However, in front of the ISS was a smaller, fainter, satellite on the same course and moving at the same speed. I knew it wasn’t the Shuttle, as none are in space at the moment (and soon, sadly, none will be ever again 🙁 ) so I did wonder what it was, until I remembered an item I’d seen on the BBC News website earlier in the day about the Russian Progress cargo ship which was supposed to dock with the ISS but which had malfunctioned. Progress had overtaken the ISS while the mission controllers were working out how to fix the problem. I asked about it on Facebook and, apparently, it was Progress I saw.

I went back outside later, at midnight, with my 8×42 binoculars and just scanned around once I’d got dark adapted. I just looked for Messier objects and I saw M81, M82, M4, M22, M16, M17, M20, M8, M103, M11, M39, M10, M12 and M24. Ok, I know it’s not exactly hard core deep sky observing, but it’ll do me for now until observing can properly begin again later in the month.

In Astronomy Now last month it was stated that M7 is not visible from the United Kingdom. That may be true further north but not true on the Isle of Wight. I can’t see it from the back garden here because of a low hill with trees on the top of it about quarter of a mile away (last night, I stood on a garden chair to see if I could spot M7 in between the trees on the hill but without success) but, at -34 declination it is certainly visible, if a little murky from being so low down, from the island. I have seen it from the Vectis AS observatory site just down the road and I have seen it from the Military Road. So, yes, it is visible from the UK.

The new ‘observatory’ is finally under way. At left is the miniscule progress so far. With help – I have a dodgy back and worse knees and my aunt has arthritis! – this should be done this week and the shed assembled.

Observing – in June!

I did some observing last night! Yes, observing in June! It can be done, provided you don’t have to get up for work the following day because of the late hour, as you can’t really begin before 0030 BST (2330 GMT/UT) due to the length of twilight at this time of year. The sky wasn’t as dark as it normally is at other times of the year, with the Sun no more than 16 degrees below the horizon at 1am, and the Milky Way not as prominent as it is later in the summer and early autumn, but you can do something. I went out just before 1am BST with the 8×42 binoculars (I figured it wasn’t worth taking out the 12 inch, just for a mere two or three hours), aiming to finish the AL Deep Sky Binocular Program; I had just four objects, all open clusters, left to find and these were in Cepheus and Lacerta with two in each constellation. These were NGC 7160 (Cep), NGC 7235 (Cep), NGC 7209 (Lac) and NGC 7243 (Lac).

Conditions: It was mostly clear, with some drifting cloud, although not enough to interfere with observing. It was also cold, the thermometer showing a dismal 7 degrees Celsius and the humidity was 72%.
Seeing: Very good, about II.
: Not so good, a little drifting cloud and hazy, around III
NELM: Didn’t check, although I’d guess it was no more than 5.8 at best.
Instrument: 8×42 binoculars.

NGC 7160, open cluster in Cepheus – Faint, round misty patch, no individual stars seen. 8×42 binoculars. 0055 BST

NGC 7235, open cluster in Cepheus – Easy to find small, misty patch. No stars resolved and averted vision does not improve the view. 8×42 binoculars. 0102 BST

NGC 7243, open cluster in Lacerta – Large, irregularly-shaped oc. Rich-looking. Granular when looked at directly, but with averted vision 10-15 individual stars appear. Hard to count them with handheld binocs. 8×42 binoculars. 0108 BST

NGC 7209, open cluster in Lacerta – Large and round. Rich. Granular with averted vision but with a few superimposed (foreground?) stars. Just a round misty patch when you look at it directly. 8×42 binoculars. 0115 BST.

That’s the end of the AL Deep Sky Binocular Program for me. It’s taken me, I think, a couple of years – looking at the notebook I have scribbled all this down in, I began doing this on 24th October 2008 so it’s just a few days short of 20 months. Now I have to find another binocular program to do! There’s the AL’s Southern Sky Binocular Club but there’s one major flaw with that one – I live at 50 degrees North so nearly all the stuff on there is immediately ruled out as inaccessible.
Using binoculars to do astronomy with is great, as binocular observing in its own right is fun and rewarding. It is also ideal for those occasions when conditions aren’t quite good enough to justify setting up a telescope, for when you want to do some observing but can’t be bothered to set up the telescope, for those occasional times when your scope has broken, or if you don’t have a scope – these things happen to everyone at some time or another and binoculars (a.k.a. bins, nockies, binos or binocs) are ideal.

