Variable Star Observing with Binoculars

Regardless of what equipment you have, many variable-star observers recommend that you begin observing variable stars with binoculars. This sounds like pretty good advice. If you have a telescope you won't want to do it though. I understand, but here is why most observers recommend starting with binoculars.

First, it's easy to set up quickly and start observing with the least amount of fuss when using binoculars. You're going to get positive feedback quickly with very little effort. All that you will be required to do is lay back, keep your eyes open, breath and look.

Secondly, when the time comes, you'll have many more comparison stars using binoculars. The field of view for binoculars is greater than a telescope's so naturally you'll be looking at a bigger portion of the sky. More sky means more stars.

Setting up for binocular viewing is simple and straightforward. You will need binoculars, star charts/ atlas, a record book, a pencil and a red filtered flashlight. It's important to be comfortable when observing variable stars. Your attention needs to be on the stars, not on a sore neck or back. Lay on a blanket covering the ground or sit in a yard chair of some type. Use a pillow. Again, the critical thing here is that you must orient your head so that it is naturally tilted up toward the sky. If you don't do this, you will fatigue quickly; worse case, you're going to get a cramp or a headache. Most people will not pursue a hobby in the hopes of developing a cramp or a headache.

Scan the sky with your binoculars. Find the bright stars. Notice the colors. If you're a normal human being, this should be a thoroughly amazing experience. Think about what you are seeing. This is the Universe that you are viewing!

If looking up doesn't suit your fancy, look down. There are devices available in which you look down into a large mirror. The mirror reflects the sky from above. Looking down into a large mirror with binoculars will give you a nice view of the sky above without straining your neck. The disadvantages are that the mirror will not reflect 100% of the light from the stars so you'll lose a little brightness, and the mirror, no matter how it's positioned, will be susceptible to wobble. You're already using binoculars that, by their very nature, tremble so any additional quiver can be annoying. Attach a low-priced laser pointer to your binoculars, using rubber bands, and you can use it to direct your point of view. A little adjustment will be necessary in the beginning to center the laser with your field of view.

You can spend months or years observing with binoculars; maybe even a lifetime. As time goes by, you'll gain much experience observing variable stars with your binoculars. You'll learn the constellations and asterisms, bright stars, nebulae and star clusters that will allow you to move around the sky with confidence. The knowledge that you develop will come in handy in the years to come. And don't forget to enjoy the journey, there is no final destination.

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