Some Comments on the New Living Translation(NLT) of the Holy Bible.

The New Living Translation (red letter edition) by Tyndale.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

                                                                                            Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

Preamble

Take a good look at the world around you.

Lawlessness is on the increase in every nation. Our TV and cinema screens are cesspits of filth, lewdness, blasphemy and the glorification of violence. Britain is now the stab capital of Europe. Anti-semitism is escalating across the globe, tearing whole communities and political parties apart. The cold-blooded murder of the unborn is legalised in most developed countries and soon the right to life will be denied to the newborn(it’s already happened in fact). Traditional family values have all but disappeared. Our churches are nearly empty, their elders, priests and pastors, feverishly busy spreading false doctrines. Depraved acts such as homosexuality(they have the audacity to call it ‘sex’) are being promoted as ‘good’ and ‘natural.’ Our children are being taught that they are ‘highly evolved animals'(based on Darwinian pseudoscience); gender is ‘fluid’ even though our chromosomal karyotype plainly says otherwise, boys can be girls or vice versa, and morals are ‘relative.’  Wars and rumours of wars are never far from the headlines. The Middle East is a tinder box ready to explode. Civil war threatens many nations. Whole economies are collapsing. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Steeped in debt, young people can’t afford to get on the housing ladder. Homelessness is at an all-time high. Our once clean cities are slowly becoming slums. Food banks are now common across the western world and their queues are getting ever larger. The biosphere is dying before our very eyes; insects, animal and plant populations are being decimated by pollution, unsustainable and aggressive agricultural policies, and climate change.The bountiful seas are becoming water deserts. And there’s no where to go.

Don’t you think something is terribly wrong with the world? Are you not concerned for the next generation( if the Lord tarries) who will see these trends continuing to escalate?

You’re either a fool or completely deluded to think otherwise!

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course, and I could go on and on.

What source of knowledge brings all of these evils into sharp focus?

Only the Bible provides the answers we so desperately seek. Moreover, it makes it pretty clear that it can’t and won’t be sustained.

The Bible warns us not to turn to idols(which includes atheism) for solutions. In the days of old, these took the form of carved images of wood and stone, animals and even persons( e.g. the Emperor Cult of the Caesars). And though the old gods are long gone, new ones have stepped in to fill the power vacuum; unaware AI, non-existent alien intelligences, sports personalities, rampant consumerism and greed (which the Bible teaches is yet another form of idolatory), ‘mind and body’ gurus, tree huggers and charlatans that promise the earth, steal your money, and leave you high and dry. The secular world believes man is benevolent by nature and can find the answers to all his problems, but let’s be honest; that humanist philosophy has failed miserably. Where exactly is that utopia you dreamt up in your vain maschinations?

It doesn’t exist and cannot exist.

In contrast, the Bible says precisely the opposite; left to his own devices, man is fundamentally not good. Humans become more depraved, more wicked and more desperate without guidance from their Creator. Without God in their lives, things always go from bad to worse. And the inspired Biblical writers foresaw all of it!

We need the Bible more so now than at any other time in human history.

How do I know this? I read the Bible every day. I see it all on the pages of Scripture, as if it’s today’s news. The secular world will accuse you of ‘bigotry’ and ‘small mindedness’ of course, for the simple reason that the same people are woefully ignorant of what the Bible actually says; not the watered down sermons you hear in a typical church on Sunday morning, delivered by a clergy that are increasingly afraid to offend anyone, but by taking heir of one’s self, and actually reading the Biblical text through and applying its principles in every day life. Seen in this light, the accusations of the secularists against true Christians are just more of the same: arguments from ignorance.

And that’s true bigotry!

There is a simple principle I apply in my dealings with the secular world: if it is approved of in the Bible, I’m for it; but if the Bible disapproves of it, I’m not for it!

It’s simple, straight-forward, and unambiguous.

In the 21st century there is an explosion of Bible versions written in the English language to suit the needs of a diverse group of people. The following diagram gives you an idea of the types of Bibles you can choose from:

The green zone represents very literal ‘word for word’ translations from the original Hebrew and Koine Greek. The orange zone represents an entirely different translation philosophy; the so called ‘thought for thought’ translations. Finally, the red zone represents the most loosely rendered interpretations of the Biblical text; the paraphrases.

As you can see from the diagram above, the New Living Translation(NLT) of the Bible is in the orange zone, so bordering between the ‘thought for thought’ and the ‘paraphrased’ renditions. But unlike true paraphrased versions like the Message or The Living Bible, the NLT is actually a true translation of Holy Scripture, but it places a great emphasis on rendering the essential ideas in simple, modern English. The NLT was formulated by a broad church of Christian denominations under a solid translation committee. This is evidenced by the lack of errors in the text(yes, I’ve found typos in other versions formulated by smaller committees) and the attention to detail they have displayed in bringing to life the timeless stories and moral teachings of the Bible for a modern readership. The NLT is available in the 66 books that comprise the Protestant Bible, but they have also produced a Catholic version (with its 72 books). The comments made here refer to the former.

The first edition of the NLT was published in 1996 and its aim was to turn the paraphrased Living Bible (composed by the late Kenneth Taylor in 1971) into a proper translation. It has since undergone several revisions (2004, 2007, 2013 and 2016), which aims to make the text as accessible and inclusive as possible. Like the NIV, the language is quite gender neutral, but the committee has clearly not gone as far as their NIV counterparts, which some feel has taken the issue a wee bit too far. Weights, measures and the timing of religious festivals are expressed in modern terms, which adds to the intelligibility of the text. The introduction pages to this Bible clearly explains why these strategies were adopted.

While it is acknowledged that any thought-for-thought translation is in danger of going too far, and that, ultimately, you are probably safer going with a good literal translation like the ESV, NKJV or NASB, I find there is much that is meritorious about this fresh, dynamic and often idiomatic edition of the Bible. I found it is excellent for speed reading( I obtained my copy in October 2018, but had sampled an earlier edition before giving it away to a friend), having completely finished it in just a few months. Although some renderings of the text were mildly alarming(see Luke 5:30 for an example), on the whole I thought the translation was very enjoyable and worth the effort to read through. At no point did I ever feel that the translators were watering down Scripture (e.g. the deity of Christ or the nature of the triune God), as some commentators have suggested. Indeed, in some cases, I felt it was easier to understand certain passages about the Atonement than in more literal word-for-word translations.

Many of the Psalms will come across as unfamiliar to those who cherish traditional translations, like my beloved NKJV, because the wording is different, but I found the differences enriching more than they were distracting. Consider Psalm 23, for example:

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

As you can see, it is worded rather differently to more celebrated versions of the Bible such as the grand old King James Version (which my family and I have committed to memory) but if I’m being honest, it conveys exactly the same comforting ideas as older renditions of this time-honoured Davidic psalm.

I would highly recommend this translation to everyone, but especially those who are making their first steps in the faith. I completely reject the idea that it is an inferior version compared with the more technically accurate renditions of the Bible, for I equate this kind of thinking to yet another example of legalism, which is just plain wrong and anathema to the true message of the Gospel. Afterall, God never intended for His inspired word to be misunderstood or that it be made accessible to only an elite few. Have we not learned anything from the days when the Latin Vulgate was the only version in existence, delivered and understood only by priests?

As our Lord and Saviour once declared:

O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.

Matthew 11:25(NLT)

That we have so many versions is a blessing and not a curse. Personally, I see it as part of the Divine plan to bring as many people to Christ before the Lord wraps it all up. I for one cherish the NLT as a fine addition to my Bible collection and one which I will continue to use and enjoy until the day I see Him face to face.

Ultimately, the message of the Bible is joyful and optimistic to those who have the wisdom to accept its teachings. So believers have absolutely nothing to fear! Indeed, Scripture anticipated that these radical changes in human society would occur near the closing of the age. It’s as if prophecy is unravelling before our very eyes, and that gives me goose bumps! In the meantime, we just have to keep on trying to make the world a better place and to speak up for issues that we believe are immoral. Moreover, the Bible has always encouraged us to be vigilant in the times we are given to live in. So take heart! Nothing should surprise you!

A few Words on the NLT Premium SlimLine Large Print Reference Edition ( ISBN- 978-1-4143-0711-4)

Now, I would like to say a few words about the particular NLT Bible I have sourced.

The beautiful Leatherlike Brown Gator covering of the Large Print Slimline NLT.

As I explained in a previous blog about my NKJV Bible, I like to have a hard copy of any Bible I purchase. The NLT is, of course, available for study online, but like any other Bible I use, I prefer to have a copy I can bring anywhere with me, without the hassle of relying on using electronic devices to retrieve the text. Afterall, we cannot be certain that we will have the internet forever, can we?

This NLT measures 6.5″ x 9″ and is about an inch thick. It has a paste-down liner and a strong, Smyth-sewn binding. The cover is Leatherex; making it very flexible and durable. It is very attractive to the touch and is easy to grip. It is not ostentatious and will not make you stand out in a crowd. It lies flat when hand-held or when opened on a table. The words are printed in 9.84 font, so very easy to read, even without my glasses. The quality of the paper is not the best but not the worst either, and is perfectly adequate for reading.  It has two colour-matched ribbons page markers to keep track of whatever text from the Old and New Testament I’m studying from.

The NLT large print Slimline edition has nice gold gilding on its pages and comes with two colour-matched ribbons.

The edges of the pages have a very nice gold gilding. The text is fairly well line matched with only a little bit of bleed-through visible from page to page. This is a red letter version. The colour of red is slightly paler than I would have liked but it does the job fine.I don’t really like footnotes, so I was delighted to see that they are minimal in this version of the NLT and are placed at the bottom of the page, where they provide little in the way of a distraction and are also printed in a smaller font size to the main text.

The NLT has the words of our Saviour in red.

At the back of the Bible, there is a fairly comprehensive 53-page concordance, followed by a single page presenting ” Great Chapters from the Bible.” This is immediately followed by a 3-page presentation of what the committee consider to be the “greatest verses from the Bible.” The last few pages present a useful 365-day reading plan to get the user through the entire Biblical text in a single year. Finally, like most Bibles, it presents a few useful full-colour maps of the Holy Land, including a detailed look at the places Jesus visited during his three and a half year earthly mission, as well as maps of the Greek, Babylonian and Assyrian Empires,and which also includes the route of the Exodus and the missionary journeys of Saint Paul.

For a modest cost of £26.99. I consider it a good value in today’s market.

 

I hope readers will receive the NLT with enthusiasm and that it will enrich your knowledge of the Bible in these somewhat alarming but ultimately exciting(for Christians and Messianic Jews)  times in which we now live!

With Every Blessing,

 

Neil.

 

Dr. Neil English recounts the stories of many Christian astronomers from centuries past in his latest historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

 

 

De Fideli.

 

 

Exploring some Early Spring Doubles with a 130mm f/5 Newtonian Reflector.

Plotina; sampling a rich variety of double stars in early March skies.

 

Early March evenings provide some great opportunities to observe double stars of various levels of difficulty. This work is based on a single night’s observations, which took place on the late evening of March 4 and shortly after midnight on March 5 2019.

