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Globular Clusters For Binoculars

One of my favorite ways to spend time is to cruise a dark, starry sky with binoculars. It seems so relaxing to gaze at wide swaths of sky and often have several different types of objects visible in the field at one time. It can be somewhat confusing to the beginner to see so much of the sky at once. It can even be difficult for an advanced amateur if he or she is exploring a new part of the sky or has recently purchased a new, more powerful, pair of binoculars. It is helpful to concentrate on a certain type of object at first. One that can be definitely identified. With a planisphere or star chart, a decent pair of binoculars and access to a reasonably dark sky the amateur astronomer can see over a dozen different globular clusters. Surprise! You thought you had to have a telescope, right? Although it can sometimes be a little challenging, most of these fuzzy puff balls here can be easily found and identified since the view in the glasses match the star charts. Star-hopping with binoculars is fun and so much easier than comparing the inverted/reversed image of a much smaller field of view in a typical telescope eyepiece.

The globular clusters listed below are simply my arbitrary list of the "best" ones visible form a mid-North American latitude. Most can be observed with 7X35s. All can be seen with 7X50s or 10X50s. As usual, the larger the instrument and the darker the sky the better the view. Also, a major help is a steady mount for the binoculars. A simple "L" bracket with a photo tripod or a parallelogram binocular mount is a nice luxury. Barring these accessories you can simply brace your arms on a towel folded and placed on a solid surface or lean against a tree or building to steady the view. The list begins with M5 at a Right Ascension of 15 hours and Declination of +02 degrees. M5 is visible late Spring evenings. The other objects come up later in the evening and rise earlier each night throughout the year. Don't have the stamina to stay up all night for a Messier Marathon? How about a globular cluster marathon using your binoculars? This is much less daunting, educational, and a lot of fun!

Object RA Dec Description/location

M5 15 +02 Magnitude 5.7.
This is a very bright, "most excellent" cluster located in Serpens. Lovely, brighter center. Difficult to find without binoculars as this is an area of very few bright stars.

M13 17 +36 The "Great Hercules Cluster" at mag 5.8.

It is bright and easy to see in any size binoculars. Also, it is easy to find on the western side of the "keystone".

M92 17 +43
The "other" Hercules Cluster is a little smaller than M13 but has a higher surface brightness. Its interesting to compare the two neighbors. It is mag 6.5

M4 16 +26
A mag 5.0 object near Antares in Scorpio. It is easy to find but difficult to observe when it low in the sky and there is a lot of local light pollution.

M80 16 -23 Also in Scorpio, mag 7.3.
Again, light pollution hurts but the field of stars here is very nice.

M22 19 -24
My favorite of all globulars located north of -30 degrees dec. This mag 5.2 beauty is half again the size of M13. It is very striking in any size instrument. My 14X70s resolve some stars. Magnificent background in this region of Sagittarius.

M75 20 -22
Also Sagittarius. Mag 8.6. Bright center but a little difficult to find in this crowded starfield with lower power glasses.

M56 19 +30
A mag 8.2 this one is small but has fairly high surface brightness. Located in Lyra this globular appears as a "fuzzy star" in 7X binoculars. Often overlooked. Worth finding.

M30 22 -23
At mag 7.4 and located in a sparse star field in Capricornus this cluster may be difficult to find. A misty patch with a brighter core.

M2 21 -01
Located in Aquarius this mag 6.5 cluster is a real showpiece. A slightly oval shape is discernible in 70 or 80mm glasses. M2 stands like a lonely sentinental in a sparse star field.

M15 21 +12
This mag 6.3 globular is easy to find in Pegasus. Fairly large and bright, M15 is the only globular cluster containing a planetary nebula.

M79 05 -24
One of a very few winter sky globulars, M79 is a mag 7.8 object in Lepus. Small but very distinct with larger glasses and/or a dark sky.

M3 14 +28
At mag 5.9 this cluster in Canes Venatici is one of the brightest in the sky! Easily gazed upon with 7X35s. Don't miss this one!

M68 13 -27
This cluster in Hydra is mag 7.7 and is sometimes difficult to snare from our latitudes. Located about 4 degrees south of Beta Corvus.

All magnitude and position estimates in this article are from the Orion DeepMap 600.


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