I recently bought a pair of Celestron 15X70 Astronomy binoculars. Prior to this, I had been contemplating on getting a telescope and peering the deep space objects but I deliberately shelved the idea as I considered myself a rookie and not eligible for such sophisticated gadgets! My enthusiasm on studying the night sky had started when I was in Clemson. Being a student then, going to JCPenney was considered luxury, let alone buying binoculars! But once I got a job, telescope was on the list of things I planned to buy for myself, which I later scaled down to hand-held binos.
Then one Friday, I happened to visit the roof top telescope at the Boston science museum after having read about it and known that on that day, they will be focusing our ringed planet Saturn! As it was my first ever view through a telescope, I was totally awestruck at the beauty of looking at the planet and it's rings. Though I could barely make out the rings with such a big scope, I was nonetheless intrigued by the sheer beauty of what I saw and was raring to pursue my hobby further.
On the day I got my binos, I was all excited like a kid on its first birthday. I had by then gone through a lot of websites and books on reading the night sky but none of them came handy when I first walked out of my house, as first the night sky was obscured by my city lights (light pollution technically) and second, as it was my first adventure, I was least bothered about figuring out the sky!
I was immensely enjoying the fact that I can see things 15 times as big or as close as I can with my bare eyes and I tell you what –this made a huge difference. I would randomly pick an area in the sky with my naked eyes and then focus my binos on the same spot to see what else I can see. Well, ‘awesome’ would be an understatement because what initially looked like a barren patch in the sky turned to be studded with tiny shiny stars through my binos. So I continued doing this for about 10 minutes when I came across this hazy patch of stars. First when I looked, I thought my binos were not powerful enough to distinguish probably a double star but as I kept staring at it I realized that what I had seen only in books and magazines I was looking through my bare eyes then – for real. I could barely control my excitement as I almost shouted aloud GALAXY – yes it was our Messier object M31 – the Andromeda galaxy. I was amazed, astounded, exhilarated and what not. Next thing I did, I brought Priya down and showed her what we had known only from our 12th std physics Astronomy chapter (9th chapter I guess) as our nearest galaxy. How I wished we had been shown back then in school and how good an experience it would have been! Talk about mugging...
After that eventful night, I have been able to go out only once more because of incessant rain and periodic snow showers here. But I felt I was getting closer to familiarizing the sky and I should say I love each and every bit of it!
A thought struck me while I was doing all this. Think about the time when humans first became intelligent enough to start reading the sky. Think of how dark and starry the nights would have been – no lights to worry about no light pollution whatsoever. I wish there would be a night when our planet blacks out (nasty thought but still J) so that we could relive the times of our ancestors viewing with our bare eyes the stars, planets, galaxies, clusters, nebulae, dwarf planets, comets – WOAAW! If you ask me what I would most expect to see – It would be the belt of stars making our milkyway (pic above) - man I am dying to see it one day !
Lastly people ridicule astrology as baseless science. But if you think about the fact that back in old days there was always an open unobstructed view of the night sky with their beautiful and endearing formations and sights it seems more natural then not for people to decode the movements, make it mathematical and predict the future – yet another wow J
Time for some technical stuff:
My binos have a 15 x magnification and 70mm diameter aperture for capturing light. In binocular terms this means a basic astronomy binos through which you can pretty much make out the planets (Saturn looks elliptical because of its rings and you cannot obviously distinguish its rings with this), moon craters for sure and probably a load of deep space objects like galaxies, nebulae. I purchased it from www.binoculars.com for 70 bucks but I should say its worth it.
http://www.astroviewer.com/ has a decent java applet to view the night sky from different cities across the world.
But googling will help you find loads of information about astronomy, night skies, getting the right pair of binos and so on. Any questions I am more than willing to help