An invitation to explore the moon through binoculars tonight may seem as absurd as an invitation to cross the Pacific Ocean in an outboard motorboat. But wait! It does make sense. True, we live in a world of huge, powerful, and expensive instruments -giant optical telescopes up to 200 inches in aperture and vast radio telescopes up to 1000 feet in diameter. Yet, of the 4 billion people who inhabit the small planet Earth, only a negligible percentage even have seen such a telescope, and of them only a negligible percentage have had an opportunity to observe with it. Few, indeed, have gazed outward into the universe through a telescope Vio the diameter of the 200-inch Hale telescope. Even if we go down to V23 its diameter, the number of people who have access to such a telescope remains very small in spite of the fact that amateur telescope making has been a popular hobby for the past 60 years.
With binoculars the situation is entirely different. Fifty years ago they constituted a luxury item sold by opticians and pawnbrokers. Today they are sold in large volume by thousands of department stores, discount houses, mail-order firms, drugstores, and other retail establishments. Since the informed and critical buyer can obtain a good "glass" for as little as twenty to forty dollars, no home need be without one in this prosperous country of ours.
But are ordinary binoculars good for anything more than watching birds, horses, and the neighbors across the street? The answer is definitely "Yes!" Carefully selected 7 X 5° binoculars (magnification, 7 diameters; aperture, 50 millimeters or 2 inches) constitute a far better astronomical instrument than any professional astronomer possessed during the first half-century that followed the invention of the telescope. In fact, even a casual glance at the first quarter moon through 7 X 5° or 6 X 30 binoculars may show you more detail of the lunar world than was seen by the great Galileo who invented an astronomical telescope three and a half centuries ago and with it inaugurated the modern age of science through a series of unparalleled discoveries. The largest telescope Galileo ever used had a lens only two inches in diameter. It was mounted in a tube about 4 feet long, and its magnifying power was 33 diameters. However, the lens was of poor quality by modern optical standards, and it evidently resolved only the larger lunar surface features, judging from the drawings of the moon which Galileo made at the telescope and published in his book Sidereus Nuncius ( 1610).
If, therefore, you do not happen to own a private observatory, do not conclude that the thrill of personal observation of the moon, planets, and stars is an experience which you never can enjoy. You need not be restricted to vicarious exploration of outer space through the writings and the photographs of those who have observed. You can make direct personal contact with the moon and other worlds beyond. You can launch your own Space Program right from your roof or back yard. You can become not only well informed about the moon but intimately acquainted with its surface features. You will come to know it as a world which you have explored personally. Then the landings of unmanned space probes followed by the Apollo modules carrying astronauts will be as meaningful to you as the daily news of events around our terres-" trial world. The moon is today's frontier—the New World of Tomorrow.
Perhaps you are still skeptical about the effectiveness of binoculars as an astronomical instrument. If so, let me give you an observational fact. In the monumental work Photographic Lunar Atlas, edited by Cerard Kuiper (i960), there are listed a total of 670 named lunar features. By actual observation check I have found that 605 of those features can be seen with ordinary 7X5° binoculars. Don't expect to resolve all the fine details shown in the illustrations in this book, however, because many of our pictures are enlargements from negatives taken with one of the world's largest telescopes. The smaller named craters can be made out as tiny dark or bright specks, but the larger lunar craters and mountain ranges show well through binoculars and with considerable detail.
Either you already possess the principal piece of equipment needed for your personal exploration of the universe, or you can obtain it easily and at little expense. You are, therefore, virtually ready to begin.
The moon is a good starter for several reasons. Not only is it easier to find and identify than any other inhabitant of the night skies, but it is the most satisfying object that the beginner can observe. It looks the biggest and exhibits lots of surface features. It shows well even in the brilliantly lighted city. It has intrigued the observer and confounded the theory maker for thousands of years. Recently it has experienced a renaissance of professional interest, and the tremendous drive to put a man on its remote surface during the 1960s attracted the attention and stirred the imagination of every thoughtful person.
Just as binoculars serve well in the exploration of the moon, they also reveal to advantage much of the stellar universe beyond our solar system. There are hundreds of double stars, variable stars, star clusters, gaseous nebulae, and stellar galaxies which can be located and examined by the armchair astronomer who holds his instrument in his hands and who knows where to direct it.
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