Binoculars a start to hobby

July 14, 2017

Above the Earth, in orbit, astronauts are just touching the fringes of true space. Picture: NASA

Like most kids I wanted a telescope when I was younger, but couldn’t afford one.

My father suggested I try the family binoculars instead.

I did, and headed outside to check out the night sky. The sight of the full moon and nearby Jupiter that night helped start me on a hobby that continues to this day.

Most people, me included, never realise that ordinary binoculars can be used as an astronomical instrument. Sure I knew a little astronomy from books but those binoculars opened up endless opportunities for serious sky exploring. I was hooked!

Binoculars are the ideal starter instrument because they’re so simple to use. Binoculars reveal many sights that most people think require a telescope, like craters, mountains and plains on the moon, planets and countless star clusters.

Tape them to a tripod or get a clamp from your camera shop to hold them steady. I’ve even used a thick rubber band at short notice!

In reality, binoculars are like having two small telescopes, but for a lot less than half the price. Today I have several telescopes of different types and sizes but I still carry my binoculars.

If your sky is fairly dark and free of light pollution, a pair of 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars should show all the brighter stars and most deep sky objects of interest.

Hey, have you got binoculars?

Well go get them.

Mercury returns to the evening twilight sky later in the month. Venus is eye catching in our early morning west Aussie skies as it slowly drifts towards the north-east horizon.

On July 21 the thin crescent moon will sit just below Venus. Be there, it will be a magic sight!

Unfortunately Mars is too close to the sun to be seen this month. Jupiter is high in the north at sunset and can be seen in the north-west later in the evening. Now keep this in mind too on July 29 when the crescent moon forms a triangle with Jupiter and the bright star Spica in the Virgo constellation. It will be a photo opportunity not to be missed.

Lastly, Saturn is found in the north-east at sunset sitting below the constellation of Scorpius.

In fact, it is positioned near the centre of our galaxy, the brightest and also the dustiest part of the Milky Way.

If you haven’t seen Saturn through a telescope before, why do you keep torturing yourself? Go have a look.

Ever wondered ‘Where does space begin?’

Believe it or not, until recently this seemingly simple question did not have an easy answer. There is no physical place where earth’s atmosphere stops and space begins.

The air just gets thinner and thinner and eventually fades away.

On his 108-minute flight in 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human being in space, crossed the mysterious border between the Earth and space.

Or did he? It’s been more than half a century since Gagarin’s historic journey but only now have we come up with a universally accepted definition of where space begins.

Simply put, space is just above your head, 100km high.

It’s only an hour’s drive away if your car could go straight up.

In the deep space beyond Earth’s atmosphere, a near perfect vacuum exists.

Welcome to true space, outer space if you will. It’s the space between the planets.

When we leave the solar system, though, we enter interstellar space which is the space between the stars!

Don’t forget I have a website with lots of free info on it.

David Reneke is a feature writer for Australasian Science magazine and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Get David’s free astronomy newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

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