Astronomy League: Small Binocular Messier Study
Studying with 7X35 Binoculars
During the Summer of 2004, I realized that there was something missing in my astronomy "experiences". That something was not the ever increasing need for more and more power... But for less! Out of curiousity, I looked through the Astronomy League's guidelines for small binocular studies and knew instantly that I had to take out these ancient Tasco 7X35 binoculars and try my hand at the night sky.
Of course, this pair of binoculars has been my astronomy "companion" for many, many years. There was a time, before I got into telescopes, that I would use them to "star surf" and do minor things, such as view the Moon. At one point, I had even equipped them with welder's glass lenses to view a partial solar eclipse. As the years passed, I got deeper and deeper into telescopes and the old binoculars were seldom used for anything more than a fast location on bright comets. As I quickly learned, it was a crime to have let them sit idle for so long. It didn't take long for me to learn a whole new appreciation for this brand of "stereo vision" and I found myself uniquely challenged to re-learn.
Although not a great amount of detail can be seen in such small binoculars, according the the AL, a significant portion of Messiers can. On the easy list are Messiers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 52, 55, 67, 92, 93 and 103. To fulfill the requirements? You must observe and report all of these. To finish the challenge, you must also observe 8 from either of the two following catagories: Tougher - 14, 19, 28, 30, 33, 40, 49, 53, 62, 63, 64, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, and 94. Challenge: 1, 8, 26, 32, 51, 54, 56, 65 66, 68, 71, 75, 97, 101, 104, and 106.
Although I have not divided my reports into seperate categories for each object like I have in the past, I have kept a careful checklist of each one viewed and present the following excerpts from my own reports. Although the date and descriptions are here for the objects to complete the list for AL certification, I strongly urge you visit the reports for each date so that you may also experience the joy and wonder that I did in relearning the night sky.
Por amour du ciel,
Binocular Messier Club
Type: Tasco 7X35
Sky: Limiting Magnitude 5 Stability 6/10
Beginning Time: 10:30 p.m. ESDT
End Time: 11:45 ESDT
M3 - Easily located between Cor Caroli and Arcturus and suprisingly bright. Sparse field, but recognizable as globular cluster centered between a triangle of stars. Shows a brightness toward the core area.
M5 - More difficult to find, but much brighter stars in field. Shows as a small, even round patch of light. Triangle of stars to the southeast and a similar magntiude star to the north/northwest.
M4 - Easily found by locating Antares. Best seen by moving the eastern Antares out of the field, leaving M4 less than centered. I was surpised that this globular cluster was as bright as it is in binoculars, since the telescope often hazes it out when trying to resolve it. Very round and even... But not very bright.
M6 -Easily located. Shows as a brilliant cluster of similar magnitude stars in a stellar field. The classic "Butterfly" shape is very apparent with binoculars.
M7 - Wow! This is a very under appreicated open cluster. A "stellar gathering" in a star studded field would be a good way to describe it!
M13 - Absolutely magnificent. M13 is an undeniable globular cluster and suprisingly bright, with a bright central region. It is flanked on either side to the southwest and northeast by bright stars. One of the finest!!
M10 - Appears moderately bright and very small in the field with 30 Ophiuchus. A small cluster of stars to the west.
M12 - Very even and not terribly distinct round patch of light. Not brighter than the small chain of stars east of it.
M8 - Definately a good binocular target. Stellar field and bright, bright nebula area. The interior star cluster is apparent as small points of light.
M17 - Easily located by following the Milky Way. M17 appears as a bright check mark against a stellar field. There is a hazy area that seems to surrond it.
M22 - Easily located by moving east of Kaus Borealis. Bright, but overshadowed by aforementioned star. Best seen by pushing the star out of the way and studying averted. Appears as an even, circular patch of light with some condensation toward the core.
M11 - Wow! Again a very stellar field. M11 appears as a wedge of starpoints that want to resolve, but do not. The only star that comes out cleanly is the one to the east.
M27 - Suprised me! I did not realize this could be achieved with small binoculars. Located in a very stellar field, the pattern of stars looks similar to the constellation of Cassiopiea. Very small, it appears like two triangular patches of light placed together. Very ghostly...
Binocular Messier Studies
Date: August 8, 2004
Binos: 7X35 Tasco
Sky: Limiting Magnitude 5 Stability 8/10
Time Start: 10:30 p.m. ESDT
Time End: 11:45 p.m. ESDT
M39 - In the star rich fields of Cygus, the M39 is a challenge. It is not so much that it is dim, but that so many stars are in the field. By carefully double checking my position, I found the M39 through binoculars to be a loose, bright collection of about two dozen stars, with no real pattern.