The instrument used was a 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector. The cork-lined optical tube assembly provides excellent thermal stability and when it is perfectly collimated and acclimated to the night time air, it produces beautiful images of double stars under good seeing conditions.

The reader can also enjoy these doubles stars with other types of telescopes. For the most difficult systems I would recommend at least a 120mm refractor, a C5 or C6 Schmidt Cassegrain, a 6″ Classical Cassegrain  or a 127mm Maksutov Cassegrain.

The evening on which the observations were made proved very good, with a brisk southwesterly wind and good steady seeing conditions (Antoniadi II). As I explained in a few previous blogs, I point the 130mm Newtonian straight into the wind, where it acts as a natural boundary layer scrubber. No fan was used.

I started with Theta Aurigae, now well past meridian passage but still quite high in the western sky. The system always provides a good challenge for the medium aperture backyard ‘scope. I used a power of 260x (Parks Gold 7.5mm coupled to a Meade 3x Barlow) to obtain a wonderful view of the faint companion.The challenge here is the large brightness difference between the pair (magnitudes 2.6 & 7.2) That said, the 130mm reflector will always resolve this tough system in good seeing conditions.

Our next target presents an altogther different type of challenge to the double star observer. Wasat (Delta Geminorum) is a creamy white star shining with a magnitude of +3.5 but it has a much fainter companion; an orange dwarf star shining feebly at magnitude +8.2. The challege here is to pick it off from the primary as it is very close in. Good transparency is a necessity for glimpsing it. I used a power of 118x (Meade 5.5mm Series 5000 UWA) to bag it. These form a true binary system with a period of about 1000 years.

Iota Cassiopeiae: a much easier system to resolve, and contrary to erroneous literature claiming otherwise (a nefarious meme promulgated by refractor nuts in paticular), presents little in the way of a serious challenge. This is a lovely triple system, with all three components observed at 260X (Parks Gold 7.5mm coupled to 3x achromatic Meade Barlow).

Our next port of call is Alula Australis (Xi UMa) in Ursa Major. Being very high in the sky at this time of year, it is ripe for exploration with a decent backyard ‘scope. The near equal magnitude creamy white components shine with magnitudes +4.3 and +4.8 are are rapidly widening, being accessible to the smallest telescopes after 2020. As a keen student of this system  for over a decade, I have watched it slowly widening from season to season and now is a great time to see this wondrous apparition of nature. The changing aspect of the pair is easily explained by virtue of its short orbital period; just 60 years. Easily resolved in the 130mm f/5 at 260x, I enjoyed an even better view at 354x (Meade 5.5mm UWA coupled to a Meade 3x Barlow).

Our next target is right next door; look through your finder and move the telescope to the other bright star in the field of view. I speak of course of Alula Borealis. The 130mm f/5 presents the system beautifully; an orange primary(magnitude +3.5) and just 7.4″ away, the exceedingly faint companion shining with a magnitude of +10.1. Well seen at 118x and 135x (Meade UWA 5.5mm & 4.8mm T1 Nagler, respectively) roughly due west of the primary, observing the tiny, faint spark is a sight for sore eyes!

Back into Gemini now for our next target, which will present a much greater challenge:Propus (Eta Geminorum).The primary is a red giant star, which fluctuates in magnitude, varying in glory from + 3.1 and + 3.9 over a period of about eight months. The challenge is to see the very close-in companion, which shines much more feebly at magnitude +6.2, but it’s located just 1.6″ away, making this an exceedingly difficult system, requiring great patience and perseverance to crack. That said, I  was able to successfully resolve the companion for the third time this season, on the evening of March 4, using a power of 354x (Meade UWA 5.5mm coupled to a 3x Meade Barlow) in my 130mm f/5 roughly northwest of the primary. If you don’t bag it on a good night, don’t fret, the unstable, geriatric primary probably plays a role in making it difficult to see. But repeated observations over a period of a few weeks should yield success! The stars orbit their barycentre every five centuries.

My final offering is also very challenging; much more so than many observing guide books would have you believe. I speak of Iota Leonis, a creamy white star shining at magnitude +4.1. The challenge is to resolve the secondary; shining more feebly at magnitude + 6.7. Separated by just 2.1″, I usually wait until the fairly low lying system in my far northern skies, reaches the meridian, which it did at about 00:40UT on March 5 2019. I used a power of 354x(Meade 5.5mm UWA and 3x Barlow) to resolve the tricky pair. The secondary lies roughly due east of the primary and orbits its brighter luminary every 186 years. My guide book suggests a 76mm telescope and high power is about the minimum necessary. I think this is a pipe dream though. What do you think?

Well, that’s your lot folks. I hope these systems will give readers a good challenge on cool March evenings and keep you busy and active.

Happy Hunting!

 

Neil English recounts the history of many celebrated double star observers over four centuries of time, using both refractors and reflectors, in his latest work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

De Fideli.

Some Comments on Pocket Binoculars.

A representative sample of pocket binoculars; clockwise from the top: the Opticron Aspeheric 8 x 25 LE, the Pentax DCF 9 x 28 and the Celestron Nature DX 8x 25.

Hello again everyone!

Binoculars come in all shapes and sizes, and at prices that suit virtually everyone’s budget. As you may be aware of, I’ve re-ignited my interest in the modern binocular market, having somewhat neglected it for the best part of three decades. But I’ve been making rapid progress and would now like to discuss the market for the smallest binoculars; the so-called pocket variety.

Though any objective look at this market is very much like hitting a moving target, I acquired three products which I believe are fairly representative of the entry-level to upper-mid to premium class of pocket binocular that can be purchased. First off, let’s come up with a working definition of a pocket binocular. To my mind, these would be instruments under 30mm in aperture and have magnifications in the range from about 6x  to 10x. As their name suggests, they are small enough and light enough to fit inside a regular pocket (though some pockets are certainly larger than others lol!)  and so would be no larger than about 4 square inches in area and weigh less than about 400g.

Unlike all the other classes of binocular; including compacts, full-size and large instruments; the reader may be surprised to learn that even the most expensive models in the pocket class of binocular are not exorbitantly priced. Indeed, you can acquire models from the threee premium binocular manufacturers(Zeiss, Swarovski and Leica) for about £500 or sometimes less. This reflects their limited utility; very useful for hiking and other outdoor excursions that require strict minimisation of weight but ultimately not an instrument one would happily use where there is easy access to a larger(say mid-size) instrument. That said, you can get essentially the same performance out of some models that cost significantly less than the premium brands, if you know what to shop for. That just reflects how manufacturing technology has caught on.

Now, I do a fair amount of hill walking and have learned the hard way that even my favourite binocular – the magnificent Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 wide angle – is a bit of a pig (weight wise) to climb with. That stoked my interest in acquiring a smaller unit dedicated to enjoying quick looks around the landscape from an elevated vantage and this naturally led me to testing three roof prism-based units units that can be acquired relatively inexpensively; either newly purchased or acquired second hand; the Celestron Nature DX 8 x 25mm (purchased new for £59 plus shipping), the Opticron Aspheric 8 x 25mm LE (actually my wife’s binocular, purchased new for £110 a few years back with the slightly modified new version retailing now for £129) and a Pentax DCF 9 x 28mm (purchased second hand for £119 but still under warranty and now available for £199 in the newer (AD) incarnation).

Yours truly recently surveying the landscape with a pocket binocular atop the Meikle Bin, Campsie Fells, Scotland, elevation 1,870 feet. Check out the gibbous Moon at upper right!

These were not acquired for specific astronomical use, though I did find out that there are significant differences between them when looking at some astronomical targets. But you’ll need to read the rest of this blog to find out those details!

Nota bene: A new discussion has arose on tiny binos here lol.

Let’s take a closer look at the instruments. First up, the Celestron Nature DX 8 x 25. Full specifications here.

The Celestron Nature DX 8 x 25 has twist-up eyecups giving very comfortable eye relief.

This very cost-effective pocket binocular from Celestron offers many attractive features for the savvy consumer. Weighing 343g, the package includes the binocular, a basic neck strap, a lens cloth, nicely fitting rubberised ocular and objective lens covers and a decent carry case. It also includes a basic instruction manual to get you going fast. What is rather remarkable is that the binocular has a few optical features that were offered only on premium models just a decade ago; including fully multi-coated optics, BAK-4 prisms, with phase correction. It is also waterproof and is purged with dry nitrogen gas preventing internal fogging and minimising internal corrosion. The Celestron Nature DX 8 x 25 offers a very generous field of view of 7.2 angular degrees which is actually quite remarkable for such a low cost unit.

Looking down on the Celestron Nature DX 8 x 25. Note the specifications on the large, central focusing wheel.

The plastic eyecups twist upwards giving a comfortable 14mm of eye relief. The cups are kept down for eye glass wearers. The dioptre setting is reassuringly stiff and is located just under the right eyecup. Viewing through the binocular is very comfortable and the large field of view is bright and sharp across most of the field. Only in the outer ten per cent of the field can one detect a little softening of the image. Chromatic correction is very good, as is the control of pincushion distortion.

The objective lenses on the small objectives of the Nature DX binocular have good coatings.

It has a stiff, central hinge that can accommodate virtually all IPDs. It has quite a solid feel in use. The body is made of a low mass but strong polycarbonate material with a plastic- like(read non rubberised) green overcoat. Grip is adequate but I would have liked to have a higher friction, rubberised over coat.

The large, centrally placed focusing wheel is quite stiff and only turns through ~ 290 degrees, so less than 1 revolution between infinity and closest focus(an impressive 2m). This result is at odds with the claims of some other reviews I have read on the Nature DX (720 degrees, or two full revolutions claimed!). See here for an example. Perhaps it is unique to this small Nature DX model?

The instrument gives remarkable depth of focus! When the wheel is turned to the end of its travel so that objects in the far distance are focused, my eyes were able to get very sharply focused images all the way down to about 35 yards distance!

I did discover a significant flaw in this instrument however; point it at a bright light source at night or at the Moon, and it will show strong internal reflections/lens flaring. I found observing the Moon to be particularly annoying with this binocular and if imaging a backlit scene during the day, it will also throw up the same reflections which reduces the punch of the image. You cannot see these reflections when looking at most scenes though; it shows none on even the brightest stars, as verified by my testing on the Dog Star, Sirius. I do not know whether these internal reflections are found on other Nature DX models but it can (and should) easily be tested. But for £59 plus shipping, I can’t really complain. Afterall, some internal reflections are found in all binoculars, even premium models.

The Celestron Nature DX pocket binocular comes with a decent soft-padded case, a lens cloth and a basic neck strap. The ocular and objective lenses also have good rubber caps.

The user will have to decide if this flaw is annoying enough to justify passing on the purchase of this product. Everyone’s different I suppose! This might bother some observers more than others; the instrument is otherwise quite excellent and I can see how it has been lauded(Cornell Ornithology Lab) as a great entry-level birding binocular. That said, all of the reviews I have read never mentioned this flaring/internal reflection, which is somewhat alarming. It just seems to have gone unnoticed. I think simple tests like this should be mandatory for all optical testers.

The model has recently been discontinued from the Nature DX line.

Next up, the Opticron Aspheric 8 x 25 LE

The little 8 x 25 Opticron Aspheric LE pocket binocular.

The Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 is a well-designed pocket binocular. Tipping the scales at just 291g, this is the lightest binocular of the three by a significant margin. It has a very well constructed double-hinge design that also allows the barrels to be folded right up to each other, also making it the most compact of the three models discussed here. The hinges fold outwards to accommodate virtually any IPD and can be comfortably set in seconds.

The Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 has an elegant double-hinge design that enables it to be folded up( it’s just 66mm wide) for very snug transport anwhere, anytime.

Unlike the Nature DX, it is not weatherproof or nitrogen purged; but not a big deal as my wife likes to remind me. As you can discern from the first photo of the unit above, the optics are of high quality with a full multicoating, which includes a phase correction coating on the roof prisms, that delivers bright, high-constrast images of objects during well-illuminated, daylight conditions.

The eyecups twist up for non-eyeglass wearers and offers generous eye releif (16mm). The eye cups are of a higher standard than those found on the Celestron Nature DX and appear to be rubber-over-metal. They stay in place reasonably well.

The rubber-over-metal twist up cups are of a higher standard of workmanship compared to the Nature DX binocular and offer 16mm of eye relief. Note the small, central focusing wheel that is quite hard to grip.

Optically, this is a sharp shooter, offering well-correcetd images over a 5.2 degree field. I felt that this was rather a small field though, in comparison with that offered by the Nature DX binocular discussed previously and does take a bit of getting used to if one is especially fond of wider views. But its aspherical optics certainly deliver the readies, producing a lovely, flat, low-disortion images from edge to edge. I guess this is the price one has to pay for a more restricted field of view.

Internal reflections are much better controlled in this unit than in the Nature DX, as evidenced by pointing the instrument at the bright Moon at night or other bright sources of artificial light. Backlit scenes during the day are a tad more contrasted too. Besides the small field, the only other issues I had with the Opticron pertain to its very small focusing wheel, which is hard to grip in my (not overly large) man-sized hands, and it’s a nightmare to use with gloves.  It can often prove difficult to turn the focuser fast enough to keep up with moving terrestrial targets such as rapidly moving corbies. I believe the updated WP model(with the same specifications so far as I can see) has a slightly larger focusing wheel with better grip.

In addition, I found its very light weight a bit offputting, as it was difficult to find a good, secure position in my hands. The unit comes with its built-in lilac coloured lanyard, so no need to affix a separate strap. I’m not really a fan though, as it feels as though you are being slowly garrotted when walking with the binocular around your neck lol!

The tiny but well made carrying pouch for the Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 pocket binocular.

All that being said, my wife loves it; lanyard and all! She says it looks as good as operates, with small, elegant black tubes that easily fold up in tiny pockets. It’s also perfect for her quick looks at the bird table in our garden and for taking on her hill walks with her girlfriends. I don’t use it very often though, as her dioptre setting is much different to my own!

Finally, let’s take a good look at the Pentax DCF 9 x 28mm LV pocket binocular.

A liitle gem: the remarkable Pentax DCF 9 x 28mm LV pocket binocular.

 

Some information about the unit when the product was first launced back in 2009.

And here’s an independent review of the same instrument.

The reader will note something rather interesting from the review article linked to above; all of the compact binoculars highlighted in the table the reviewer presents, including premium models, like the Leica Trinovid 10 x 25, do not use ED glass. This is an important point, as it serves to highlight the fact that no real gains in performance are achieved by inserting one or more ED elements in the objectives of these binoculars. If there was an obvous advantage, don’t you think companies like Leica would have insisted on using it? Though it is conceded that some pocket models like the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 do have ED elements, their cost is actually consideraby less than the Leica Trinovid(as of early 2019 average UK pricing). I view the use of ED glass in such small binoculars as a clever marketing ploy.

Now back to the Pentax DCF binocular.

The instrument tips the scale at 365g; definitely on the heavy side as pocket binoculars come, but still under the 400g cut-off point between pocket and compact models.

The instrument is weather proof and is dry nitrogen purged to prevent internal fogging of the elements. The optics are fully multi-coated and the prisms have been phase coated to improve brightness and contrast in the images. The instrument has a field of view of 5.6 degrees, noticeably larger than the Opticron Aspheric but not nearly as large as that yielded by the Nature DX. Then again, the Pentax provides a power of 9x and not 8x as the other models do, which invariably has an impact on the maximum true field achieved.

Looking from the ocular end of the Pentax DCF 9 x 28.

The instrument is very well endowed from a mechanical point of view, with a large centrally placed focusing wheel with excellent grip, even while using gloves. The wheel rotates through about 300 degrees, so not very much in the way of travel  from infinity to minimum close focus. The barrels are covered with a tough rubber coat making it especially suitable for rough field use.

I really like the metal-over rubber eyecups, which are strong and comfortable. The user has a choice of 4 positions, from fully down use with eye glasses to fully extended. I found having the eyecups twisted up to the mid-position provides all the eye relief I require without glasses. When clicked into place at a given position, the eyecups maintain their positioning even after applying unreasonable pressure.

The high quality twist up rubber over metal eyecups click into four positions and hold those positions well in field use. Note the dioptre ring under the right eyecup.

The underside of the binocular has thumb indentations to assist holding the binocular steady in field use.

The underside of the binocular has thumb indentations to assist with holding the binocular stably.

The anti-reflection coatings on the Pentax DCF are very well applied and I would rate them superior to those on the Opticron Aspheric model previously discussed. The Pentax is not nearly as compact as the Opticron however, as seen in the photo below. This was not found to be a problem; it’s still small enough to fit into a coat pocket or the palm of my hand.

The central bridge connecting the barrels do not allow the Pentax DCF to fold into the same compact size of the Opticron Aspheric binocular.Note the coatings on the Pentax( left) are a little bit less reflective than the Opticron( right).

The central hinge of the Pentax DCF is reasonably stiff but not quite as stiff as that of the Nature DX model. I find that the latter is just right for quick deployment with the correct IPD(for my eyes) achieved in seconds from its fully folded in position.

The objectives of the Pentax DCF LV are noticeably larger than the 25mm models, which has an immediate impact on its light gathering performance. Afterall, it gathers about 25 per cent more light than the other models discussed in this blog. I like the recessed position of the objectives with a little overhang from the barrels. This helps to reduce lens flaring and /or the control of stray, off-axis light while using it in the field.

The Pentax DCF objectives have excellent coatings applied to them and are nicely recsessed from the top of the barrel to help suppress stray, off-axis light.

The Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28 feels very comfortable while in use and has more of the attitude of a 30mm compact binocular than the smaller 25mm instruments tested previously. The 9x magnification is immediately apparent compared to using a 8x unit.The human eye will easily register a 12 per cent increase in magnification with just a little experience. Images appear equally bright in the Pentax in comparison to the Opticron (afterall they have the same exit pupil of 3.1) but the greater field of view is readily appreciated. Images are very sharp and contrasty with only very slight softening at the edge of the field. Control of stray light is very good; almost as good in fact as my larger Barr & Stroud roof prism binoculars( yep, you really have to experience them to know of course!). This is immediately apparent when turning the instrument on a bright Moon which shows that glare and internal reflections are very well controlled. The large focusing wheel is a bonus, moving smoothly and precisely but with a little bit more tension than I would have liked. Still, it’s perfectly fine for the tasks I intend to use it for.

I measured the close focus to be just under 10 feet. I find the 9x very useful in daytime use as it brings objects that little bit closer, aiding in the identification of small birds or subtle landmarks in the distance. I’m glad I didn’t go for something with a 10x magnification though, as this would probably have generated images a tad too dim for my liking, but your mileage may vary! It will serve me well for occasional hill walking ventures and at sports events, where its small size won’t cause me to look too out of place.

If money is an objection or if you’re frugal like me, I’d recommend purchasing quality instruments second hand. A few thoughtfully chosen questions and the answers they generate from the seller never go amiss. If you do your research and know what to look for in a binocular, you can secure real bargains for relatively small financial outlays.

Ultimately though, I would not recommend spending huge amounts on these small instruments. I find them, well, a bit unexciting. They’re just too small to use for prolonged astronomical appllications and their daytime performance, while good in bright light conditions, is noticeably inferior to mid-sized instruments under dull or low light situations, such as at dawn or dusk. In comparison, my 8 x 42 is, by far, my most used binocular; providing a great balance between portability and utility by day or by night. Sure, it’s nice to have a quality pocket binocular around, but unless I were to embark on a trek through the Himalayas, I can’t see myself reaching for one all that often.

Thanks for reading!

 

Dr. Neil English’s latest historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, takes a detailed look at the life and works of great telescopists from the early 17th century right up until the modern era.

 

 

 

 

De Fideli.

For the Record: My Telescope & Binocular Collection.

Duodecim:

Duodecim: 12″ f/5 Newtonian.

12″ f/5 Revelation Dobsonian with ultra-high reflectivity coatings on original mirrors, 23 per cent central obstruction. Used regularly.

 

Octavius:

Octavius; optimus.

8″ f/6 Skywtacher Dobsonian wth ultra-high reflectivity coatings on both mirrors. Original Skywacher primary mirror, original secondary replaced by a 44mm semi-major diameter unit from Orion Optics, UK. 22 per cent central obstruction. Now retired to garden.

 

Plotina:

Plotina: 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector.

130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector, with ultra-high reflectivity coatings, secondary mirror replaced by a slightly smaller (26.9 per cent central obstruction) by Orion Optics UK. Most frequently used grab ‘n’ go telescope.

 

Tiberius:

Tiberius: 5″ f/12 neoclassical achromat refractor.

5″ f/12 IStar sourced neo-classical refractor with R 30 objective. Subject of much former work. Now retired to garden.

 

Gaius:

Gaius, my 80mm f/5 short tube achromat.

80mm f/5 ShortTube achromatic refractor. Skywatcher objective in Opticstar tube assembly. This is the subject telescope of a new book dedicated to the ShortTube 80.

 

The Traveler:

The AstroPhysics Traveler; 80mm f/11 doublet achromat.

80mm f/11 Astrophysics labelled achromatic refractor. Orginally donated to local school but returned to me after it was found in a sad state of neglected use. School instrument replaced by a smaller, shockproof instrument. Now seeking a new home.

 

Achromatic Binoculars:

9 x 28mm roof prism Pentax DCF LV pocket binocular (2009 vintage).

The Pentax DCF 9 x 28mm LV pocket binocular.

 

8 x 42mm Barr & Stroud Savannah roof prism  super wide angle. Most used, general purpose binocular.

The Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 wide-angle binocular

 

10 x 50mm Barr & Stroud Sierra roof prism. General purpose, astronomy binocular.

The Barr & Stroud 10 x 50 roof prism binocular.

 

Pentax PCF 20 x 60 WP II: Large porro prism instrument, used on a monopod for specialised deep sky observing/solar viewing.

Pentax 20 x 60 PCF WP II porro prism binocular.

 

Future plans: converting my two Newtonian telescopes in active use to binoviewing mode. Currently investigating options.

 

De Fideli.

Earth & Sky.

“Moonrise” by Stanislaw Maslowski (1884); image crdit Wiki Commons.

