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Bad Binoculars And A Beach Chair - 2/9/02

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Posted by Matthew Sullivan on February 10, 2002 19:47:21 UTC

Hi all,

I'm a novice to astronomy and my home town of Burlington, Vermont isn't the most climactically friendly place to observe, but since I was so psyched about what I was able to see last night I thought I'd share.

It had been a couple weeks since the last clear evening we had here so despite iced-over sidewalks and 5-degree temperatures I ventured out with a cheap beach chair with an adjustable back and binoculars. I use a $50 pair of Meade Infinity 8x40's and after acquiring them learned I should have spent more - the optics are plagued with misalignment and the focus drifts if not held level. I made my way to the middle of the ice-covered field in front of my apartment and enjoyed a cold welcome from a sky full of stars.

I was amazed at how many objects I could see under a 4.5 magnitude sky with crippled optics. Mu Cephei's redness contrasted well with the surrounding stars. Aldebaran and the Hyades were impressive and bright red Betelgeuse was an outstanding sight. The two showpieces of the night were the Pleides and the Alpha Persei "cluster" - in the 8-degree field of my binoculars both were breathtaking.

I was also impressed with what I could see of the more conventional telescope objects. The Andromeda Galaxy was a bright enough smudge to be worth a good long look. I tried my luck again with galaxies M33 and M81, but I think both are beyond the reach of my 40mm objectives. The Perseus Double Cluster resolved itself into two small faint fields with a myriad of stars in each. M35 and M41 were both just within naked-eye reach and yielded an impressive star-studded group in the binoculars. On scanning the Milky Way in Auriga and Canis Major I came across four faint smudges I had never seen before, and later learned I had found M36, M37, M38, and M93! M44 made its first showing to me this year - on seeing 15+ relatively bright stars in a small area it seemed almost as impressive as the Pleides! To top it off, the Orion Nebula was an outstanding sight as well as the myriad of other stars visible within Orion's sword.

The planets also lent themselves well to observation. Mars showed up as nothing more than a red point, but still worth a look. Jupiter showed up as a small bright featureless disk with three moons lined up on one side. Saturn showed a small elongated dot, but the ring was not quite visible at 8x.

I'm sure there were many other objects up there waiting for a little diligence and a good handwarmer, and I look forward to tackling them as I become more familiar with the skies. Under dark enough skies these are all naked eye objects, so with binoculars many other objects can be observed. I would imagine that with relatively dark skies, a decent pair of binoculars, a good star chart and a few hours' worth of ambition anyone can find this hobby enjoyable and rewarding.


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