The Night Sky With Binoculars Tonight

 

Own a good pair of binoculars? With this page you’ll be able to see some of the best sights in the sky, no telescope required…

Get yourself outside under the stars if it’s clear, pull up a deck chair, and scan the star clusters, nebulae, and even see other galaxies with your binoculars. Their lower power makes them just perfect for objects such as the larger open clusters, giving you great views and of course as you get to use both eyes, providing almost a 3D view. Just taking in the whole night sky scene and aimlessly wandering along the band of the Milky Way is also very enjoyable, who says astronomy has to be all scientific and technical? If you have binoculars up to 10 x 50 then they’re ideal for the job, portable, and easy to hold. Anything over this size will usually need a tripod. All the objects listed here are at their best in dark skies, ideally with the bright Moon not around.

But if old crater face is about, you will get amazing views of the lunar landscape through your binoculars. It’s best to look along the terminator, the boundary between light and dark as shadows are cast across craters and mountains making them easy to pick out.

 

The Moon

Full Moon

 

Next new Moon, Monday 28th April

Next full Moon, Wednesday 14th of May

 

The Beehive Cluster

About

The Beehive Cluster, Praesepe, M44, or NGC 2632 is a very nice and attractive open star cluster to look at through your binoculars, and does kind of look like a swarm of bees. The Beehive is another open cluster close to Earth, at 577 light years away in the constellation of Cancer. This puts it slightly further away than the Pleaides. M44 is now high in the southbby early evening. This cluster lies in the fainter constellation of Cancer, in between Leo, and Gemini. The stars that make up the head of Leo the Lion look like a large backwards question mark. You’ll find M44 with your naked eye roughly half way between this “question mark”, and the two twin stars of Castor and pollux in Gemini. The Beehive actually has over 1,000 stars, and is around 600 million years old.

This object is at magnitude 3.7

Where and when…

You can see the Beehive Cluster quite high in the south in early evening, before sinking to the west by the early hours, and setting in the south west by daybreak.

For how long…?

The  Beehive Cluster will go out of sight in mid June when it nears the setting Sun in the west.

 

 

The Orion Nebula

Sword of Orion

About

This very popular object is made for binoculars. A collection of star clusters and the famous Orion Nebula, with the bright star Sirius twinkling different colours to its lower left. This famous collection of stars is always spectacular, with the unmistakable straight line of the three stars of Orion’s belt, and the red supergiant star Betelgeuse at Orion’s left shoulder. If you look below the belt you’ll see Orion’s Sword, appearing to your naked eye as a line of three fuzzy stars. But when you look through your binos you will see that this is actually a group of star clusters, not individual stars. Notice how the middle cluster glows, especially with averted vision. What you are looking at is the famous, and probably most photographed deep sky object ever, the Orion Nebula or M42. This object is a huge and complex region of gas clouds, around 14 light years across. This place at 1,500 light years away is a vast stellar nursery, but it’s just one small part of an even larger region of gas that spans nearly the entire constellation. Newly born stars, and solar systems in formation have been observed in the Orion Nebula. 

The Nebula can even be seen with the naked eye under very good skies, it is a magnitude 4.0 object

Sword of Orion

Where and when?…

Visible now in the south west by nightfall you’ll see the impressive constellation of Orion, with the sword hanging below Orion’s belt. It then moves lower to the west by mid to late evening

For how long?…

The constellation of Orion, and the sword containing the vast stellar nursery moves out of sight by the end of April 2014.

 

 

The Pleiades

M45 Pleiades Cluster

About

The constellation Taurus, contains the one open cluster that lots of people can name and recognise, the Seven Sisters, The Pleiades, or M45. It’s one of the best sights in the night sky with your binoculars, showing a large glittering cluster. You can easily see it naked eye, as a large fuzzy patch of stars. M45 is a close open cluster at just 440 light years away, it’s one of the nearest and so appears large in the sky. The stars in the cluster are also very young at only around 150 million years, and the brightest ones you can see are also the very youngest and hottest. The “Seven Sisters” cluster actually contains up to 1,400 members. This attractive open star cluster fits nicely into your binoculars field of view, providing a very satisfying sight.