In a fallen world, where mankind’s rebellion against his Creator is now rapidly reaching pre-flood levels of wickedness, it is good to know that the planet Earth is still a pretty neat place to live. Protected by a just-right atmosphere of mainly nitrogen and oxygen, the Lord of Heaven’s armies has packed this planet full of living things and amazing geological features that bring joy to the human heart.

Our atmosphere is neither too dense or too rarefied, allowing us to peer deeply into the Cosmos, where we have caught a glimpse of eternity.  And all around us, our Creator has left clear evidence of His handiwork so that we are without excuse on the day of judgement.

The human eye can only see so much though, but our Creator chose to give us a mind that enables us to improve our lot, to see things in new and different ways. That’s how I see my binoculars; simple tools that bring heaven and Earth closer, providing a perspective that transcends the limitations of my corporeal form. I am especially fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world, away from the cities where atheism flourishes. Out in the sticks, I can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation more fully, in quietness, surrounded as I am by hills and valleys, green fields and lovely streams of cool, fresh rainwater that sustain the lives of all living things.

The author’s wide angle 8 x 42 binocular: extraordinary performance at an ordinary price.

My wide-angle 8 x 42 binocular, in particular, is the perfect tool for combining the beauty of the night sky with that of the comeliness of the earthly creation. And in this blog, I would like to share with you some of the kinds of activities I get up to to bring these worlds together. This binocular provides a power of just 8 diameters but has an angular field of view wide enough to fit over 16 full Moons in the same wonderful portal. And with its decent light grasp, especially in fading or low light, it is powerful enough to allow me to simultaneously appreciate sights in the heavens and on earth.

                                                  Picture Postcards

Surrounded by mature trees, sometimes many times older than myself, I have grown terribly fond of framing famliar celestial sights, such as the Pleiades and the Hyades in the foreground of their impressive branches. Sometimes, I would wait for the stars in these clusters to fall in altitude after they culminate in the south, so that they are seen to ‘hover’ over the conifer trees beyond my back garden. And if, by chance, the presence of a gentle breeze in the binocular image is witnessed (and it can happen a lot!), then you’ve got a home run; an epiphany of sorts! At other times, I will plan a vigil where the soft light from the stars fills the background whilst the foreground is occupied with denuded winter branches of the deciduous trees near my home. A little light pollution can actually be advantageous in such circumstances as it can help illuminate the tree branches making them stand out more boldly against the stellar backdrop.

Living inside a long valley with verdant hills that soar to about 1000 feet on either side, my binocular is good at framing the rising Moon as its silvery light clears their summit in the east, or as it sinks behind the hills in the west. There are many times where I can plan to observe the Moon and the hilltops in the same field, creating visual scenes that leave a deep impression on me. I give thanks to my God for allowing me to witness such scenes, safe and secure at the bottom of a great sea of fresh, clean air.

Ever since childhood, I have been attracted to storms, often venturing out to feel the energy they generate in the atmosphere. Sometimes these storms occur on moonlit nights and I would think it nothing to grab my binocular and carry myself off to some favourite haunts, woody glades and the like, where moonbeams create wonderful atmospheric scenes, complemented by the sound of wind whistling through their branches.

My binocular has renewed my interest in observing the full Moon, not in and of itself, but when it is surrounded by low lying and fast-moving rain clouds, as often happens here in the British Isles. I watch as these clouds enter the outer field, inching their way toward the bright satellite, and all the while lighting up with beautiful colours caused by refraction of moonlight through raindrops. The colours often start off deep and moody, like dried-in blood, when far from the Moon, but as they move ever closer, the colours they generate; gorgeous shades of pink, yellows and even rose tints; saturate the cones on my retina and,  upwelling feelings of great happiness.

The structure of clouds backlit by moonlight reveals wonderful, highly complex structures, as well as colours – knots, filaments and pleated sheets. Often the scene reminds me of the play of light on the matter which is expelled into the shells of planetary nebulae as imaged by a great telescope, with a white dwarf star being replaced by our very own Moon at its epicentre lol. Such natural shows of light and form rank as some of the most lovely and most surreal binocular images one is likely to capture. Sometimes, great gaping holes in the heavens open up around the clouds, allowing the light of the distant stars to be seen near the full Moon.

Dawn and dusk are good times to see some spectacular sights, such as the bright planet Venus sinking low into the sky, often silhouetted by interesting terrestrial structures, such as a distant hill,  an old barnhouse or silo, church or windmill. By getting to know your horizons, sublime scenes can be captured with your binocular, bringing heaven and Earth together, just like it will be in the New Creation.

Cityscapes can also be used to enhance the binocular view. Framing bright star clusters like the Pleiades or a crescent Moon in the background to an old church spire, domed cathedral, or grand municipal building, can make for a very fetching sight. Photographers  imagine likewise,of course, but the impromptu binocular experience is an even greater liberal art!

Another worthwhile project is to image the bright Moon over a large expanse of water, especially during calm conditions, when its  reflection  is quite mirror-like. Under the light of a town or city, smaller binoculars do just fine, like my little Pentax DCF 9 x 28 pocket instrument. You can even wander through your neighbourhood finding interesting foreground subjects to frame your celestial scenes in advance of an event.

It’s good to plan.

Well, I hope you get some ideas from this short article. In doing so, you can enjoy the best of the heavenly and terrestrial creations, and which can turn an otherwise mundane evening or morning into a very memorable one!

Happy hunting!

 

 

Neil English is the author of several books in amateur and professional astronomy.

 

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: The Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60 Binocular.

Grandes Binoculares.

The achromatic telescope has enjoyed a long and illustrious career in the hands of skilled observers. In my most recent book, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, I have documented and shared with you the amazing achievements of the classical refractor over three centuries of time. But it would be quite inaccurate to claim that it has been really superceded by anything else in the modern age. This is especially true in the case of binocular manufacture, where sales of achromatic instruments vastly outsell models which possess modern ED glass. And there’s a good reason for this: ED is an expedient luxury that impacts little to the binocular view, what with their low magnifications and wide fields. For every ED model offered, there are a great deal more models made with traditional crown & flint.

Consumers vote with their wallets.

We still live in the achromatic age.

Having enjoyed and appreciated the achromatic refractor for decades, I have come to the conclusion that it is in the binocular that achromatic optics has reached its zenith. Properly made, achromatic optics provide wonderful, sharp and contrasty images of the eartly and heavenly creation. This conclusion has been reached by extensive field experience of a variety of achromatic binoculars that show vanishingly small amounts of secondary spectrum and which are far more alike than different to models with ED glass, but at a fraction of their cost. These sentiments are also reflected in the models still being marketed by some big names in the large binocular world, including Celestron and Oberwerk. What these manufacturers offer is great performance at prices that won’t leave you out in the cold.

For certain kinds of visual astronomy, large binoculars simply can’t be beaten. The ability to use two eyes rather than one greatly influences the quality of the views, where it impacts depth of field perception, faint object detection and significant improvements in perceived contrast. Without a shadow of doubt, large binoculars are the single most powerful way to enjoy larger deep sky objects, where telescopes simply cannot offer the same ‘zoomed out views.’ That said, it’s very much a Goldilocks scenario; increase the magnification too much and you lose those gorgeous panoramic sights, but when the power is too low, finer and fainter details remain elusive. It was with this realisation that I took a punt on a curious large achromatic binocular made by Pentax; enter the PCF WP II 20 x 60.

That Pentax were prepared to put their name on the PCF WP II 20 x 60 is a lesson in objectivity. Why would such a prestigious manufacturer of high-end cameras and sports optics decide on a well-appointed, large achromatic binocular? The answer is that when well made, even a 20x model would deliver up wonderful, tack sharp views of the landscape by day and breathtaking celestial vistas by night. And this has been achieved at a price point that suits the budgets of discriminating amateur astronomers who just appreciate well designed classical optics; true observers rather than casual sightseers; folk who want real substance rather than the latest ‘gee whiz’ gimmicks.

                                                     A Full Featured Binocular

Though the instrument can be acquired at a good, price new (£219 UK for the latest SP model), I was lucky enough to acquire this binocular in excellent, used condition for a little over half the retail price. The former owner had taken very good care of it, added a sturdy carrying strap and dispensed with the flimsy carrying case, replacing it with a sturdy foam-lined aluminium case.

The Pentax 20 x 60 snug in its foam-lined aluminium case. Note the tripod adapter attached to the instrument.

The porro prism binocular weighs just 1.4 kilos (~3 pounds), surprisingly light for an instrument of these specifications and is water and splash proof. This may account for the WP(water proof?) in their name. The interior is purged with dry nitrogen gas to prevent internal fogging and to minimise corrosion.The body, which is constructed of a lightweight magnesium alloy, is covered with a protective rubberised substrate that is easy to grip and is tough and durable in all weathers.

The petax 10 x 60 is deisgned for rough weather use.

The optics are fully multi-coated to maximise light transmission to the eye and reducing contrast-robbing internal reflections to a minimum.

The beautifully applied multicoatings on the large 60mm objective lenses.

Hard coatings on the ocular lenses maximise their durability.

The centre focusing wheel is remarkable in two respects. Firstly, it is quite tight in comparison to other binoculars I’ve used. This was intentionally done by the manufacturer, as you’re not likely to use this instrument watching fast moving birds or some such, necessitating the rapid change of focus position. This increased tension does however allow for very precise focusing to be achieved. Secondly, there is a facility on the focuser to lock it in place. Simply push the focusing wheel forward and it is locked in; a nice design feature that can be advantageous. For example, if you end a session with the binocular focused on the stars at infinity, locking the focuser in place ensures that you can re-engage with the sky whenever you’re next out, with minimal (if any) re-focusing necessary.

The well designed focuser ensures very accurate focusing of the instrument and can be locked in place simply by pushing the focussing wheel forward, as indicated.

The strong bridge connecting both barrels of the binocular is reassuringly stiff, allowing one to easily obtain the correct inter-pupillary distance (IPD) and only requires occasional adjustment in field use.The dioptre setting is found under the right-hand eyecup allowing independent focusing of both barrels. It has just the right amount of tension and stays in place without any fuss.

The dioptre setting on the binocular lies directly under the right eye cup.

I really like the twist up eyecups on the Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60. Like my smaller roof prism binoculars, they click into place and are quite secure. Eye glass wearers just need to hold the eyecups down, while those who don’t (yours truly included) can extend them upwards for very comfortable, full-field viewing. The texture of the cup is hard rubber which is a far cry from the cheap fold up/down eyecups seen on many other large binoculars in this price range. Indeed it is my experience that the latter can fragment in prolonged field use, necessitating their replacement from time to time. These sit very comfortably against the eyes and never need to be adjusted. Eye relief is exceptional; a verry comfortable 21mm.

High quality hard rubber eye cups twist up and lock in place for non eye glass wearers. Those who wear eye glasses will likely keep them fully down while in use.

                                                    Mounting Options

It is not the weight per se that forces one to mount this binocular. As stated above, they are quite light for their optical specification. Rather, it is the 20x magnification that limits their hand-held use. That said, I can hold them reasonably steady by extending my hands a little further forward on the barrels than with my smaller binoculars and this strategy can work quite well for short, ‘quick peek’ sessions. Incidentally, I discovered thumb indentations on the belly of the instrument presumably designed to assist hand holding! Golly gosh!