Tomorrow morning, at 1129 UTC (1229 BST), is the Summer Solstice (Northern Hemisphere), so after tomorrow the Sun will start to move back south from the Tropic of Cancer and the nights will gradually begin to draw in again, although we won’t notice too much of a difference until mid-July. Sunrise will start to get later after 22nd June (the earliest sunrise is at 0442), but sunset (the latest time of which is 2122 local time) won’t get any earlier until after the 28th.
Far be it from me to wish the time away but I can’t wait to see the back of June as observing’s difficult. I am looking forward to later on next month and into August when the summer’s well underway, the summer goodies are still accessible and it starts to get dark enough to enjoy them properly. Let’s hope the weather co-operates!

Binocular quickie, 4th March 2010

Opportunities to get out and observe have been few and far between just recently, as much to do with not being able to get out as bad weather, and even on Thursday evening, which was beautifully clear, I only had an hour. So it was out with the 8x42s to knock some of the last eight or nine remaining items off my AL Deep Sky Binocular List.
Conditions: Clear, quite cold, around zero. No wind and no moon (not yet risen)
Naked eye visual magnitude: 6.1
Seeing. Ant II
Instrument: 8×42 Leica binoculars
The last few items on the list that were accessible this evening were open clusters and all, except NGC 2343 in Monoceros and NGC 2360 in Canis Major, were in Puppis, very low in the south. Here at 50 North our theoretical cut off is -40 South although, in practice, you’re looking through more atmosphere so things are rendered fainter by haze and murk although, when it has been clear recently, the sky has been very clean, probably due to the biblical amounts of rain we had the week before last. I have been able to see deep into Puppis and even into Columba, the Dove – more on Columba a bit later.
I knocked five objects off the list:
NGC 2360, open cluster in Canis Major:
Fairly largish clump. Can see some stars with the good old averted vision. Elongated east to west.
NGC 2343, open cluster in Monoceros:
Small, round, clump of stars. None resolved. Quite bright.
NGC 2527, open cluster in Puppis:
This is where things get a little awkward, as this bugger is low down. Faintly seen as roundish patch.
NGC 2539, open cluster in Puppis:
Faint round patch south of M48. Looks granular when you look at it with averted vision.
NGC 2571, open cluster in Puppis:
Very crappily placed for us unfortunate northerners. Dim, roundish…you know when you’re really struggling to say something about an object? This is one of those times.

Having bagged those five objects and with the rest not accessible, I decided, with the help of charts, to find out how far south I could actually see. My southern horizon is not too bad, despite a low hill in the way, but the constellations were placed well enough that the one I was after, Columba the Dove, was unobstructed – well the northernmost part is. I still had to get a garden chair to stand on, just to get slightly more elevation to peer over the hedge as this stuff is even lower than the clusters I was looking at in Puppis. I managed to see Sigma Columbae, plus one or two others in that constellation, and I’m hoping to do this again next week at the IW Star Party – weather permitting – as, with nothing but sea all the way from here to the Cherbourg Peninsula, I might be able to see a bit more.
It’s nice to see Leo rising in the east, spring galaxies await!

