Amateur astronomer Tom Price-Nicholson shares his list of astronomy targets for small binoculars.
I'm interested in stargazing, but prefer to use binoculars for astronomy instead of a telescope. Binoculars are cheaper and easier to maintain, and they require minimal set-up time — just grab and go.
One thing that always frustrated me, though, was my lack of a quick-reference list for targets within reach of small binos. I'd often find an astronomical object to look at in one of my deep-sky atlases, go outside to find it, and discover it was too dim to see in handheld binoculars.
Building the Binocular Stargazing Catalog
I imagined other binocular astronomers might have the same problem. With that in mind, I've compiled a list of 150 deep-sky objects that can be seen using a pair of 7×50 binoculars, ordered by magnitude. I had only one criterion when compiling the list: the object had to be visible in these smaller handhelds. I started by looking at the Messier catalog (always a favorite starting point), as well as Sir Patrick Moore's Caldwell catalog. I put together a database of deep-sky objects drawn from these two sources, including the easy-to-find Pleiades and Andromeda Galaxy, as well as a number of open clusters. As I went along, I noticed a few other objects that could be added, like the Large Magellanic Cloud.
To finalize my object list, I simply filtered out the objects I considered too dim to see. My first run through left me with 161 objects. I then filtered out even dimmer objects and was left with a nice, neat list of 150 objects. I haven't had a chance to find every one of them yet (that's British weather for you), but the ones that I’ve seen are brilliant. My favorite one is the Hyades Open Cluster: viewing it through binoculars, I can see hundreds of stars.
At the time I compiled this list, it was intended to be a reference document for me, so that I’d know quickly if I could find a particular object. After a while, I realized that other astronomers may be having similar problems, so I decided to get the list out into the public. Just click the link to download a copy of my Binocular Stargazing Catalog.
Clear skies and happy hunting!