Binocular Highlights: what I’m rolling with

July 23, 2016

I just turned in my sixth Binocular Highlight column for Sky & Telescope. While I had everything out for the write-up, I thought people might be interested to know what sources I make use of.

Here’s the stuff I use pretty much every time:

  • S&T’s Pocket Sky Atlas and Jumbo Pocket Sky Atlas. I usually take a full-size clipboard and Interstellarum out with me to observe, so the Jumbo version is no added hassle. Consequently – and perhaps counterintuitively – I tend to use the Jumbo version for nearby excursions, and the classic for desk reference and travel. This is usually my first stop.
  • interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas: Desk Edition. Despite the name, my primary ‘deep’ field atlas. Goes out with me practically every time, unless space is really at a premium. Also sees heavy use indoors for planning sessions and following up on things.
  • Chandler Night Sky planisphere. Hands down, my most-used tool – it goes out with me every session no matter what, and I frequently refer to it indoors as well.
  • Chandler Sky Atlas for Small Telescopes and Binoculars – particularly useful for the Milky-Way-centric chart that shows the galaxy as a flat band with the celestial coordinate grid deformed around it. Useful for thinking about where things are with respect to the disk of the galaxy, for quick looks, and for the object list.
  • SkySafari 5 Pro app on my iPhone. Astounding amount of information. Usually my first source for looking up distances, separations, etc., although I always confirm with some other source.

Sources I turn to often, but not always:

  • Glenn LeDrew’s atlas of the Milky Way in The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, 3rd Edition. I already had the 2nd edition – it was one of the first books I picked up when I first got into amateur astronomy back in 2007. I got the 3rd edition primarily for the Milky Way atlas, and I was not disappointed. The identification of OB associations is particularly useful.
  • The Cambridge Double Star Atlas. Super helpful for checking on double stars, and a handsome and useful atlas all around. Also, kind of an insane steal at $22 on Amazon.
  • Burnham’s Celestial Handbook. Not my first stop for astrophysical data, but it’s nice to get some historical perspective and Burnham excels at this.
  • O’Meara Deep-Sky Companions series. Useful for astrophysical info, historical persepctive, and visual impressions from one of the world’s foremost observers. Crucially, O’Meara usually describes how objects look at varying magnifications, including naked eye and binocular appearances, so although the books are grounded in telescopic observations they are still quite useful for binocular observers.
  • Uranometria, All Sky Edition. Always nice to have the big gun in reserve, although I find Interstellarum more useful for most practical applications.

To get the latest astrophysical data I turn to the web. Particularly helpful sources are the SEDS Messier database, non-Messier NGC/IC/etc page, and Interactive NGC Catalog, the NGC/IC ProjectSIMBAD, the NASA Extragalactic Database, and if all else fails, Google Scholar and ArXiv.

For inspiration I’m quite omnivorous. Gary Seronik hit the Messiers pretty hard for the last few years, so I’m avoiding them for the time being, both to avoid duplication and to force myself to go find new stuff. The Astronomical League’s Deep Sky Binocular observing list (free), the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies Binocular Certificate Handbook (free), James Mullaney’s Celestial Harvest, Phil Harrington’s Touring the Universe through Binoculars, and my own notes compiled over the past 8.5 years all serve as jumping-off points. Tom Price-Nicholson’s Binocular Stargazing Catalog (free) looks like a useful source as well, although I haven’t had a chance to explore it thoroughly yet. More often than not, I go out to find a particular object or to survey a set of objects (open clusters in Cygnus, for example) and end up discovering new things. So far I’ve been generating many more possible topics to write about than I actually can, so it seems unlikely that I’ll run out of subject matter anytime soon. We’ll see!

If you know of something I should be using that’s not on the list, please let me know – the comment field is open.



  1. Maybe you could consider another source, “Objects in the Heavens”. I’m the author and have attempted gathering all northern objects of mag 10 and brighter. Currently, I am the only source for the most recent edition, easily findable on the web.

  2. Matt, I have been urging you to buy OITH for, what, like 2 years now? And counting. Go to Amazon and read my detailed 5-star review on this superb observing guide if you need a final goose. Seriously, for 30 bucks a complete observing program. Invaluable. I use my OITH in concert with the PSA for both pre-planning and at the ‘scope every time out. Every. Time. I’ve observed and sketched over a dozen new objects just this year that I’d not have even looked for were it not for OITH.

    Time to pull the trigger on this one, buddy!


  3. WOW! Thanks for the kudos, Doug. Amazon only offers v4.0 and I’ve updated now to v5.2 with more than 1000 changes, additions, etc.

  4. All right, I’m in. Just ordered v5.2. Can’t wait to see it – thanks both for the suggestion!

  5. Thanks Matt fot jotting down resources. I have just started binocular star gazing in the suburbs of Dubai and this list seems to be invaluable. I have already got S&T Pocket Atlas.

    Just one question: how many of these resources would be useful for backyard astronomy in this part of the world (Dubai)? How can I check this?

  6. Hi aliwritings. Not to keep beating the same drum, but for sure order Objects in the Heavens as for each constellation, all objects most accessible to binoculars are specifically identified as such. Be sure to order directly from the author so you get the latest 5.2 version. I offer this advice only because Matt just ordered his copy. Along with the Pocket Sky Atlas you will have a near perfect observing trail guide.


  7. OITHv5.2 might not be the best for Ali because its focus is on northern deep sky, nothing really south of -45º declination. S&T PSA and Chandler’s Binocular books would be better for him.

  8. Nah, OITHv5.2 will be fine for you, Ali. Dubai is at 25 degrees north latitude, farther north than Key West and only a little farther south than southern Texas. You may also want a southern hemisphere observing guide, but you’ll be able to see all the northern hemisphere constellations. Basically you see all the same stuff as people in Florida, just a few hours offset.

    A good double-barreled observing program would be to work though the objects listed in Stephen Saber’s Concordiem Borealis (northern hemisphere, link) and my own Concordiem Australis (southern hemisphere, link), which unite the Messier and Caldwell lists with a few additional “best of” targets. The Pocket Sky Atlas will show all of them.

  9. Thanks Matt, Peter and Doug.

  10. […] galaxies). The Messier and Caldwell catalogs are good places to start, and there are hordes of online resources (many funded by your tax dollars by way of NASA) you can use to find a match. If I get really […]

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