Binocular observing session 3rd January 2010

Another nice clear night, 2010 is off to a decent start, may it continue, but again I decided to use the binoculars for a short session instead of the scope.
Cold -3C, very hard frost already on ground adding to that left over from previous night
No wind
Moon not yet risen at start of session (87% full, rises at 2005GMT)
Seeing II-III, transparency II
NELM 6.0 to 6.3
Instrument: 8×42 binoculars (handheld)
Markarian 6, open cluster in Cassiopeia. Six or seven bright stars in a line, surrounded by fainter ones. 1910 GMT
Melotte 15, open cluster in Cassiopeia. Just to the north west of Mark. 6, this is smaller and fainter. Not resolved. Star in foreground. 1915 GMT
Stock 23 (Pazmino’s Cluster), open cluster in Camelopardalis. Small clump of stars. At least three are visible with direct vision but hazy look hints at quite a few more. 1925 GMT
NGC 1342, open cluster in Perseus. Another look at this, without moon in the sky. Much better view. Large triangular patch with at least 4 stars resolved and many more unresolved. 1930 GMT.
NGC 253, galaxy in Sculptor. A large, faint, elongated glow south of Deneb Kaitos. The observation of the evening, given the low altitude and murk at that level. 1935 GMT.
NGC 1807, open cluster in Taurus. easy to find, at the top tip of Orion’s bow. Oval, dominated by line of 4 bright stars plus fainter ones in background. 1945 GMT.
NGC 1817, open cluster in Taurus. Right next to 1807. Same size, but rounder and not as bright. No bright stars. 1947 GMT.
NGC 1907, open cluster in Auriga. Dominated by its bright neighbour the huge cluster M38, this is a small, round patch immediately next to, and south west of, M38. No stars resolved with direct vision but it looks speckly with averted vision. 1951 GMT.
At 1953 GMT there was a nice fireball which went through south Monoceros and burned out just south of Orion’s feet. It was bright orange/yellow and broke up.
NGC 2232, open cluster in Monoceros. Large, sparse-looking cluster. One bright star and five or six others. Slightly interfered with by Moon, which is about to rise. 2000 GMT.
NGC 2244, open cluster in Monoceros. Large, bright open cluster elongated north-south, with nine or ten bright stars visible with direct vision and more with averted vision. Nebula not visible, due to rising Moon. 2005 GMT.
NGC 2251, open cluster in Monoceros. Small, fairly round knot of stars. Patch looks granular but I can’t see any individuals in that lot. 2012 GMT.
NGC 2264, open cluster in Monoceros. Much larger than 2251, twice its size. Counted 11 stars, hard to do with the handheld binoculars. 2015 GMT.
NGC 2281, open cluster in Auriga. Elongated hazy patch. Line of four stars surrounded by haze (fainter ones). 2020 GMT.
NGC 2301, open cluster in Monoceros. Faint fuzzy patch. Not well seen as quite low and moonlight washing it out. 2025 GMT.
NGC 2343, open cluster in Monoceros. Not seen. Too low and too much crap in atmosphere to allow me to see it, not to mention the moonlight. Will have to do this one again another night when it’s higher and there’s no Moon.
NGC 2403, galaxy in Camelopardalis. Faint elongated glow. 2037 GMT.
Packed in at 2040 GMT. I now have only ten more objects left to do on the AL Deep Sky Binocular list. I should get this finished in the spring.

First session of 2010, 2nd Jan

As the Moon is still very much in the way (2 days past full and 94% illuminated) I decided that, as I wanted to observe but couldn’t be bothered to take the 12 inch out as the conditions weren’t good, I’d have a little binocular session and knock some more objects off the AL Deep Sky Binocular list – assuming, of course, I could see this stuff in the light of a gibbous moon.
Very cold -4
° Celsius
No wind
Waning gibbous Moon (94% illuminated)
Instrument: handheld 8×42 Leica binoculars with 7.4 degree field of view
Time: 2025 GMT to 2100 GMT
This short session began nicely with a lovely bright orange/yellow fireball which had a nice train, then split in two and vanished just north west of Auriga. Cool. Sadly no more followed it. As with all these things, this was very much a case of looking in the right place at the right time.
NGC 1981, open cluster in Orion. Large hazy patch just north of M42. Direct vision shows 12 stars, with 3 bright ones in a curved line, and with averted vision I can see all these plus a hazy backround which means unresolved stars or nebulosity.
Melotte 25, The Hyades in Taurus. Huge V shaped cluster which fits neatly into my binoculars’ 7.4 degree field of view. Dominated by bright orange Aldebaran. I can count 60+ brighter stars, some a magnitude fainter than others and many more fainter stars within the V. All the stars, apart from Aldebaran, are bluish-white.
NGC 752, open cluster in Andromeda. Visible as big faint misty patch. The moon’s interfereing with this one.
NGC 2169, open cluster in Orion. Surprisingly easy despite Moon. Small bright knot, with 4 stars seen with averted vision.
NGC 1662, open cluster in Orion. Large, faint, irregular patch. No stars seen with direct vision but with averted vision the cluster looks ‘grainier’.
NGC 1582, open cluster in Perseus. Faint misty patch with a couple of stars resolved.
NGC 1342, open cluster in Perseus. Large irregular misty patch. No stars resolved.

Packed up at 2105 GMT as Moon was becoming a real nuisance. 2010’s observing is now underway!

Binocular observing session 11-12 December 2009

Sod’s Law was in action last night as I had a severe cold which prevented a proper observing session with the 12 inch, and it was the clearest and most transparent sky we have had in ages. I had spent most of the day in bed with coughs, sneezes and fever, having been sent home from work at lunchtime, but something compelled me to look out of the window at 2330, I am not sure why I expected it to be clear as most of the day had been cloudy and a bit foggy. I felt a bit better and I hate wasting clear skies so decided on a short session; besides it would have been a bit foolish to have stayed out for any real length of time and get cold.
Obviously I didn’t feel like lugging the big scope out, or even one of its smaller friends, but I put on jeans, jumper and shoes and went out with the 8×42 binoculars instead. I also pulled out my UHC and OIII filters out to see what winter nebulae I could see with the binoculars.