The Pleiades Cluster is at magnitude 1.6

M45 Pleiades ClusterWhere and when…

Look fairly low to the west tonight just after dark, and you’ll see the Pleiades Cluster. From there it moves lower, and sets in the north west by late evening.

For how long?…

The Pleiades Cluster will be visible until the end of April 2014 when it becomes low in the west at dusk near the setting Sun.

 

 

The Coat Hanger

The Coat Hanger Cluster, image credit Stellarium

About

“Hey that’s a coat hanger!” That’s the first thing I thought when I first spotted this star cluster through binoculars…and it’s not actually a real cluster, but we’ll come to that later. Lying in the constellation of Vulpecula is Brocchi’s Cluster,  Collinder 399, Al Sufi’s Cluster, or more commonly the Coat hanger. People will know exactly what you mean when you say the Coat Hanger. So now I think we’ve both established what this thing looks like…it looks like a coat hanger.

But all is not what it seems as the Coat Hanger is actually an asterism, just like the Plough/Big Dipper is an asterism. It is a collection of stars that are not physically related to each other, but happen to group together along your line of sight to look like a regular open cluster. Ten of these stars are responsible for forming the recognisable coat hanger shape, six of them make a straight line, then four more make the hook shape coming from the mid point of the line of stars. This is a large cluster, perfect for your low power binoculars being 1.5 degrees across, 3 times the diameter of the Moon. This nice looking object lies in the band of the Milky Way, and you may even see it with the unaided eye from a dark place.

The Coat Hanger lies between constellations Cygnus and Aquila, but an easy way to find it is to locate the bright star Altair in Aquila about 20 degrees south-west of the head of the swan in Cygnus. See the very bright star Vega north of the head of the swan? Now draw an imaginary line from Altair to Vega, and the Coat Hanger lies one third of the way up from Altair to Vega.

Where and when…

Look to the north east in very late evening and you’ll see Cygnus, rising with the Coat Hanger nearby. It then climbs high in the south east up to daybreak.

For how long?…

This unique shaped cluster is not at the moment very convenient for viewing as it rises from late evening and into the small hours. But by mid June it will be climbing high from the east during the evening hours.

 

Open Cluster M103

Open Cluster M103
M103 by Andrea Tosatto
About

The great W of Cassiopeia is visible, but now lower in the north west at night fall. It is is a rich hunting ground with your binoculars. The plane of the Milky Way runs right through Cassiopeia, and so this is where open clusters can be found. One of these stellar jewels is open cluster M103 or NGC 581, one of the more distant of the open clusters at up to 9,000 light years away. It’s really easy to find, as it is close to the star that makes the left point in the W of cassiopeia. You’ll see it as a small hazy patch of nebulosity unresolved into stars, averted vision may be needed to get it to emerge out of the darkness, and a tripod for your binoculars would always be useful. This cluster has around 40 member stars, is 15 light years across, and a younster at only 25 million years old. Open clusters like M103 were formed from the same ancient cloud of gas and dust, with most of the cloud’s raw materials condensing down into stars…and very likely planets. Any remaining gas would have been blown away millions of years ago by the newly formed stars’ fierce ultra violet light and stellar winds.

M103
Location of open cluster M103, click to ENLARGE

To find M103 simply imagine a line drawn from the right point star of the W (Shedir), across to the left point star of the W (Ruchbah). Now continue on this straight line to a distance of 1 degree past the left point star to find this open cluster…1 degree is the width of your little finger held at arm’s length.

Where and when?…

Tonight you’ll see the great W of Cassiopeia fairly low in the north west after dark. It then moves lower to the north by late evening, before rising again into the north east. Open cluster M103 is at magnitude 7.4

For how long?…

Cassiopeia is a circumpolar constellation from northern latitudes, meaning it never sets below the horizon.