Ain’t that sweet: indentations to fit the hand on these big binos!

Still, whatever jitter you have, it will be magnified 20 times while looking through it. Such high powered binos definitely require some kind of stablising action and, in this capacity, one can either elect to use them tripod-mounted or by using a monopod.

The Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60 binocular can be easily mated to a light weight tripod with an appropritae adapter.

A word of caution; avoid using those cheap plastic tripod adapters that often attend bargain basement large binos such as the ubiquitous 15 x 70. These introduce an annoying level of flexure that will almost certainly detract from enjoying the instrument in the field. It is strongly advisable to invest that little bit more in a good quality, all-metal unit sold by Opticron and other companies. Indeed, I found the same adapter that fits my 10 x 50 roof prism  binocular also work swimmingly well with this larger instrument.

Tripods have their pros and cons though. Although they offer the maximum level of stability and have built in slow-motion controls on both axes, they are quite uncomfortable to use when aimed high in the sky. I found it quite hard to find a suitably comfortable positioning of my eyes when used in the seated position. That said, a trpod was useful in checking collimation of the barrels and certain daylight activities, but in the end the most suitable way I’ve found to use this instrument is by mounting it on a simple monopod.

Using a high quality(solid aluminium) ball & socket adapter, mounting the 20 x 60 on a monopod is quick and easy to execute.

Travelling light; the author’s preferred mode of mounting the Pentax 20 x 6o binocular using a light but strong extendable monopod and ball and socket head.

Simplicity itself; the 20 x 60 mounted on a lightweight but sturdy monopod.

Using the monopod, I have been able to get very stable views during daylight and extended periods of night use. For quick looks, I usually stand and adjust the angle of either the monopod itself or the ball & socket head. For the most stable viewing sessions however, I relax in a recliner and, securing the monopod base between my feet, have attained nearly jitter-free viewing. I have learned to place some of the weight of the binocular on my face, which increases the overall stability to a significant degree.

Yours truly suitably attired, demonstrating the use of the monopod.

 

Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60 Optics

As the size of binoculars increase, it makes a lot of sense to decide on a porro prism design, rather than its roof prism counterpart. Porros are less expensive and just easier to make well and also offer slightly more light throughput than their roof prism counterparts. The optics of the Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60 are notable. All lenses are fully multi-coated with a protective overcoat. The Bak-4 prisms are also multi-coated. The oculars are constructed from aspherical lenses which offer several advantages over conventional lens systems, espcially in the suppression of spherical aberration and a number of off-axis aberrations that plague conventional porro binos. In addition, fewer elements are needed with ashperical designs, significantly reducing weight.  Rather than rambling on with this, it’s best to hear it from an established optics firm. Here is a link to more information on aspherical lenses.

Collimation test

Collimation of binoculars is important especially on these high power units. One quick way to test for collimation is to mount the binocular on a tripod and select a target at least a kilometre away. I elected to use the snow capped Fintry Hills a couple of miles distant.  With the correct IPD selected for my eyes, I look through the binocular and slowly pull my eyes away until the exit pupils start to become separated and I can only see the top of the field. If there is miscollimation, one image will be raised slightly higher than the other. To my relief both images remained perfectly level. Testing for sideways collimation involves aiming at a distant target and testing to see if images at the edge of the field are precisely aligned on both sides. In doing this, I detected a very slight misplacement but it was so small that I wasn’t worried. The images merge very easily and you don’t encounter eye strain even after prolonged use.

Misaligned prisms can also be revealed by examining the shape and size of the exit pupil when the binocular is pointed at a source of light. As you can see below, both exit pupils are round and of the same size indicating that all was well.

Two round exit pupils of the same size indicate good alignment of the prisms with no picking off evident.

Daytime tests:

The binocular has a 3mm exit pupil. This ensures the best part of your eye is imaging the field. And oh what a field! When precisely focused images of daytime targets are bright and tack sharp across nearly the entre field (read 95%), indicating that that aspherical optics were working well. Contrast is excellent with very effective baffling of stray light. On axis, very little chromatic aberration could be detected but I could see that off axis some lateral colour was evident. That said, it was very slight and totally acceptable to my eye. In comparison to a side by side test made with my ShortTube 80 f/5 achromatic telescope charged with a power of 16x (5mm exit pupil) in a wider 3.75 degree field showed much higher levels of lateral colour.

Spying on a corbie perched on a TV aerial against a bright sky background about 40 yards in the distance showed very slight secondary spectrum around the crow’s jet black plumage. I deemed the result quite excellent and non-intrusive for an achromatic binocular of these specifications.

Close focus was estimated to be about 8.5 metres.

 

A Curious Aside: Yep, as soon as an issue is raised here it soon pops up online lol. Check out the consensus in this thread regarding ED elements in binoculars.

Nightime tets:

For nightime testing, I mounted the 20 x 60 on a simple monopod, as described previously. This is a very quick and effective way to get going with this large binocular. Some users of the instrument complained about the small field of view offered by the Pentax PCF, what with its 2.2 degree true field. Others commented on the sensitivity of the instrument to eye placement, but truth be told, I found neither of these things to be in the least bit distracting. You see, I’m used to very small fields working with close double stars at very high magnifications and with fields that are far smaller than what is offered by this big gun. Right off the bat, I was enjoying very comfortable, stable images. A 2.2 degree field is small as 60mm binoculars go, but it is plenty good enough to frame larger deep sky objects. To my mind, it simply boils down to training.

My first light target was the Pleiades cluster in Taurus. Getting myself comfortably positioned on my recliner and adjusting the monopod, I was absolutely blown away by the sight of this magnificent open cluster in the 20 x 60! More like an astrophoto more than anything else, the entire cluster was beautifully framed, crammed full of gorgeous blue-white starlight and razor sharp from edge to edge. The sky hinterland was jet black with none of the flaring of stellar images that I had experienced in my brief rendevous with budget 15 x 70 models.  It is immediately apparent that the field is very flat from edge to edge, with no distortions that I could register. It just exuded quality! And although I own a number of good telescopes that can collect far more light than this 20 x 60 instrument, they could not beat it in terms of delivering such a magisterial image. Focusing the binocular was particularly satisfying; very small motions can make the difference between seeing the faintest stars and not seeing them at all.

Turning next to the Sword Handle in Orion, which is also perfectly framed in the 2.2 degree field,  I was deeply impressed at the wonderful contrast and colour rendering of the bright O/B stars in the field; tiny little pinpoints of light bathing my retinas. I could easily make out the greenish hue of the great Nebula in Orion (M42) and a steady hand revealed at least two of the tiny quartet of stars comprising the famous Trapezium (Theta Orionis complex).

Though the field of view is not large enough to frame the three bright Orion belt stars, the 20 x 60 pulls out many more faint stars in Collinder 70 that are quite beyond the reach of my regular astro binocular; my trusty 10 x 50. Suddenly, this peterrnaturally lovely open cluster has become a whole lot more crowded!

In the wee small hours of freezing January nights, I would watch the sky, waiting for the Beehive Cluster (M44) in Cancer to approach the meridian. Having experienced the Pleiades, I was very much looking forward to seeing this large and sprawling open cluster in the 20 x 60. And again, it did not disappoint; the view was enthralling! The entire field was filled with pinpoint stars against a jet black sky. Using two eyes greatly enhances the view and there is a lot to be said for seeing these wonders of God’s creation in their correct orientation, as if they were made for such instruments.

The glories of the Double Cluster in Perseus were a joy to behold in this high power binocular; great mounds of starlight of varying hues with curious fans and spirals of distant suns meandering their way from their crowded centres. Compared with a 10 x 50, the view was simply in a different league!

I didn’t notice much in the way of chromatic aberration in the images, save for a brief spell with the Dog Star, Sirius. It’s brilliant light is dazzling in the 20 x 60, corruscating with various colours from moment to moment. In my opinion, secondary spectrum is a complete non-issue with this instrument for astronomical use; just set it up and go stargazing!

Although smaller deep sky objects are best examined in telescopes with more light gathering power and their ability to take higher magnifications, I nonetheless enjoyed some very pleasing views of the Auriga trio of Messier open clusters; M36, M38 and especially the sumptuously rich M37, which appears satisfyingly large, well defined and glistening with the light of many faint suns. M35 was also big and prominent in this large binocular with dozens of its constituent stars being easily made out.

This is a wonderful instrument for framing and observing the Engagement Ring: a circular arrangement of faint stars encrusted with the creamy bright Polaris as the principal gemstone. Smaller, more conventional binoculars really don’t show this structure half as well, owing to their lower power, wider fields and reduced light grasp.

With such a large and powerful binocular, the colours of stars really stand out; marmalade orange Propus, sanguine red Mu Cephei, the soft yellow pastels of Capella and the Orion belt stars, white as the driven snow. This instrument would also make a dedicated variable star observer very happy, what with its impressive light gathering power (reaching down to perhaps + 11 magnitude from a dark site with good transparency) in a very well corrected, wide field. The 20 x 60 might not be the first instrument that comes to mind for a budding comet hunter, but I am reminded of the advice of the great 19th century observer, William F. Denning, who recommended an instrument with a field of view of between 1 and 1.5 degrees for such work. And in more modern times, the distinguished comet discoverer, David H. Levy, advises that the comet-seeking instrument deliver a field of just 0.75 angular degrees! Seen in this light, the suggestion doesn’t seem quite so far fetched.

The telescope provides wonderful views of some prominent binocular doubles; Mizar & Alcor, o1 Cygni, Albireo, Mintaka and Cor Caroli, to name but a few.

Structure within Structures

The Pentax PCF 20 x 60 is a formidable instrument for delineating structures within larger asterisms. Just have a look at the stars around fiery red Aldebaran with this bazuka! Sure, you can’t see the entire Hyades but with its pinpoint stars, wonderful contrast and generous ‘space penetrating power’, as Sir William Herschel of old liked to say,  it allows you to capture painfully beautiful starfields, rich in light and colour against a velvet black sky.  It’s even more amazing when pointed at Alpha Persei; the field is littered with lovely stellar jewels sparkling through the cold dark of interstellar space. This will be a great instrument to begin a study of stellar hinterlands around the brightest stars in general, something I thought about in the past but never pursued because of other diversions. I think it’s tailor made for such projects!

Ready to go when you are: the Pentax PCF 20 x 60 can be used at a moment’s notice between heavy showers when some clear spells manifest.

Starting in Gemini and running the binocular haphazardly across the sky through Auriga, northern Orion, Taurus, Perseus and ending in the gloriously rich Cassiopeia, the binocular shows me many new asterisms which I had not witnessed before, a consequence of its unique field of view, magnification and image orientation. Almost every field stumbled upon brings new bounties, delicate arrangements of stars unnoticed in smaller binoculars; vast shoals of starlight in the open ocean of space.