M25 - Again, we are talking about looking for an open cluster of stars in a profusion. The dead give-away to this particular cluster to such low power is there are a handful of brighter stars that somehow remind me of the constellation of Orion. There are many more... More than I can count... That appear to be part of this bright open cluster. Very pretty!
M14 - All right. This one was a flat out challenge. Turning the park bench around so I could balance my arms on the deck railing, I eventually found M14. We are talking dim and averted here. A small, very dim patch of circular light that reminds me of a comet signature. No resolution or concentration whatsoever.
M19 - Double that challenge. As well as I know the field where the M19 resides, it's a lot more difficult with low power and wide field. Focusing primarily on the three stars that should triangulate around the edges, I eventually located the M19 by using aversion. Very small and very dim, but unlike the one before it, as I used patience, I could see a "concentration" to it that made it appear more globular like than cometary.
M24 - Hey, hey!! Easy, my friends. This particular huge open cluster is easily visible to the naked eye tonight and one of the finest treats imaginable in binoculars. A sprawling cloud of stars with so much resolution that it is possible to make out asterisms in it. Superb!
M16 - This was supposed to be one of the "easy" ones, but it truly is not. Despite excellent sky conditions, the M16 is not particularly bright. The open cluster that accompanies it shows clearly, but only a small patch of nebulosity signfies its presence.
M18 - Still in a very star rich field, the only clue to this open cluster's position is that it has a coma-like presentation of bright stars. Very well concentrated and very well resolved, it is difficult to tell exactly where the margins are on this open cluster.
Binocular Messier Studies
Date: August 16, 2004
Binoculars: 7X35 Tasco
Skies: 5 limiting magnitude Stability: 8/10
Time Start: 1:00 a.m. ESDT
Time End: 1:45 a.m. ESDT
M15 - Maps? I doan' need no steenkin' maps to find the M15! Remembering red Enif as my guidestar to the M15, the little powerpunch globular is easy to locate in the stellar field. Despite its small size, the M15 is very easily achieved in small binoculars and very recognizable as a small and well concentrated globular cluster. It's crowning beauty? The star caught at its edge...
M2 - OK... I need the steenkin' maps. It's been a long time since I've worked the fields of Aquarius and the star patterns look unfamiliar. Locating Beta means locating the M2. With Beta at the southern point of the field of view, the M2 is a circular, very even and faint patch of light. Absolutely no concentration toward the core region whatsoever. There is a "Triangulum-like" configuration of brightish stars to the north of it, and a few faded, small companions in the field.
M31 - Maps? I doan' need no steenkin' maps to find the M31! And neither would you... The M31 is very, very easily seen with the naked eye and I really think it outdoes itself in binoculars. Only with this low power, wide field of view can one truly appreciate the expanse of the Andromeda Galaxy. Spanning at least one half of the field of view, it is easy to make out the bright nucleas region, and unbelievably enough, what appears to be the spiral sweep of its outer arms. Like the M13, M8, and M24, the M31 is a premier binocular target. Finestkind!
M33 - I was expecting more and got less. I was truly hoping that like the view through the SVD8, that binoculars would add more to the M33. Wrongo. The M33, or "Pinwheel Galaxy" is just barely noteable as a roundish contrast change. Here again, this may be due to sky conditions, and I will return to the M33 in the future. For the record, however, M33 requires wide aversion and is on the edge of visibility to 5X35 binoculars... Even if it is large.
M103 - Big grins... Big grins here, baby! The moment I turned those binoculars on Cassiopeia, I knew I was going to have to use the map to correctly identify what I was seeing. Open clusters are everywhere! Using Ruchbah as my anchor, the M103 appears just a bit northwest of it, hung on tail of a curving chain of stars. Unmistakeable as a rich open cluster, the M103 closely resembles the M11 in size and inability to resolve. It's a real beauty, though... And has a clean star to the north and south edge of its concentration.
M52 - Shedar, Caph and north to capture the M52. Superb to the binoculars! Bright stars all over the area, the M52 is a spawling patch of on-the-edge stars. The binoculars will not resolve them, but there is no mistaking that this is a rich open cluster. Just amazing...
M34 - When I got done drooling over the "double cluster", it was time to head down into Perseus for my final target of the night. Almost directly between Almach and Algol, the M34 appears as a small, loose collection of tiny starpoints in a very rich field of stars. There is no "underlying density" of stars, so this one resolves cleanly to binoculars.
