Starting astronomy....with binoculars!
So, it turns out a lot of people may already have a great piece of stargazing equipment at home... a pair of binoculars.
Now when it comes to astronomy, not all binoculars are created equal. In the first instance I would suggest using what you have and taking a look at the night sky. Regardless of what binoculars you have, you should be able to see more!
The rest of this article will be about binoculars that you can get from all good shops and more importantly, aren't too big and heavy!!
So first things first, why Binoculars over a Telescope?
We see in stereo, our brain takes the information from both of our eyes and makes it into a picture within our brain. This is honestly like mental gymnastics but it happens seamlessly. When you start using a telescope which only has one eyepiece, our brain has to get used to this. Seeing with binoculars means our brain doesn't have to do any extra mental calculations and can just focus on seeing the wonders of the universe.
Also Telescopes are big. They often need large tripods and mounts to keep them steady. With a small pair of binoculars like a pair of 10x50's you can generally hold these pretty steady! A tripod isn't always needed and there's nothing better than kicking back on a sun lounger under a clear night sky with a pair of binos.
Porro Prism vs Roof Prism
I would always recommend a Porro Prism based pair of binoculars for astronomy. Thats because a roof prism needs to be made to a higher optical quality to match that of a porro prism, thus pushing up the price.
My Recommendations for a first pair of Binoculars
My goto recommendation for what kind of binoculars to go for first is always a decent pair of 10x50's
The reasons for this are:
It is hand-holdable by most people, even kids can be taught how to hold them steady. (You can get a little attachment to fix binoculars to a tripod though)
It is easily portable.
It has uses outside astronomy.
There are literally tonnes of astronomical targets that are visible with this kind of binocular
The exit pupil (thats the little circle of light that enters your eye) is about 5mm. This is roughly how wide a middle aged persons pupil can dilate too...thus all that precious light from astro targets thousands of light years away isn't wasted.
7x50s are also really good, but out of the two I would go for 10x50's.
My 10x50's of choice
I really like the Nikon Aculon 10x50's (but not the zoom version). I find they have great optics at not too massive a price. They come with a case too! I find at just under £100 they are well worth the money. In astronomy the old adage is definitely true. " you get what you pay for"
At the end of the day, binoculars are a great tool for astronomy. Even the astro magazines have realised and have done binocular observing lists for a long time now. Personally I use an app called sky safari in addition to my binos to go on a tour of the galaxy :)
Clear skies all!