Night Sky Observations

Big Dipper – check. Cassiopea – check. Andromeda galaxy – uh, no.  Constellations are easy to find in the night sky with a little bit of practice and a sky chart, but add a little more focal power and the whole night sky takes on a new dimension.

Making the most of a moonlit night. (Photo: B.Kopp)

You’re not likely to pack a telescope with you on a backpacking trip, but even a simple pair of binoculars can change the whole stargazing experience.

Bino Basics

  • Binoculars are less expensive, easier to use, smaller and lighter than telescopes.
  • Every pair of binoculars has two numbers, such as 8×21 or 10×50.
  • The first number is the magnifying power or magnification.
  • The second number is the diameter of the front lenses in millimetres.
  • The bigger the lens, the brighter the stars.
  • Most binoculars have a knob in the centre to focus both eyes at once.
  • The right-hand eyepiece can also be focused individually to correct differences between your eyes.

What can you see?

  • Moon features (dark lava flows such as Mare serenitatis, craters such as Langrenus)
  • Jupiter’s moons
  • Milky Way starfields
  • Andromeda Galaxy
  • Pinwheel Galaxy in Triangulum
  • Orion nebula (looks like the single but hazy middle star of Orion’s belt)
  • Earth satellites (such as the International Space Station)

What is…?

  • A galaxy is a group of stars held together by gravity and dark energy.
  • A nebula is a cloud of gas and dust in space.

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