Double Star Albireo

Albireo
Albireo A (yellow), and Albireo B (blue)
About

If you look at the constellation Cygnus tonight rising from the north east in late evening, and find the star that marks the “head of the swan” you’ll have the star Albireo. It does actually look to your unaided eye as one faint single star. But this is probably the best known double in the sky, two stars seperated by 35 arc seconds. Get your binoculars on it and you’ll see straight away that there’s actually two different colour suns there (colours will be more subtle than image above), a brighter yellowish star called Albireo A at magnitude 3.1, and its fainter bluer companion star Albireo B at magnitude 5.1. It seems counterintuitive but colours red/orange/yellow are far cooler than blue when it comes to the temperature of stars. So fainter blue Albireo B is quite a lot hotter than its brighter yellow companion, with blue Albireo B also being a “Be star”, rotating at a speed of 250 kilometres per second at its equator.

The yellow star in the double actually is a double in itself with an orbiting companion star, but they’re much too close together to see with your binoculars.

Albireo
Location of double star Albireo, click to ENLARGE
Where and when?…

Rising from the north east in late evening is the constellation of Cygnus. The figure of the swan appears to be flying away from Cassiopeia, so it’s easy to find the head star Albireo. Cygnus with its star Albireo then climbs high in the south east up to daybreak.

For how long?…

Cygnus climbs very high in the sky during summer for best viewing. So we’re starting to come into the best time of year for this constellation.

 

Open Cluster M39

M39

About

Open cluster M39, or NGC 7092 is a nice little collection of stars right in the band of the Galaxy, giving you a backdrop of more distant suns. It is in Cygnus (see position of M39), a great constellation in its own right to spend time in as the Milky Way goes along its length. Look for the distinctive shape of this constellation, it resembles the shape of a cross, or of course what it’s meant to be…a swan. Unlike a lot of constellations it does actually resemble what it’s meant to be, a swan as it flies away from Cassiopeia. From the tail star of the swan (Deneb), along the body, to the head (Albireo) forms roughly a straight line. The back of your fist held at arm’s length makes 10 degrees of sky. The open cluster M39 lies just under the width of your fist from the tail star of the swan (Deneb) in the direction of Cassiopeia, then about 3 degrees lower.

Open cluster M39 is 800 light years distant, and its stars are about 300 million years old. It has between 30 and 50 stars forming an attractive triangular shape.

M39
Location of open cluster M39, click to ENLARGE
Where and when?…

Low in the north in mid evening, but then rising into the north east, and climbing high in the east by daybreak, M39 near the tail of the swan in the constellation Cygnus. M39 is at magnitude 5.5

For how long?…

Best on show during summer, so we’re coming into the best time for this cluster, and also the other attractions of Cygnus. Open cluster M39 is circumpolar from northern latitudes meaning it never actually sets.

 

 

Galaxies M81 & M82

M81 and  M82
M81 left and M82 right
About

These two galaxies 12 million light years away are one of the best sights you’ll see through a telescope. Two island universes in the same view, separated by 130,000 light years. The best time to see them are when the bright Moon is not around, and under dark skies away from light pollution, where they can actually be glimpsed with binoculars. They are the “grand design” spiral galaxy M81 at 36,000 light years across, and smaller irregular starburst galaxy M82. They are in Ursa Major, and their proximity to each other is causing them to gravitationally interact. This interaction is causing intense star burst in M82, just at the galaxy’s centre new suns are being born 10 times faster than in our entire Milky Way.

They’re not really close to any easy marker points in the sky. But if you  draw a line (line of red arrow on illustration), from the bottom left star of the bowl of the “Big dipper” (Phad) to the top right star at the bowl edge (Dubhe), then carry that imaginary line about the same distance again, you’re in the place in the sky for M81 and M82.

