Binocular Stargazing Catalog

Amateur astronomer Tom Price-Nicholson shares his list of astronomy targets for small binoculars.

Binocular observing

Neil Tackaberry

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!

4 thoughts on “Binocular Stargazing Catalog

  1. Psalm 19_1

    Thanks for this.
    I live in southern California and have clear skies most every nite so I look forward to searching for and locating these objects.
    By the way I use a set of 25×70 binoculars on a Ravelli APGL4 70″ tripod w/adjustable pistol grip head.
    Thanks again and Clear Skies!

  2. Bob-PatrickBob-Patrick


    The Binocular Stargazing Catalog you compiled above is a good catalog for those who enjoy observing with two eyes.

    On many dark nights I measure the skies in my backyard with the Quality Sky Meter (QSM, original model). The current model–many revisions later, I am sure–is available from Unihedron at this website: I am not affiliated with Unihedron in any way.

    A QSM measurement is often called an observer’s Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude (NELM). On the best of nights I observe under 5.5 (NELM) skies–and I get to enjoy 5.5 skies about one or two dark moonless nights per year–very late in the evening after my neighbors go to sleep. For me, most nights produce a lower NELM–say 4.0 or 5.0. Some observers report they measure their skies at 6.5, 7.0, and better.

    Many factors interact together to deliver a specific apparent magnitude (ML or vmag) to the pupils in my eyes. Unlimited articles and formulas have been posted on binocular-related astronomy Internet sites–and understanding and agreement is hard to find. Most authors just post a few numbers, formulas, acronyms, and leave it at that.

    All this to say–in my Kentucky backyard, I am quite happy if I see night sky targets of 8.0 ML with my 7×50 binoculars. Sometimes I see 8.4 ML stars and objects–but most nights I see a mag lower–7.5 ML.

    Sorry for the rambling.

    Thank you for the Binocular Stargazing Catalog. I plan to use it a lot in the nights ahead.


  3. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

    Thanks, this is very useful! I have a few telescopes, but I do a lot more observing through binoculars. I often walk up to the top of a nearby hill (to get above the streetlights) with a pair of 11×56 porros and a sturdy camera tripod. Passersby are often surprised by how much you can see through binoculars, even in a badly light-polluted city. Even a pair of 8×42 binoculars shows a lot when I step out into the back yard.

All comments must follow the Sky & Telescope Terms of Use and will be moderated prior to posting. Please be civil in your comments. Sky & Telescope reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter’s username, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.