As hobbies go, astronomy has a tough reputation. Too hard and too expensive is what I often hear. People imagine that the way to start is to buy a telescope. Wrong!
The easiest and best way into astronomy is actually with no telescope at all. Go grab those trusty binoculars. They are, in effect, twin telescopes.
In fact, binoculars offer some clear advantages over the traditional telescope, especially when being used by kids.
Binoculars are lighter and require no assembly. This means it’s easy to take advantage of any clear evening sky.
Binoculars have a wider field of view than a telescope, so it’s easier to search the sky, and if you stumble across a comet or star cluster, the wide view makes them easier to see and track.
For family whale watching or sporting events, your binoculars win out again. Try doing that with a telescope!
Binoculars are usually labelled with two numbers, such as 7×50. The first number tells you how much your binoculars will magnify everything and the larger number indicates the lens size in millimetres. These are perfect for basic astronomy.
With just the power of binoculars you should be able to spot craters and cracks on the lunar surface and dark grey flat plains known as seas.
For the best view of lunar craters, look along the daylight side of the terminator — the line between the dark side of the moon and the sunlit side.
Ask any amateur astronomer and they’ll tell you they always have a pair of binoculars handy.
You won’t be surprised to know I’ve got almost a dozen telescopes, but on field nights my trusty 10x50s are always nearby.
Here’s a tip — to hold your binoculars still, buy a special clamp to attach them to a camera tripod, or simply duct tape them on as a temporary measure like I do when in a hurry. It makes such a difference.
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