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A lifelong amateur astronomer, Phil Harrington was bitten by the "astronomical bug" when he was assigned to watch the total lunar eclipse of April 1968 as a homework assignment. Since then , Phil has spent countless hours touring the universe through telescopes and binoculars.
Phil is probably most familiar to amateur astronomers for his books, including: TOURING THE UNIVERSE THROUGH BINOCULARS, STAR WARE, and STAR WATCH. Phil is also a contributing editor for Astronomy magazine, where he frequently reviews telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomical equipment, as well as authors observing features. Phil also authored the magazine's monthly Binocular Universe column from 2005-2009. In June 2009, his popular column moved to Cloudynights.com.
Each month, Binocular Universe will visit some of the many wonders of the night sky that are visible through a simple pair of binoculars. Some of the sights may be familiar, while others may be brand new. And if you spot something along the way that you would like to see mentioned in a future column, be sure to drop Phil a line here.
Welcome to the Binocular Universe, where two eyes are better than one.
For the past 6,000 years, the imposing form of Leo the Lion, the king of the beasts, has been stalking the spring sky. Leo is one of the oldest constellations, tracing its origin back to ancient Mesopotamia. Then, as now, stargazers imagined the constellation's hook-shaped "sickle" of stars as the profile of the lion's head, and a triangle of stars to their east as its haunches.
As the owner of three dogs, I always look forward to the annual Westminster Dog Show held every February in New York City. Westminster attracts thousands of the finest canines from around the globe to vie for the coveted title of Best in Show. The sky also puts on its own dog show every winter. We have Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs, rising in the northeast, Canis Minor, the Small Dog, high in the south, and Canis Major, the Large Dog, in the south-southwest.
Let’s kick off the New Year and the first full month of winter by paying a call on some lesser known targets of the season. The subtle glow of the winter Milky Way, flowing southward from Gemini through Monoceros and into Canis Major, brings many star clusters that beckon our attention. Some of these are striking through binoculars, while others are a challenge just to see.
Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday that we were ushering in 2014 and here we are, getting ready to ring it out and welcome in 2015! Let’s close out the year with a bang. Go big or go home, they say. So this month, we are going big!
Over the years, this column has included several off-the-beaten-path objects that go ignored in most observing handbooks. This month, I’d like to continue that tradition by paying a call on the first three entries in a catalog of open star clusters published in 1930 by Swiss-American astronomer Robert J. Trumpler.
Regardless of your observing site, be it under dark rural skies or from a more cosmopolitan setting, hunting down binary stars through binoculars is a great way to confirm the quality of your optics, your eyesight, and your powers of observation. This month, we have a selection of targets that range from easily resolved through pocket binoculars to challenging through the best 10x and 11x pairs.
The North America Nebula (NGC 7000) is a large expanse of glowing hydrogen gas mixed with opaque clouds of cosmic dust just 3 degrees east of Deneb (Alpha Cygni) and 1 degree to the west of 4th-magnitude Xi Cygni. Famous as one of the most luminous blue supergiants visible in the night sky, Deneb marks the tail of Cygnus the Swan, or if you prefer, the top of the Northern Cross asterism.
This month’s column is for the birds. Literally, as we visit a nebulous aviary along the gentle stream of the southern Milky Way populated by a swan and an eagle. We paid a call here last summer, when we focused on M24, the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud. This year, we return to explore a few more showstoppers in and around the area.