11-12 December 2009; 2330 – 0005 GMT/UT

° above freezing
No wind
Excellent transparency apart from the odd bit of clouds on the horizon; out of 5, where 1 is bad and 5 excellent, it was 5. The seeing was reasonably steady too, Antoniadi II.
Naked eye limiting visual magnitude was 6.5

Of course, I just had to go for M42, the Orion Nebula. It is an irresistible object in any instrument, including binoculars, and is worth looking for even if it is the most observed deep sky object in the sky. I make a point of saying hello to it every year, as I do all my favourites, and I can’t wait to see it in the 12 inch. Huge, very bright, fan shaped, with four stars visible in the Trapezium. Needs no filtration, although UHC brings it out slightly better (OIII not as effective). M43 also visible as a little round patch.
Also looked at NGC 1981 and NGC 1980.

I also had a (over optimistic it has to be said) look for NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula, but I did not see it. I didn’t think I would in binoculars but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

NGC 2237-8/NGC 2246; the Rosette Nebula in Monoceros.
Large, round and bright with the star cluster NGC 2244 at the centre. The nebula is only just visible without a filter, but the UHC makes it very easy to see. The OIII is also effective but it’s best with the UHC.

Ursa Major was low behind the trees but M81 and M82 were above the trees and easily seen with the 8x42s.

M31 was bright and huge through the binoculars, spanning the entire field of view. The core was bright and the spiral arms extensive. Good view of the dust lanes.

NGC 869 and NGC 884; the Double Cluster
Gorgeous through the binoculars. Very rich and large with the stars easily resolved.

Trumpler 2
Small fuzzy patch just SE of DC. Also NGC 957, another hazy patch.

NGC 1499; the California Nebula. This isn’t quite as easy to see as the Rosette, especially without a filter, but the UHC filter brings it out and you can see a hazy brightening of faint nebulosity extending east-west, immediately north of Menkib.

By then it was 0035 (GMT/UT) and I was getting cold and coughing a lot so I had to reluctantly drag myself away from the sky and head indoors and back to bed.


The odds on me attending the 2010 Texas Star Party have slightly improved. I have got a temporary job until Christmas and have so far, managed to save nearly half the air fare. Hopefully, a run of employment between now and April will enable me to get there. The air fare’s most of the battle, with prices ranging between £350 and £550 (of course I can’t leave it too late before getting the plane ticket, must get that in January or February or it’ll become more expensive), while the TSP, including accommodation, is fairly cheap and doesn’t require a lot of saving for. The other big ‘expense’ is the cash for any goodies that might catch my eye when I am there such as a 2-inch UHC filter that I want for viewing large nebulae with my 35mm Televue Panoptic.


I have retrieved my clear sky spreadsheet from the wreckage, scanned it twice with Norton, and loaded it onto the new computer. I had been keeping a note of the weather in the intervening period – not exactly hard when it’s mostly been cloudy! – and have been able to pick up where I left off. November makes dismal viewing with two clear nights and one partially clear night in the whole month, but I wasn’t able to take advantage of those clear nights unfortunately. As noted in a previous entry, it has been two months of nearly continuous wind and rain, with a large part of the UK affected by flooding.

Observing session 19th August 2009

Another clear night! Sadly it will have to be another short session due to work in the morning (and I’d already overslept this morning as it was!). So, another binocular session.

Clear, but transparency not as good as previous night due to contrails from jets passing overhead. The Isle of Wight sits directly below the approach paths to Heathrow, Gatwick and other major airports plus transAtlantic traffic originating on the Continent (I assume that some Continental European traffic for eastern China and Japan also go over here as these routes often go over the North Pole). Can’t very well complain though as I – wanting to get out of the UK as often as humanly possible! – do a fair bit of flying myself! The contrails do dissapate quite quickly.
Warmer than previous night: 14 degrees C. Humidity 80%. No wind. Steady seeing.
Instrument used: 8×42 Leica binoculars.

Collinder 399: Open cluster (or asterism?) in Vulpecula
The famous Coathanger, and looks exactly like an upside down coat hanger. Through the binoculars I can see 11 stars, all bright ones, with 6 in the bar and another 5 in the hook. The hook contains the brightest stars, two of which are around a magnitude brighter than the others. Observation interfered with by jet trails.

