Stargazing With Binoculars

Among the advantages of binoculars are the following:  They are relatively inexpensive as compared to telescopes.  They are lightweight and easy to point, typically offering a 5- or 6- degree field of view (that’s up to a whopping 12 Full-Moon diameters of sky—typical telescopes giving only a degree or two of coverage).   And you can use both eyes instead of just one, as is the case with telescopes.  This not only results in more relaxed viewing but gives a definite feeling of depth-perception or a three-dimensional effect.  Providing an erect or upright view, they can also be used for all types of ground-based nature study and not just stargazing.


All sizes and types of binoculars can be used for skywatching, from miniatures to giant ones, but the 10×50 glass is considered all-around best for this purpose.  The “10x” means that they magnify objects 10 times and the “50” denotes the size of the objective lenses in millimeters (about 2-inches).  The Scientifics 10×50 binocular is a great and affordable choice for beginning and experienced observers alike.


There is one concern about the use of binoculars and that is holding them steady while observing.  Most pairs have a tripod adapter built into the bridge connecting the two halves (it’s a small cap that unscrews) which allows mounting them on any standard camera tripod.  There are also the amazing image-stabilized binoculars which keep the image stationary but they are typically quite costly compared to conventional glasses.   Perhaps the simplest solution when stargazing is to recline on a lawn chair and support both hands leaning on its arms.  This allows the observer to be in a relaxed position as well (especially helpful when trying to look at something overhead!).


Every major class of celestial object can be viewed using binoculars, from the Moon and planets to stars, clusters, nebulae and even galaxies.  Our lovely satellite is a favorite go-to object any time it’s in the sky.  Watching the advancing line of sunrise (the terminator) cross the lunar surface from night to night is a delight.  Craters, mountain ranges, and bright rays fanning out over the landscape continuously come into view.  The planet Jupiter shows a tiny non-star-like disk at 10 power and its four bright Galilean satellites (those discovered by Galileo) can be glimpsed depending on where they are as they dance around the planet from night to night.  Saturn looks egg-shaped at 10 power (the blended image of planet and rings) but more magnification is needed to actually separate and see the rings themselves.


Some other binocular favorites are the glittering Pleiades Star Cluster, the eerie Orion Nebula, and the amazing Andromeda Galaxy.  And let’s not forget the brighter stars, whose colors are enhanced as seen in binoculars.  Finally, for a real thrill, try sweeping the Milky Way (our home Galaxy!), which is especially magnificent during summer and fall evenings as its massed star clouds pass nearly overhead.  All this and much more await you and your trusty binoculars!


— James Mullaney

Former assistant editor at Sky & Telescope magazine & author of 10 books on stargazing. His latest, Celebrating the Universe!, is available from