In your binoculars they will appear as two small fuzzy shapes close by each other, and you should notice they are different shapes. Spiral M81 is the brighter of the two at magnitude 7.0, and the irregular star burst galaxy M82 is slightly dimmer at magnitude 8.4, M82 is also called “The Cigar galaxy” for its shape. It takes practise to find these, and yes they will appear as two small fuzzy smudges. But those two fuzzy smudges are entire galaxies in interstellar space, and you’re seeing them with your own eyes with just a pair of binoculars. The star light from two stellar systems 12 million light years away.

M81 and M82
Location of galaxies M81 and M82, click to ENLARGE
Where and when?…

Climbing high into the east at night fall is Ursa Major. By late evening it is virtually overhead, it then moves lower to the north west by daybreak but is still nicely on show.

For how long?…

Galaxies M81 and M82 are circumpolar in the northern sky, meaning they will always be above the horizon, never setting. During mid summer, Ursa Major is at its worst position, only visible low to the north west. But right now these galaxies climb high into the eastern sky.

 

 M13, The Hercules Cluster

M13 Cluster

About

This famous globular cluster at 25,000 light years away is a classic of the northern skies, and if your first view of it is from a really dark site with a larger pair of binoculars, I promise you will not forget it. It’s well worth getting away from light pollution to see it. In clear dark skies through your binoculars you should see a quite bright, fuzzy, but crisp, glowing “ball of suns”, although individual stars will not be resolved. This globular cluster contains over a million stars all packed into a region of space 145 light years wide. Space is so limited here that stars are thought to collide in the centre, producing bluer suns called “Blue stragglers”. Globular clusters like M13 are not actually part of the Milky Way’s disk, but reside far above and below the spiral arms, surrounding the Galaxy in a halo. Their stars are known to be very old, and in 1974 a message was sent to the Hercules Cluster in the hope that an intelligent civilisation might live there.

The way to locate M13 is to find the Hercules “keystone”, this is four stars making a rough square 5 or 6 degrees across, at the centre of the Hercules constellation. In this map you’ll see M13 marked about a third of the way between the two right hand, (or uppermost right now) stars of the square. Look at Ursa Major, or “The Plough” and the first two stars of the handle that are attached to the “bowl”, make a straight line. This line points to the centre of Hercules. The keystone can be slightly difficult to find at first especially in more light polluted skies but once you get the hang of it, it becomes easy.

M13
Location of globular cluster M13, click to ENLARGE
Where and when?…

The Hercules Cluster M13 is visible, rising from the north east in early evening. During the night it climbs higher to the east, and is high in the south by daybreak. M13, or The Great cluster in Hercules is a magnitude 5.9 object, and it is even visible naked eye under very good skies.

For how long?…

The Hercules Cluster M13 is known as one of the classic objects of the summer sky. So right now it’s coming into its best time. By December the Hercules Cluster moves very low to the north during the convenient evening hours.

 

The Andromeda Galaxy, M31

Andromeda Galaxy

About

Now much lower in the north west by night fall is the galaxy Andromeda, or M31. This showpiece of the autumn and winter skies is the main large neighbouring galaxy of the Milky Way. It is a huge spiral galaxy 2.5 million light years away, with up to one trillion stars, and a diameter of possibly up to 220,000 light years. It’s more than twice the size of our Milky Way some think, others disagree saying it’s around Milky Way size, Andromeda’s size is a debated subject. You can quite easily see Andromeda naked eye as a fuzzy glow from a dark site. In fact if you know where exactly it is, you can pick it out even from an area that has some light pollution with averted vision.

There there are two main ways to find this island universe in the sky. One is to locate the large square of Pegasus with its four stars marking each corner. You’ll find Pegasus to the east of Perseus, and Cassiopeia. The star at the left of the square is called Sirrah (or Alpheratz), look to the left of Sirrah and you’ll see three stars in a line, a dimmer star and two  bright stars. The first bright star is Mirach. Now look above Mirach and you’ll see a dimmer star, look about the same distance above again from the dimmer star, and here is located the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Another way to find M31 it is to use the right hand V of the W of Cassiopeia and imagine a line pointing down, this V points just to the left of Andromeda.