Binocular Messier Studies
Date: August 15, 2004
Binoculars: 7X35 Tasco
Skies: 5 limiting magnitude Stability: 7/10
Time Start: 10:45 p.m. ESDT
Time End: 11:30 p.m. ESDT
M92 - Caught between a bright northeast and southwest star, the M92 is easy enough to straight up viewing. Appearing roughly 1/3 the size of the M13, there is no mistaking its globular appearance. Fairly bright, it appears evenly distributed with a faint chain of stars that runs to the east of it.
M80 - I asked for a challenge, and I found one. Between Graffias and Antares, there are so many stars in the field here, (including M4 if you push it) that the small M80 requires absolute steadiness to achieve. Barely bigger than a fair sized star, the M80 resembles a small, faint planetary to the binoculars and is no brighter than the small star to the southeast of it. Wide aversion and steady hands are what it takes to locate it. (and lots and lots of patience... it's small!)
M56 - Again, a serious challenge object. Using Sheliak, Sulafat and Albiero as my guide stars, the M56 appears much like a very small, faint planetary nebula. Again, captured between a northeast and southwest star, it takes steady hands and definate aversion to make out in such a stellar field!
M29 - In order to make Cygnus more comortable, I find myself laying on my back in this circumstance. The M29 is a bright patch of stellar concentration that is easily spotted near Gamma Cygni. Small and bright, at least four or five stars are easily direct in the concentration. Very, very rich field of stars!
M71 - A unique and difficult challenge to binoculars. Using pretty much the whole constellation of Sagitta as marker stars, the only way you can see the M71 is averted. By using Gamma as one marker, and Delta and Zeta as the other anchor point, M71 appears between them as a dim, indistinct patch of light that requires aversion to pick up the contrast change. There is a small configuration of stars to the west, and M71 is best seen by staring at a point between them. A true challenge!
Binocular Messier Studies
Date: August 17, 2004
Binoculars: 7X35 Tasco
Sky: 5 limiting magnitude Stability: 8/10
Time Start: 4:45 a.m. ESDT
Time End: 5:15 a.m. ESDT
M37 - Starting with the northeastern of three easy open clusters, the M37 is absolutely no problem to pick out. Very nice size for the binos, M37 is a bright stellar concentration that takes very little effort and aversion to begin seeing a bit of resolution and a chain of fine stars to the south.
M36 - Can be placed in the same field with the M37 for a double treat. M36 appears a bit smaller and more compactly concentrated in a small triangular fashion. Here again, we have the beginnings of resolution, and the M36 displays lots of fine stars peppered over and around the most concentrated area.
M38 - Can be placed in the same field of view as the M36. M38 is significantly larger than the M36 and appears about the same apparent size as the M37. This one combines both previous studies qualities. The M38 has a central, bright condensation of stars that cannot be resolved, as well as a very generous portion of stars across its surface and surrounding it that resolve easily. The eastern-most portion really sparkles and there is a chain of fine stars to the east.
M45 - Now what can you say about the Plieades that hasn't already been said? Here is a picturesque open cluster to the binoculars.,, It is impossible not to see the blue coloration of the stars and the smokey, hazy qualties of its nebula regions. Many of its finer stars are easily resolved to the binoculars and it absolutely looks like every picture you've ever seen of this region. Awesome!
September 1, 2004
Seeing: 5.5 Stability 8/10
Time: 9:30 p.m. ESDT
M54 - Appears as a small, soft ball of light. Very easily caught with averted vision. Stellar field with several bright asterisms of nearby stars.
And the M69 and M70, too!! (but they aren't part of the list.) I am telling you, it really is wonderful. I don't know how many times I went over and over the sky... Starting with M39 and ending with M4. All of them are there! It's so easy to see M27, M71, M11, M16, M17, M24, M22, M28, M8, M7, M6, M14, M19, M80! And how wonderful to sweep across the sky from west to east... M3, M5, M13, M97, M56, and just look at ever-lovin' Cassiopeia! Am I excited? Of course I am. This will never take the place of the telescope in my heart, but when I turn the chair around to watch the rising Moon? I realize that my heart can hold a lot of "special places".
Date: September 5, 2004
Seeing: 5.0 Stability: 7/10
Time: 9:45 p.m. ESDT
M23 - How many times have I looked at the M23 this summer in binoculars and simply not reported it? Far too many... Like all the other little "patches of stuff" that exist in Saggitarius, the M23 is easily visible with many other Messiers in the field. By nudging the fantastic M24 off to the left side of the field of view, the M23 is visible as a patch of resolved and unresolved stars. Three exceeding bright ones run the north/south line and the body of the M23 itself contains a few stars that resolve when the view is very steady.