Tried to observe NGC 6934, a globular cluster in Delphinus but a vapour trail was sat right over it. One for later.

NGC 6709: Open cluster in Aquila
Easily found to SW of Zeta and Epsilon Aquilae. Fairly large roundish o.c. hazy with direct vision but some stars resolved with direct vision. Will observe this with scope at some point.

NGC 6934: Globular cluster in Delphinus
Now the contrail has cleared I could have a go at this g.c. It wasn’t that hard to find but not very easy to see. It looks like a round, fuzzy, fat star in the 8x42s.

NGC 6716: Open cluster in Sagittarius
This was easy to find (along with neighbouring Cr 394), despite its low altitude. Large and with some members seen. It would undoubtedly be miles better from a more southerly location, such as southern Europe.

NGC 6520: Open cluster in Sagittarius
Not a chance. Far too low in the murk. Will try earlier tomorrow night if clear.

NGC 6633: Open cluster in Ophiuchus
Very easily found near IC 4756 (itself easy to see and also on the challenge list). Triangular, rich and very bright. Many stars resolved. Nebulous background which means many more should be seen in a scope.

IC 4756: Open cluster in Ophiuchus
Huge o.c. Next to NGC 6633. Irregular. Very large and rich. many stars seen with both averted and direct vision. Impressive. Can’t wait to get sorted with big scope and get that onto it!

IC 4665: Open cluster in Ophiuchus
Very easy to find. Large, splashy o.c. near Beta Ophiuchi (Cebalrai). Irregular. Many bright stars visible with averted vision and even a dozen or so easily seen directly.

The following night (20th) I went out early, as it was getting dark, to try for NGC 6520 which I’d failed to see on the 19th as I’d left it too late in the session and it was too low to be seen, lost in the murk. Well, I did eventually see it, here’s the observation:

NGC 6520: Open cluster in Sagittarius
Only just seen, after a time for my eyes to adjust and it was ridiculously faint due to low altitude and atmospheric pollutants. A small patch barely visible against background sky. No stars resolved. Will have to have another bash at this one next year, earlier in the year when Sagittarius is as high as it gets in the UK sky.
This has to go down as the shortest observing session ever due to tiredness, the need to go to work in the morning and a fair bit of drifting cloud!

These observations over the past evenings take care of the summer set of AL Deep Sky Binocular objects. The rest I will do during the autumn and winter.


Should hopefully be sorted out on the scope front this week…

Observing session 18th August 2009

This was a good clear night with steady seeing and decent transparency with good contrast in the Milky Way. The visual limiting mag was 6.5. The temperature was 12C with high humidity of 80% – the price of summer in the UK. Instrument: 8×42 Leica binoculars.
I used my 8×42 binoculars instead of either of my two small scopes, mainly because the refractor can’t be comfortably used at high declinations and the little Meade SCT has no decent tripod (it’s a disaster on a photo tripod because I don’t own a tripod that is up to the job) and also it was a perfect opportunity to make inroads into the AL Deep Sky Binocular certificate I am doing.

My observations are as follows:

NGC 6819: Open cluster in Cygnus
One clump of stars among many in this very rich region. Some stars resolved, around 5 or 6.

NGC 7063: Open cluster in Cygnus
Very easy to find as it is stuck out by the lower (eastern) wing of Cygnus. With direct vision it is an irregularly roundish misty patch easily seen against the background sky. Detached. With averted vision around 8 or 9 stars can be seen. Large.

NGC 7789: Open cluster in Cassiopeia
Huge open cluster just east of Beta Cygni. Large, detached and – while not faint – not overly bright. Roundish and nebulous looking. With averted vision it looks a bit granular, but not resolved fully.

NGC 6940: Open cluster in Vulpecula.
Absolutely huge o.c. looking, through the 8x42s like a detached portion of the Milky way. It has an oval shape. Nebulous but with some brighter foreground stars.

NGC 6823: Open cluster in Vulpecula
This was much more of a challenge than the previous ones. This is another of ‘one clump among many’ situations you get with binocular observations of Milky Way open clusters, but I eventually found it. It is near the (easily seen) Dumbell Nebula and looks like an irregular clump of stars. A pretty big cluster, although smaller than some of the other targets this evening. Some members resolved.

By then it was gone midnight and I had to get up for work the next morning. A good session.