Get your binoculars on M31 and you’ll see the bright core of the galaxy as a small fuzzy blob. But keep studying and use averted vision, and you’ll soon start to make out the fainter shape of the galaxy’s disk extending out from the core. This is an object far outside the Milky Way, an entire ”island universe”. To be seen at its best Andromeda should be observed with the bright Moon absent under dark skies, but it’s still visible even from urban areas.

Andromeda Galaxy
Location of M31 the Andromeda Galaxy, click to ENLARGE
Where and when?…

The Andromeda Galaxy is visible but lower to the north west at night fall. It then moves very low to the northern horizon by late evening, before rising again into the north east to daybreak. M31 the Andromeda Galaxy is circumpolar, meaning it never actually sets in northern latitudes. M31 is at magnitude 3.4

For how long?…

Right now if you want to catch the Andromeda Galaxy you’ll have to look low, as it isn’t at its best time of year. Late summer and into autumn this object comes into its own. M31 is actually circumpolar from northern latitudes so it never goes below the horizon.

 

The Perseus Double Cluster

Perseus Double Cluster

About

This cluster is one of my favourites, it looks stunning in a telescope at low power, but binoculars also show it well. The Perseus Double Cluster, NGC 884 and NGC 869, or H and X Persei are actually two seperate open star clusters close to each other in space at around 7,000 light years away. They are only a few million years old, much younger than the Pleaides. To find it I could tell you to find this star, draw a line to that star etc, but the easiest way I have found to locate the Perseus Double is just to look for a fuzzy irregular patch in the band of the Milky Way between Cassiopeia and Perseus, (cluster marked as H+X on Perseus map). Once you see it, get your binos on it and you’ll see two very attractive open clusters of sparkling stars set against the blackness of space. There’s also a nice line of stars that curves away from the upper most cluster, when you see this line of stars you’ll know you have this popular deep sky object in your view.

Perseus Double Cluster
Location of the Perseus Double Cluster, click to ENLARGE
Where and when?…

Still moderately high in the north west at nightfall and you’ll see the Perseus Double Cluster rising, nestled between Perseus and Cassiopeia. It moves slightly lower to the north by the early hours before rising into the north east up to daybreak. The Perseus Double Cluster never sets as it is circumpolar meaning, it’s always above the horizon from northern latitudes. This open cluster is a magnitude 4.0 object

For how long?…

Like Andromeda, the Perseus Double Cluster will always be above the horizon, as it is circumpolar from northern latitudes. It is placed at its lowest point in the sky during spring.

 

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10 comments » Write a comment

  1. Jackson area, Mississippi: There is an object in the western sky tonight that started at around 21:00 hours; 09/08/2013. Flashing red, green, and white colors. Rankin , Mississippi.

  2. Last night/early a.m. 11/2&3/2013, I saw a star, maybe a pulsar, blinking in my western sky, I’m located just N of Panama City,FL, this continued throughout the late night & early a.m., but it was blinking and appeared to be moving near a stable star, from starting next to the star and ending up N and NW of the star. Very different, went from white to a blue color, not a constant blinking, every 30 seconds or so. Do you know what it could have been?

  3. On the 28th December i saw a red light or something going really really fast in the sky and it was not a plane Poole Dorset UK.

  4. Hi.i’ve been told that the best way to get to astronomy is to get a pair of binoculars. Well iam getting one soon.Would you recommend any type/make?Also ,can you see any details with binoculars on jupiter?Many thanx.

    • Hi Matus, it is possible to see the main belts of Jupiter with binoculars, but preferably on a tripod for the most stable views. You can easily see the moons of Jupiter with binos, as 4 pinpoints of light that shift position over an evening. I would recommend 10 X 50′s or larger, but anything larger would definitely need a tripod.

      Here’s a link from Jodrell Bank that also lists good binocular makes http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/astronomy/nightsky/binoculars.html

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