Moon Watching:

In the early days of February 2019, I got several opportunities to observe the waxing crescent Moon through the monopod-mounted Pentax PCF 20 x 60 binocular. The views were amazing; razor sharp, beautiful contrast, most excellent suppression of internal reflections that can easily plague lesser binoculars. Indeed, I’ve devised this simple but highly discriminating test as a way to quickly establish whether a binocular is fit for general astronomy use. If the unit shows flare and/or internal reflections when pointed at the Moon, it’s leaking light.

The image scale of the Moon seemed larger than I expected it to be in going from a standard 10x binocular to this 20x unit. It just seemed like I was getting a higher power than the 20x marked on the Pentax binocular tube. This is no doubt an illusion, a consequence I suppose of the Moon’s taking up a larger fraction of the area of the field than seen in my trusty 10 x 50 binocular.

The earthshine from the dark side of the Moon was very prominent and as the crescent continued to grow, the binocular revealed more and more details of the lunar regolith. The image scale is great for seeing high resolution details of the battered southern Highlands. On the evening of February 10, I enjoyed a wonderful view of the three large craters; Theophilus, Cyrillus and Catharina on the eastern shore of Mare Nectaris. Up north, Atlas and Hercules could be clearly made out with a steady hand. The limb displayed a sliver of colour; sometimes green, sometimes yellow, depending on where my eyes were postioned.I judged the chromatic aberration on this tough target to be minimal and completely non-intrusive to a seasoned telescopic observer. Contrast between the bright lava fields and darker maria was very well presented, producing an extremely immersive, aesthetically pleasing view.  This will be a great binocular to observe the early waxing Moon during March and April, when earthshine is at its most prominent and I look forward to fielding the instrument for this purpose. Sure, the binocular cannot substitute for the telescope proper, but it certainly complements those high-power, high-resolution views. The big binocular has a charm all of its own and should really be enjoyed on its own terms.

Concluding Remarks:

A quality, large binocular at a great price!

As you can probably discern from the above write up, I took to this instrument like a proverbial duck to water!

The Pentax PCF 20 x 60 WP II  is an impressive performing, large binocular, with a rugged but durable housing. It is water and splash proof, making it suitable for routine and/or prolonged work by day or by night. Its high magnification requires a stable mounting system to get the best out of the instrument.The ability to lock the focus in place is a useful mechanical feature that will be greatly appreciated by all those who use it in the field.

The Pentax 20 x 60 has very high quality optics, including properly collimated porro prisms and quality multi-layer coatings that efficiently transmit light to the eye. All lenses are also fully multicoated. The aspherical optics deliver a very highly corrected field, from edge to edge. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled and is not intrusive in normal use. Contrast-robbing internal reflections are also very well suppressed in this instrument. The binocular is very easy to use and has comfortable eye relief(21mm with the twist-up eyecups), allowing hassle-free viewing for both non eye-glass wearers and those that like to observe with their glasses on.

Less experienced observers have complained that the binocular has too small a field, but I am reminded of the superbly designed (but very expensive!) Takahashi Astronomer 22 x 60 binocular which sported a field of view of just 2.1 angular degrees, so slightly smaller than that offered up by the Pentax 20 x 60! In truth, a 2.2 degree true field is perfectly adequate to frame the vast majority of celestial objects.

The binocular is ideally suited to framing showpiece deep sky objects for careful study, such as the Double Cluster, the Pleiades, the Beehive Cluster and other large Messier objects, but is also well appointed for use in comet hunting/observing and variable star work. Its high magnification and excellent contrast produces magnificent views of the Moon that will impress anyone who uses it.

The Pentax PCF 20 x 60 WP II can also be employed as a two-eyed spotting ‘scope in long-distance daylight viewing/surveillance, e.g. observing a bird’s nest at a comfortable distance or in a variety of maritime applications.

Its very reasonable retail price makes this a most attractive instrument for budget conscious amateurs who do not want to compromise on optical performance.

Highly recommended!

Post Scriptum: Stephen Tonkin, an accomplished binocular astronomer and author has written another review of this binocular (the newer SP incarnation). It can be viewed here.

And then another one pops up; coincidence?  lol.

Neil English is the author of several books on amateur astronomy. His latest work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, is now availlable in hardback and electronic formats.

 

De Fideli.

8 Spectacular Binocular Sights for Winter Nights.

Out and about with my 8 x 42 binocular.

 

The winter sky is jam packed full of beautiful sights that can be appreciated with ordinary binoculars. Many of the brightest stars in the sky sparkle through the darkness on winter evenings, and some of the best open clusters and nebulae make their presence felt to even a casual observer even with the most basic of optical aids. In this blog, we shall explore 8 spectacular sights that can be enjoyed with hand-held instruments or using simple, stabilising arrangements such as a monopod.

Solid as a rock; the 10 x50 binocular on a monopod.

All of the targets in this article were observed with modest 8 x 42 or 10 x 50 roof prism binoculars, serving up fields of 8.2 and 5.9 angular degrees, respectively; plenty wide enough to see all of the targets discussed.  What follows is a series of concise notes on what can be expected from a dark rural site with these instruments, but those who live in large towns and suburban areas can also enjoy many of the same sights. So what are you waiting for? Fetch your warm winter coat, hat and gloves and join me on a whistle stop tour of the winter binocular sky.

Exhibit 1: The Pleiades/Messier 45/Seven Sisters.

Location: Northwestern Taurus

The main part of the beautiful Pleiades cluster, as observed through 8 x 42 and 10 x 50 binoculars, based on observations taken over several evenings in early January 2019.

Easy to find with the naked eye on winter evenings, the Pleaides is one of the most beautiful and engaging targets in all the heavens. This wondeful asterism consists of over 100 stars scattered across 1.5 angular degrees of sky. My wide angle 8 x 42 shows many of the brightest members, which shine with either a white or blue-white hue against a velvet black sky. Many wonderful stellar associations can be feasted on; doubles, triples and elaborate curving arcs of stars that fan their way from the bright centre of the cluster. My 10 x 50 binocular, stablised on a lightweight monpod, significantly enhances the view with its larger image scale and ability to pull out fainter members. Words cannot fully grasp the beauty of this winter treasure. Small wonder the Pleiades has been the stuff of poetry ever since mankind first gazed upon the heavens. Clean, dust-free optics produce the prettiest views, minimising the scattering of light from its brightest members. Indeed, dusty optics can cause some individuals to mistakingly report seeing the faint reflection nebula around Merope and Alcyone with binoculars of this size, but in reality significantly larger instruments and exceptionally clear and transparent conditions are required to pull out this feature from the pretty asterism. This loosely bound system of stars is estimated to be about 50 million years old, with many of its main stars located about 440 light years from the solar system.

Exhibit 2: Praesepe/Beehive Cluster/Messier 44

Location: Central Cancer

Praesepe; the celestial Manger with Beehive Cluster (M44) seen left of centre.

On a dark, moonless night, cast your gaze between the constellation of Gemini in the west and Leo Major in the east, just north of the ecliptic, and you’re sure to chance on a large foggy patch situated between Delta and Gamma Cancri. Binoculars will unveil a stunning sight; a beautiful quadrilateral of bright stars with a vibrant stellar cluster just left of its centre. Arriving on the meridian late on January and February evenings, the quadrilateral delineates the manger in which the Christ child was laid, with the cluster itself presumably denoting the spot where the holy family lay resting.

The cluster itself is more famously known as the Beehive (Messier 44); an entirely appropriate appellation for this magnificent binocular sight. Several dozen stars are brighter than magnitude 6 but many of these are too close to each other to be cleanly resolved in ordinary binoculars. The cluster contains many fainter members, though while remaining unresolved, contribute a lot of diffused light which greatly enhnaces the visual appearance of the spectacle. Better seen in 10 x 50s than 8 x 42s, the manger structure is lost in the smaller field offered up by larger binoculars, though the cluster stars will be enhanced.The Beehive contains a total of about 200 stars and lies about 590 light years away.

Exhibit 3: Collinder 70

Location: Orion

Collinder 70, of which the three belt stars of Orion are the brightest members.The arrow indicates the rough position of Eta Orionis, for perspective.

Our next target couldn’t be easier to find. Simply point your binocular at the belt stars of Orion (from east to west these stars are called Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka), which radiate with an intense, white hue, pure as the driven snow. But the belt stars are merely the brightest members of a far grander cluster of magnitude 6, 7 and 8 stars collectively known as Collinder 70, snaking their way up and around them. For best results, observe this cluster when the Moon is out of the sky and when Orion reaches its maximum altitude in the south. I’m in two minds about which binocular yields the better view. The 8 x 42 yields a whopping 8.2 degree field giving a wonderful wide-angle perpective, while the 10 x 50 shows some fainter members but in a smaller true field. For this object, I think I’ll give the nod to the former instrument.Where I’m located at 56 degrees north latitude, Orion never gets too high in the sky, and I find it interesting to see how the view improves- a darker sky with more numerous stellar members – as the constellation wheels its way toward the meridian. Each incremental rise in altitude; degree by degree; enhances the view. This is a delightful target for all lovers of the night sky. Don’t leave winter behind without a visit!

Exhibit 4: Melotte 20/ Alpha Persei Association

Location: Perseus

Melotte 20 centred on Alpha Persei(Mirfak). The stars are arrayed south to north, as it appears in late winter.

On a dark, moonless night with good transparency, the constellation Perseus looms high in the sky for northern observers. Our next port of call couldn’t be easier to locate; just point your gaze at Mirfak (Alpha Persei) and hold up your binocular to your eyes. The scene literally explodes with beauty! A torrent of starlight drowns your eyes, as the wide field view of the binocular captures the riot of stellar members in this famous OB Association. In late autumn and early winter, Perseus climbs the vault of the sky from the east, presenting its stars in an east to west orientation, but I have found that the view is that little bit more magnificent when it sinks into the western hemisphere on January evenings, when the same stellar association is arrayed north to south, when the above sketch was made. Containing about 70 hot white and blue-white stars ranging from magnitude 3 through 10, Melotte 20 is quite young; about 50 million years old with the main members being located some 550 light years from the solar system. This author never tires of its beauty; the more you look at it, the more you see!

Exhibit 5: The Hyades/ Melotte 25

Location: Taurus

The Illustrious Hyades; eye candy for ordinary binoculars.

To find our next winter binocular treasure, just cast your gaze on the beautiful orange star, Aldebaran, and bring your binocular to your eyes! Aldebaran is the brightest star of the familiar horns of the Celestial Bull. But with the aid of binoculars, your eye can feast on a sparkling array of double and triple stars of varying glory and hue. Best framed in a 10 x 50 binocular, the cluster spans a whopping 5.5 degrees with as many as 130 or so stars presenting as brighter than magnitude 9. Intriguingly, Aldebaran is not a true member of this system but is actually located about half as far away as the other stars in this sprawling open cluster, which astronomers estimate is about 150 light years away. Few binocular sights enthrall as much as the Hyades. I love the way the cluster changes its orientation in the binocular field as it transitions from the eastern to the western hemispheres of the sky. Using a monopod with the 10 x 50 helps bring out the faintest members that often elude hand held observations.

Exhibit 6: The Double Cluster/Caldwell 14/h & Chi Persei

Location: Perseus

The celebrated Double Cluster in Perseus; eye candy for all apertures.

