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The SKY is the limit

At the Marquette Astronomical Society

August 27, 2010
By ANDY NELSON-ZALESKI Journal Staff Writer

ISHPEMING - Looking up into the night sky can be a majestic and wondrous experience. But at the same time, for a beginning stargazer, it can be quite intimidating. There are an estimated 10 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone. On a clear night, only a few thousand are visible.

But where does someone start if a better view of outer space is desired - on a budget? Ask anyone on the street what equipment is needed to begin stargazing, and it's likely a majority would mention a telescope. Though a logical answer, binoculars can work very well, too, and for far fewer dollars.

Seen through binoculars, the colors of a star intensify. In addition, binoculars can reveal craters on the moon, four moons orbiting Jupiter, the Milky Way and other galaxies.

Article Photos

The northern lights, dance in the night sky over the tree line. Watching the northern lights doesn’t require more than being at the right place at the right time. (Photo courtesy Michael Beauchamp)

Binoculars can also provide a wider field of view and rightside up images, making it easier to locate specific objects. They don't require a whole lot of skill to set up and some people find it more natural to look with both eyes open.

But what binoculars are going to work better with night time observing? When choosing a pair of binoculars, Roger Meade, president of the Marquette Astronomical Society said, "Anything with at least a 50mm objective lens or bigger will do."

The size of the objective lens, which is the front portion of the lenses, is the second number displayed on every binocular. The first number refers to the magnification. It is recommended that magnification should be between seven and 10. Anything higher will be harder to stabilize and will likely require a tripod.

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There are astronomical binoculars by the manufacturer Celestron that are 15x70 and cost just under $100.

With the right pair of binoculars, the number of planets, stars and galaxies that can be seen is nearly endless. Binoculars will reveal the moon in crisp detail and during a lunar eclipse, allow for a clear view of the stages as Earth's shadow covers the moon.

They also allow an observer to follow the phases of Venus and track the movement of Jupiter's big moons.

Viewing a comet is spectacular with binoculars. They will magnify enough to show details while providing a wide-enough field of view that an observer will see the comet's head and most of the tail.

For objects outside our solar system, binoculars work best on large, deep sky objects. Big star clusters like the Pleiades or the Beehive are perfect to view with binoculars because they cover a great deal of the sky. There are also some bright external galaxies such as the Andromeda and the Pinwheel.

Be aware of light pollution when stargazing. The smallest amount of light from a near by city can hinder the view of the night sky.

"Areas like Al Quaal are great places to view the night sky," suggested Meade.

A great place to start stargazing is the Marquette Astronomical Society. The group has a website: and a Facebook page. Between 20-25 members meet periodically throughout the year. The group holds meetings four times a year at the Shiras Planetarium. The next meeting is 7 p.m. Sept. 24.

The society also holds a public viewing of the night sky several times a year. These meetings give the public a chance to view the stars through MAS equipment.

In addition to the MAS, there are a number of great resources to begin stargazing.

A variety of books can be found at the local library and bookstores. There is even an "Astronomy for Dummies" book available.

Websites like,, and are just a few great sites that can get someone started.

Some websites have downloadable and printable star maps that will allow a stargazer to reference the map while looking into the night sky. There are even some applications you can download for computers and certain cell phones that can help beginners.

Andy Nelson-Zaleski can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 256. His e-mail address is



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