Astronomical Telescopes

Binoculars are widely used by amateur astronomers; their wide field of view makes them useful for comet and supernova seeking (giant binoculars) and general observation (portable binoculars). Binoculars specifically geared towards astronomical viewing will have larger aperture objectives (in the 70 mm or 80 mm range) because the diameter of the objective lens increases the total amount of light captured, and therefore determines the faintest star that can be observed. Binoculars designed specifically for astronomical viewing (often 80 mm and larger) are sometimes designed without prisms in order to allow maximum light transmission. Such binoculars also usually have changeable eyepieces to vary magnification. Binoculars with high magnification and heavy weight usually require some sort of mount to stabilize the image. A magnification of 10x is generally considered the practical limit for observation with handheld binoculars. Binoculars more powerful than 15×70 require support of some type. Much larger binoculars have been made by amateur telescope makers, essentially using two refracting or reflecting astronomical telescopes.

Of particular relevance for low-light and astronomical viewing is the ratio between magnifying power and objective lens diameter. A lower magnification facilitates a larger field of view which is useful in viewing the Milky Way and large nebulous objects (referred to as deep sky objects) such as the nebulae and galaxies. The large (typical 7 mm using 7x50) exit pupil [objective (mm)/power] of these devices results in a small portion of the gathered light not being usable by individuals whose pupils do not sufficiently dilate. For example, the pupils of those over 50 rarely dilate over 5 mm wide. The large exit pupil also collects more light from the background sky, effectively decreasing contrast, making the detection of faint objects more difficult except perhaps in remote locations with negligible light pollution. Many astronomical objects of 8 magnitude or brighter, such as the star clusters, nebulae and galaxies listed in the Messier Catalog, are readily viewed in hand-held binoculars in the 35 to 40 mm range, as are found in many households for birding, hunting, and viewing sports events. For observing smaller star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies binocular magnification is an important factor for visibility because these objects appear tiny at typical binocular magnifications.

Some open clusters, such as the bright double cluster (NGC 869 and NGC 884) in the constellation Perseus, and globular clusters, such as M13 in Hercules, are easy to spot. Among nebulae, M17 in Sagittarius and the North American nebula (NGC 7000) in Cygnus are also readily viewed. Binoculars can show a few of the wider-split binary stars such as Albireo in the constellation Cygnus.

A number of solar system objects that are mostly to completely invisible to the human eye are reasonably detectable with medium-size binoculars, including larger craters on the Moon; the dim outer planets Uranus and Neptune; the inner "minor planets" Ceres, Vesta and Pallas; Saturn's largest moon Titan; and the Galilean moons of Jupiter. Although visible unaided in pollution-free skies, Uranus and Vesta require binoculars for easy detection. 10×50 binoculars are limited to an Apparent magnitude of +9.5 to +11 depending on sky conditions and observer experience. Asteroids like 704 Interamnia, 511 Davida, 52 Europa and, unless under exceptional conditions 10 Hygiea, are too faint to be seen with commonly sold binoculars. Likewise too faint to be seen with most binoculars are the planetary moons except the Galileans and Titan, and the Dwarf planet Pluto and Eris. Other difficult binocular targets include the phases of Venus and the rings of Saturn. Only binoculars with very high magnification, 20x or higher, are capable of discerning Saturn's rings to a recognizable extent. High-power binoculars can sometimes show one or two cloud belts on the disk of Jupiter if optics and observing conditions are sufficiently good.