I got home yesterday from a weeks stay at Oak Island, N.C. The forecast was for cloudy weather and scattered rain and thunderstorms so I did not take a scope with me, but I always take my binoculars for some birding. Well, not taking a telescope with me was a big mistake. There were four nights that were partly cloudy, You know those small puffy clouds that cover about 20% to 40% of the sky and move by quickly, while Saturday night was mostly clear. Someone should kick me if I ever go to the coast again and not take a telescope.
For those of you who do not know, binoculars are one of the best pieces of astronomical gear, other than a telescope, that you can own. Why do I say that? Well on those four partly cloudy and one mostly clear night, I found, identified and observed 55 deep-sky objects. To do that I only spent about 45 minutes out each night and about an hour and a half on the clear night.
It seems like every summer I enjoy taking a tour through Sagittarius, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, etc. This is a portion of the sky that is just packed with bright objects for viewing. After looking at the skies brighter Messier objects I started hunting for some of the brighter objects not usually thought about with binoculars. As my guide for this, I used Peter Birren’s wonderful little book Objects in the Heavens. Peter describes this book as The Complete Mag-10 Northern Deep-Sky Viewing List & Fieldbook. What I like about the book is that those objects mag-7 and brighter are shown in bold type. This makes for a great list of binocular targets.
I will not bore you with the whole list of objects that I viewed but I will share some of the highlights I really enjoyed. Like the false comet in the tail of Scorpius. This is an area of the sky that to the naked eye from a really dark site looks like a comet almost on the horizon. The false comet is made up of Zeta 1 & Zeta 2, NGC 6231 and Cr316. Zeta 1 and 2 are the nucleus on the south side of the coma, made up by NGC 6231, the fan-shaped tail is made up by Cr 316. Although there were stars visible in NGC 6231 and Cr 316 through my 10×50 binoculars, the comet shape was still very evident in them. The open cluster, NGC 6231, is a great telescopic target too. This cluster is sometimes called the Northern Jewel Box because it is so rich in stars.
Next I found, for the first time, a wonderfully bright, round with a bright center Globular cluster, NGC 6388. This cluster is only about a degree north of the declination of the Omega Centaurus Cluster and is located under the tail of Scorpius, so it is low in the sky but still bright over the Atlantic Ocean. This is a cluster I will definitely have to look at with my telescope.
I have been reading about what some have refered to as a nonexistent object in the New General Catalog, NGC 6455. This object is shown in the Urano Metria 2000.0 atlas as a star cloud southwest of M7. I thought it would be a great telescopic target for a low power wide field-of-view through my 4-inch TV102 refractor, so you can understand my surprise when it was visible in my 10×50 binoculars. This star cloud looks very much like M24 in Sagittarius. By that I mean it is a milky patch on a dark sky background, that looks mottled and covered with faint stars. It looked as if M7 is located in the northeastern corner of this milky patch that extends for a full degree to the southwest of M7.
Now combine this with the string of objects that appear to flow out of the Sagittarius tea-pot spout and you will understand why I had such a good time with only my binoculars. Looking again at Objects in the Heavens, there are still another dozen and a half objects up there to be seen with binoculars this time of year. Let’s hope for some more clear dark skies.