Using and choosing binoculars for astronomy

Observing the crescent Moon with binoculars. Credit Robin Scagell/Galaxy

There are lots of uses for binoculars in astronomy, and even advanced amateurs keep their trusty binoculars handy. They can show many more stars than you can see with the naked eye, and yet have a wide enough field of view that you can recognise the star patterns you’re looking at. Unlike astronomical telescopes, they show objects the right way up and not upside down. And there are some objects that are actually best seen in binoculars – star fields in the Milky Way, and bright comets (should you be lucky enough to see one), for example.

The downside of binoculars is that they have limited magnification, so you can’t see any detail on the planets, and nor can you see the smaller and fainter deep-sky objects such as most galaxies. For those observations you definitely need a telescope. But in terms of usefulness they rank very highly – and the good thing is, you don’t need to spend very much on them. Around £50 will get you a perfectly serviceable pair, which should last you a lifetime. And of course you can use them for many other things than astronomy.