Our next target is very easy to find; just look midway between the ‘wonky W’ of Cassiopeia, the Queen, and the ‘tip’ of Perseus, the Hero. From a dark, country sky, devoid of moonlight, these clusters are clearly visible to the naked eye as an elongated foggy patch, but turn a binocular on them and you’re in for a real visual treat! Both clusters are about the size of the full Moon and are designated NGC 884 and NGC 869. The richer of the two is NGC 869 (western most) and contains about 200 stellar members, while the eastern-most cluster (NGC 884) has stars that are significantly more scattered. Together they provide a breathtaking sight in ordinary binoculars. The above sketch was made with a 10 x 50 instrument and covers a swathe of sky roughly 5 angular degrees in extent. An eye-catching stream of stars is seen fanning away from both clusters. From high northern latitudes, the Double Cluster is well placed for observation from early autumn through early spring but is best observed when it is highest in the sky after sunset on December and  January evenings. Both clusters are located some 8,000 light years away and consist of mostly young type A and B stars, though larger instruments will help pull out more highly evolved, ruddier members.

Exhibit 7: The Sword Handle of Orion

Location: Orion

The Swordhandle in Orion as seen in my 10 x 50 binocular. The field covers an area slightly larger than 2 angular degrees in width.

Our next target is the Swordhandle of the great constellation of Orion, readily identified with the naked eye even from an urban setting. This is a spectacular sight in any binocular but is especially pretty in a 10 x 50. The eye is immediately drawn to the Great Nebula (M42), one of the nearest star forming regions to the solar system. Newborn stars light up the gas and dust surrounding them and a steady hand will reveal several pinpoint stars within its confines. Just above it lies M43, just separated from M42 by a thin sliver of dark sky. At the top of the field is the pretty open star cluster, NGC 1981 and below it the binocular picks up some faint whisps from the diffuse nebula NGC 1973-77-79. Below M42 lies the comely binocular double star Iota Orionis and Struve 747 which appear to have some nebulosity associated with them. I have no trouble seeing a greenish colour in M42 in larger binoculars or in my 80mm f/5 refractor at medium power, but I find it somewhat elusive in the 10 x 50. Perhaps those observing from a darker site may fare better in this regard. Many of the objects in the sketch are located between about 1200 and 2,300 light years from the solar system.

Exhibit 8: Melotte 111, the Coma Star Cluster

Location: Coma Berenices

The widely spaced Coma Star Cluster as seen in the author’s wide-angle 8 x 42 binocular.

Our final target is for night owls – the celebrated Coma Star Cluster in Coma Berenices – as it doesn’t culminate until well into the wee small hours during early February. Those who prefer to observe earlier in the night might wish to wait until month’s end to explore it. To do justice to this large and sprawling open cluster, a wide angle binocular is the best tool, as the cluster extends over a broad swathe of sky (at least 6 degrees) and is completely lost using telescopes. My 8 x 42 nicely frames this very loose congregation of suns, the brightest of which are of the 5th magnitude of glory. Visually striking, the main feature of this cluster is a distorted ‘V’ shape which renders it rather easy to identify with optical aid. The Coma Star Cluster(not to be confused with the galaxy cluster bearing the same name), with its 50 or so members, is close to the solar system as clusters go; just 285 light years according to the best modern estimate.

Water for the Soul:

Well, I hope that you will take the time to venture out on these long winter evenings to observe these beautiful and accessible objects. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just ordinary binoculars, a warm coat and hat, and a modicum of curiosity!

Thanks for reading and clear skies!

Neil English is the author of a new and ambitious historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, now available in hardback and electronic formats.

 

De Fideli.

Notes on Going on Campaign.

In it to win it.

Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them;  for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’

Deuteronomy 20:3-4

 

As you may well be aware of, I don’t spend a lot of time on internet forums. When looking for specific information, I generally consult known and trusted authorities from books rather than the ramblings of folk whose only apparent purpose in life is to post stuff online. You don’t have to search for long to see that some folk spend nearly their entire waking moments on these forums(clocking up tens of thousands of posts in the process), wasting their employers time (read stealing) and that makes for very one-dimensional personalities, who ostensibly crave power or attention, or both. That is their world pure and simple; take that world away and they’d probably fall to pieces. What’s more, some of these characters resent individuals who hold different opinions to their own and go to great lengths to de-rail them, especially if it threatens their world view.

If I go online, I generally do so for a very specific purpose; to raise awareness of some issue that is important or to alert people to new concepts. I see this as part of apologetics per se, as there is usually a moral dimension to my ‘campaigns’, such as folk getting ripped off by unscrupulous telescope salesmen and their fanboys and to alert or inform the general public about ideologies that are patently false. One subject that is close to my heart pertains to the staggering complexity of living things in general, and human beings in particular, and the unprecedented accumulation of new scientific evidences that we are not on this planet as a result of some quirk of nature.

Evolutionary ideology has robbed many people of their self-worth. Putting their faith in a ‘monkey religion’ first promulgated by a second-rate Victorian barnacle collector by the name of Charles Darwin, who turned his back on his Creator just because he couldn’t come to terms with the loss of his daughter, they believe that we are the progeny of pond scum and that we slowly evolved through innumerable transitional forms to become the ‘naked apes’ we are today. What is more, for decades they have been fed a staple diet of ‘junk science’ that anticipates that the Universe is teeming with life and that anyone who expresses scepticism is to be viewed with suspicion or even derision. Invariably, these individuals are unwilling to do their own research and continue to propagate extremely dubious ideas to an unsuspecting audience. I felt it was high time to challenge this claim head on, to show that the evidence in support of these ideas was in fact extremely tenuous.

                                                      Know thine Enemy

Before commencing upon any campaign of this nature it pays to know your enemy; the mindset of those who are likely to challenge the claims you bring to the table and their motivations for resisting such claims. Very often it is just good old fashioned hatred. They can’t stand being told that their evolutionary bubble is about to be burst. Others resent for entirely personal reasons; consumed with murderous thoughts and green with jealousy. They are easy to spot as they always return to the scene, or lurk like cowards in the background endorsing their men with ‘likes’.  Expect ad hominem attacks from trolls; that comes with the territory and be prepared for insults being hurled at you. These are the God haters, the mob who believe and act as if humans were animals, so invariably, their responses reflect their bestial nature. Be aware also that many folk are naturally drawn to conflict; they are just there to be entertained.

                                                        Avoid Conflict

Responding to insults and getting embroiled in heated arguments online is to be avoided. It drains you of energy and causes you to lose focus. Doubtless it can be very difficult, but it serves no good to lower yourself to the level of the heckler. One must always remember that despite their belligerent unbelief, they are also made in the image of God, though they have long fallen away. Just make your points and leave it at that. Understandably, some folk seek genuine dialogue; but this can be done behind the scenes, via email or some other private medium. If they are really interested in learning, they’ll stick with you. If not, they will soon vanish in the aether.

                                                          Be Prepared

Before launching a campaign; prepare yourself. You need to do your research, bringing all relevant information to the fore. You need to check references, academic credentials etc. Where possible, one should aim to present the views of distinguished scientists, with solid track records. Holding a PhD in a relevant science would be an absolute minimum standard for me. Those who don’t  have such credentials are very unlikely to be nuanced enough in the field to bring anything concrete to the table. Unfortunately, there are frauds in every avenue of human enquiry (I’ve uncovered a few with googly eyes) and some continue to fall for their trappings. Be selective, presenting information that firmly establishes the points you wish to make. Avoid hyperbole. If at all possible, collate more information than is generally needed (auxilia) to re-inforce a point and ideally from a number of different sources. You never know, such data might come in handy if the thread takes a tricky turn. No one individual has an absolute monopoly on a truth claim. The truth is best displayed when several sources arrive at the same conclusion.

                                                             Don’t be Afraid!

Don’t be initimated by your adversaries. Sometimes the hatred sensed becomes so overbearing that it induces nausea; so I do what I do quickly.

If you’re prepared, there is little they can do to retort.

Seek the Lord always; ask for His advice.

Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.

Proverbs 16:3

 

 

Case Study: How Many Earths in Our Galaxy?

Intended Audience to be Reached: Atheists, evolutionists with a religious bent or churches which have been indoctrinated with evolutionary ideology; Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians. Also, the editorial teams of astronomy and popular science periodicals.

Typical response: Trillions upon trillions.

Scientific basis for believing in the Plurality of Habitable worlds: Life exists on Earth, a typical planet, so life must be common in the Universe.

Actual Evidence for Extraterrestrial Life: None.

 

                                      The Scientific Evidence Against the Case

The Wider Universe: Gamma Ray Burst Frequency at High Redshifts( z>0.5) and its likely consequences for living things.

Nota bene: This was not presented on the discussed thread but in a related thread on the same forum.

Christians have been at the forefront of the debate about whether life can arise naturalistically here on Earth and elsewhere. The organisation, Reasons to Believe, employs scientists trained to PhD level and beyond, who have thoroughly researched the issue. Many of the basic ideas were laid out in their book: Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (2014); which summarizes many of the problems in a clear and concise way.

The audience is asked to look at the reviews of the book and not to dismiss the book because of their Christian positioning.

The scoffers enter the scene and state their opinions.Some posters are gracious but others persist in scoffing(especially those who are singularly unqualified to offer a technical opinion on the matter) I asked the responders a simple question:

“Have you read the book yet?”

Furthermore, I suggest that abiogenesis(the notion that living systems can arise naturally) is scientifically impossible.

I re-entered the debate several years later in late 2018, as more science came to the fore:

Leading German biochemist(Dr. Clemens Richert) admits that cheating (human intervention) occurs in much prebiotic chemical research in a premier scientific journal.

World leading chemist, Dr. James Tour ( Rice University, USA) speaks out about the same issue as the German biochemist. Tour makes it clear that life cannot arise without an intelligent agency.

Dr. Tour also speaks out about the failure of Darwinian mechanisms to account for the complexity of life. Indeed, behind the scenes, Tour states that Darwinian evolution has now been debunked by the biologists.

I present a detailed talk on the fossil record (2018) by Dr. Gunter Bechly, a leading German paleontologist, who has studied the phenomenon for many years. Bechly presents clear and unambiguous evidence that the fossil record, with its serious discontinuities, does not support a Darwinian scenario. Furthermore, he concludes that life must have been designed.

I point out that Bechly was an avowed evolutionist until he was forced to reassess his scientific positioning as more fossil evidence emerged that could not be reconciled with a Darwinian evolutionary process. His change of mind was driven by the scientific evidence and not by any religious conviction (although he is now a Roman Catholic). The trolls re-emerge in the background supporting their man with “likes”. One of the trolls is a carpenter by trade (yep I did my research) from Upstate New York, another is a prominent ‘know it all,” a retired mechanical engineer from San Diego, who spends his entire waking life on these forums, following me around like a bad smell. Such individuals have expressed a singular hatred of this author in past encounters. However, both individuals are ultimately unqualified to offer any scientific criticism of the work presented; their dissent has no teeth.

Their man attacks the scientists at the Discovery Institute, who are sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm, calling them “frauds.”. I refrain from addressing this potentially serious accusation, as it’s an unnecessary diversion from the truth.