M55 - Easily found by placing the "handle of the Teapot" to the right of the field of view and identifying star Ascella and the M54. Move the binoculars east, or left, and you will go across a relatively sparse field of stars and see a north/south chain about one field of view away. Bingo. M55 is about twice the size of M54, but not as bright. No resolution and no bright core, the M55 resembles a large, faint planetary nebula to binoculars.
Date: September 6, 2004
Sky: 5.5 Stability: 6/10
Time: 9:20 - 9:35 p.m. ESDT
M9 - Sabik is the marker star for finding the M9. It is designated as Eta on the maps and M9 likes directly between it and Xi. M9 is at the center of a flattened triangle of stars and presents a challenge because it resembles a dim, out of focus stellar point. Holding that view steady is the only way to correctly identify M9.
M62 - M62 is much more difficult because there is not a clear-cut bright marker to guage against. I found success in locating the field by moving up from Shaula. At first I thought I had found it easily, but when recofirming the star patterns with the map, I was looking at M19. Realizing I am in the right area, I begin searching for the signature and find it as M62 also appears like a dim, out of focus star south of M19. It vaguely belongs to a circular pattern of stars and resides around 2:00 within this circle. Like the M15, M62 also has a star that accompanies it.
Date: September 10, 2004
Time Start: 9:05 pm ESDT Time End: 9:20 pm ESDT
Location: Cherry Springs, PA
Skies: 6.5 Stability: 9/10
M81/82 - Not a single problem with small binoculars. Even with poor positioning, both the M81 and M82 appear very similiar to what can be seen in a small telescope at absolute minimum of magnification. They look like two silver streaks of light - Cat's eyes in the dark.
M97 - What a hoot!! I wasn't too sure if I could see the Owl Nebula or not in such small binoculars, but about one minute into the hunt, I was going back to my charts to confirm star patterns, because I'm sure seeing it!! It looks like a small, faded disc of light with a distinguishable star pattern to the left hand side.
Date: November 13, 2004
Start Time: 2:15 a.m. EST
End Time: 3:00 a.m. EST
Skies: 6.0 8/10 Temperature: 0 C
Binoculars: 7X35 Tasco
M50 - A real beauty! An easy hop by using Theta (north of Sirius) as a guide. Field consists of a triple set of triangles to east, south and west below Theta and the nice little concentration of stars at the apex of the easternmost triangle reveals the presence of the M50. A very loose collection with about a dozen stars easily resolved and one that is noticably red on the southern border.
M42 - Wham! Like the M31, the Orion nebula is easily visible without aid and totally rocks in binoculars. A beautiful, almost "eagle-like" appearance of bright nebula and the unmistakable presence of the "twinkles" that signify the Trapezium area. Spledid sight in the binos!
M41 - Although Sirius will blow you away at this minimum magnification, the M41 is very present to the south as a nice stellar concentration that sits in a field of pairs. It really tries hard to resolve but only the star to the southeast edge is exceptionally clean.
M47 - Found in almost Y- like pattern of stars, both it and the M46 are same field. The M47 is to west and is a very loose structure of a double handful of pinpoint stars. There is a nice pair to the east side.
M46 - Same field as M47, but it rocks! A very wonderful hazy patch that offers no resolution except for a pair of stars to the south on the border of its concentration. It looks almost galactic in the binoculars!
M93 - This one is definately the olive in the martini. Residing in a very bright stellar field that looks like the outline of a martini glass, the M93 looks all for the world like a miniature edition of the M8. To the northwest corner, there are less than a handful of stars that resolve right out, but the stellar concentration that angles between southwest and northeast is a beautiful bar of light that defies resolution. Superb!
M44 - Also a naked-eye target. The M44 is really done justice in the binoculars for it appears like a true swarm. Positioned in the center of a trapezoid of high wattage stars, the M44 sure offers some resolution, reminding me highly of a field of apparent doubles gathered together. Very fine at this low power.
M67 - Located halfway between Procyon and Regulus, easy naked-eye star Acubens is the marker for the M67. Talk about appearing galactic! No resolution what-so-ever and a few bright pinpoint stars that have no connection to the group. Fine, very fine... Almost ovid slanting from northeast to southwest. A brighter night would make this one difficult for small binos.
M48 - Located southeast of southest of Zeta Monoceros and bordered on the east by a triangle of brighter stars. The "Missing Messier" is easily spotted in binoculars and appears very large with a certain modicum of resolvability to it, much like the M39. Very fine...
And so, dear Reader, I will continue to explore the night sky. Each thing I learn teaches me valuable new lessons... Lessons I learn from and enjoy. Eventually I will complete this list and be certified yet again from the Astronomy League, but it's not the honours that are important... The fun is!
My thanks to Phil Harrington...