I then present more scientific evidence relevant to the question of whether life exists elsewhere in the Universe;

A team of Cornell University scientists(December 2018) identify potential fake biosignatures in simulations of exoplanetary atmospheres.

Astrobiologists, in their unbridled belief that biosignatures can be identified spectroscopically could pontentially identify fake life signatures and thus mislead the public.

A team of astronomers at Cardiff University, UK (April 2018) present a potentially serious problem of phosphorus synthesis in supernovae.

If phosphorus is only produced in localised pockets of the Universe then it raises a serious question about whether life can really be ubiquitous.

No responses are made by my adversaries on the two issues raised above.

One gracious individual asks for dialogue between myself and my adversaries but I suggest that he contact Dr. Tour directly and provide his contact details (and illustrious credentials). At this stage I deduced that no meaningful dialogue was really possible as the responses from my principal adversary strongly suggested that he did not look at the counter evidence ( a very common problem unfortunately) as presented in the thread.

I present a paper which discusses the concept of Specified Complexity, which offers a much better fit of the proposed relationships between organisms, and which is not predicated upon the assumption of common descent.

My adversaries fail to see the relevance of the work and accuse me of ” not knowing what I’m talking about.”

I ignore these ad hominem attacks on me and proceed to the conclusions of my “campaign.”

I present evidence(October 2018) that M Dwarfs, which comprise some 80 per cent of all stellar real estate in the Universe are very unlikely to support planets capable of harbouring life owing to their frequent flaring events, not to mention tidal locking of planets within their putative habitable zones:

 

At this stage I inform readers that the scientist who first brought the “Hand of God phenomenon” (the very phrase used by Dr. Richert in his December 12 2018 Nature Communications paper) in prebiotic chemical synthesis to the attention of the wider scientific community was Dr. Fazale Rana, staff biochemist with Reasons to Believe (www.reasons.org). Dr. Rana actually anticipated the admissions of both Dr. Tour and Dr. Richert in his 2011 book; Creating Life In the Lab.

More on this here: https://www.youtube….ZgO-sEw&t=1098s

 

I respond to one post (# 103) of this thread, where the poster presented work by Dr. Jack Szostak(Harvard University).

“It must be noted that some of Szostak’s claims of RNA self replication were retracted owing to the inability of his colleagues to reproduce the work.

Source: https://www.nature.c…UVvR6XRR1ibSn0=

In an interview Szostak said, “we were totally blinded by our belief [in our findings]…we were not as careful or rigorous as we should have been…”

Source:https://retractionwa…nal/#more-52894

Another 2009 paper by Szostak et al was similarly retracted.

My adversaries also seem singularly ignorant of my own scientific criticism of Szostak’s work in the same video sequence which I presented here and here.

I point out that in light of the gross negligence in accountability of origin of life research protocols and the “Hand of God phenomenon(read cheating)” that occurs in prebiotic research that Dr. Tour calls for a moratorium on such research.

One responder asks what the relevance of all my posts is.

I did not respond, as I deemed the string of posts as being logically consistent with the matter in hand. It was just another attempt at provocation but I did say this:

“I would suggest you speak with Dr. Tour on these matters. He is better qualified than I to elaborate on this and I’m not here to discuss details. But what I will say is the popular science/astronomy magazine articles and their editorial teams should stop flogging lies to the general public, who have swallowed this claptrap hook line and sinker, based on their pagan ideologies.”

Finally I presented a summary of what science actually tells us about life on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe by Dr Tour himself:

“Life should not exist. This much we know from chemistry. In contrast to the ubiquity of life on earth, the lifelessness of other planets makes far better chemical sense……….We synthetic chemists should state the obvious. The appearance of life on earth is a mystery. We are nowhere near solving this problem. The proposals offered thus far to explain life’s origin make no scientific sense.

Beyond our planet, all the others that have been probed are lifeless, a result in accord with our chemical expectations. The laws of physics and chemistry’s Periodic Table are universal, suggesting that life based upon amino acids, nucleotides, saccharides and lipids is an anomaly. Life should not exist anywhere in our universe. Life should not even exist on the surface of the earth.”

Source: https://inference-re…o-my-colleagues

At this point, the forum moderator, clearly incensed by these comments, blocks my further participation in the thread. The author acknowledges this as a flagrant violation of free speech but does not protest.

I would submit to the reader that what is presented above is actually the most accurate and up-to-date scientific assessment of the phenomon of life and whether it can emerge on other planets. It is at direct odds with the prevailing notion among science journalists and the general public, who, by and large, lack any scientific training on this matter. Doubtless the pagan media will continue to peddle lies to a naive readership. So be on your guard!

This is the position I hold to as of late January 2019

I mentioned that this campaign was a source of “great non-personal success.” This is evidenced by the large increases (up to ten fold) of the number of “likes” received from the viewing public to the youtube clips presented in the short time since they were posted. Hitting the “like” button helps to increase the profile of these presentations, allowing more people to find and share them with their friends.

Lies need to be exposed; as St. Paul declares:

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.

Ephesians 5:11

 

Dr. Neil English maintains a keen interest in origin of life research and is deeply sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm.

If you like this work and wish to support the author, please consider buying a copy of his latest book, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, which touches on such issues here and there, newly published by Springer Nature.

 

 

De Fideli.

A Survey of Binocular Astronomy Literature.

Every dedicated binocular enthusiast needs a good binocular guide.

Dedicated to Steve Coe (1949-2018)

As an enthusiastic, life-long collector and reader of astronomical literature, I’ve always appreciated the power and value of the printed word.

Having re-ignited a keen interest in binocular observing, I was somewhat saddened to see that many great works of binocular astronomy were being largely ignored by amateurs. To help redress this balance, this blog will take a close look at a number of books dedicated to the art of visual observing using ordinary binoculars, where I offer short reviews of a number of inexpensive works. Their value lies in the collective knowledge of the authors who have produced these works; experience that far exeeds those offered by the self-proclaimed ‘experts’ constantly chattering on internet forums. And you will save yourself a small fortune – time and money – by heeding their advice.

Exhibit A: Discover the Night Sky through Binoculars: A Systematic Guide to Binocular Astronomy.

Author: Stephen Tonkin

Publisher: BinocularSky Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-9164850-0-6

Price: £10

1st edition: October 2018, pp 145.

Want a good binocular guide for Christmas? I have the perfect recommendation for you! Stephen Tonkin’s new book is sure to appeal to binocular enthusiasts of all ages. Tonkin is no flash in the pan. He has authored or contributed to many books I’ve acquired over the years and writes a monthly column on binocular astronomy for Britain’s BBC Sky at Night magazine. He also maintains an excellent website dedicated to binocular astronomy, which can be accessed here.

So I was in no doubt about my expectations concerning his new offering and boy does it deliver! Though it looks like a self-published book, Discover the Night Sky through Binoculars, is a witty and authoratative survey of what can be realistically achieved with binoculars. After a short introduction, the first three chapters cover all the technical stuff you’re likely to need to know about how to get the best out of a decent binocular. There is a particularly humorous mention of some rubbish models, which Tokin refers to as “binocular-shaped objects.” He avoids making specific recommendations about specific models though, which is a good thing, as many units can now be purchased fairly inexpensively that can provide a lifetime of great astronomical views.

The remainder of the book is divided up into the many binocular sights arranged in a month by month sequence. His superlative first-hand knowledge of the heavens shines through as he clearly and effectively shows the reader how to locate each target. All the showpiece binocular targets are covered in this book, and many more besides. Though the sky maps printed in the book are a bit small to see well, one can always download higher quality maps from his website which you can study at your own leisure. I love his description of a phenomenon called pareidolia, which describes the psychological condition of seeing patterns in the starry heavens that are not really there!

I spotted one howler though; on page 8 he says, “our visual system evolved using two eyes.” Mr.Tonkin ought to look at this presentation by an expert on human vision before jumping to such conclusions! Tut tut lol.

It’s very easy to use this book, especially if you already have some experience of the night sky, but it will work equallly well for newbies. Indeed, it’s almost like having an expert right beside you as you make your own binocular observations. The end of the book features several useful appendices, whch cover important topics, such as how to determine the size of your dilated pupil, how to test your binocular for defects, as well as sound advice on how to maintain your binocular in tip-top condition over the months and years.

This is a great, no-frills book, with simple black & white illustrations, but it’s packed full of excellent observing projects that will keep you blissfully happy for many years to come.

Exhibit B: Binocular Highlights: 109 Celestial Sights for Binocular Users

Author: Gary Seronik

Publisher: Sky & Telescope

ISBN: 978-1-940038-44-5

Price: £18.99

2nd Edition 2017, pp 112.

Gary Seronik is no stranger to those who have enjoyed Sky & Telescope magazine over the years. He wrote a regular column; Binocular Highlights; for Sky & Telescope between 1999 and 2016, where he thereafter became the editor of the well regarded Canadian astronomy periodical, SkyNews. This neat little book features 109 objects from all over the northern sky that can be enjoyed with binoculars. After a good introduction, Seronik summarises all the things you need to know about binoculars and makes a specific recommendation that a 10  x 50 unit is probably the best compromise between power and portability. That said, he admits that he is an avowed fan of image stablised models, such as his favourite; a Canon 8 x 42IS.

The remainder of the book is divided up into chapters covering the four seasons of the year, where he presents a series of brief but very engaging mini-essays on the most celebrated of all binocular targets, concentrating on those objects that are best seen from mid-northern latitudes, though he does have an occasional entry of sights only visible in the deep south, such as the illustrious Omega Centauri. The book is lavishly illustrated throughout, with full colour charts typifying a 10 x 50 binocular view, on pages made from thin cardboard rather than regular paper, and is ring bound for convenient use in the field.

If I have any quibbles to make about this book, they are minor; I just wish he could have included more objects. That said, I suspect that, for the vast majority of observers, yours truly included, binocular observing is not really about pushing the envelope to observe overly difficult or challenging objects. The targets themselves are so beautiful that you’re likely to observe them many times during a season, where their orientation in the binocular field changes as they wheel across the sky. Thus, Binocular Highlights is designed for observers who just enjoy looking at the same objects as the season’s progress; and that’s fine.

Now in its second edition, Seronik has added 10 new entries over the original book, which is a bonus. In short, you can’t go wrong with this excellent little field guide but all the while, I can’t help but think those lovely coloured charts go a bit to waste when manhandled in the field.

Exhibit C: Stargazing with Binoculars

Authors: Robin Scagell & David Frydman

Publisher: Philips

ISBN: 978-0-540-09022-8

Price: £13.74(second edition)

1st edition, 2007, pp 208.

It is oft stated that the best way to start out in the fascinating hobby of astronomy is to purchase a good binocular. There is a great deal of truth to this sentiment. Many folk who express a casual interest in stargazing quite often become disillusioned by it, perhaps because they live in a heavily light polluted location, or they made the mistake of purchasing a large, complicated telescope that is just a pain to set up in the field. The wonderful thing about binoculars is that they are much more versatile than dedicated astronomical telescopes, since they can be used during the day to have a good look around, for nature treks, birding, camping, watching sports and the like.

Stargazing with Binoculars takes a much more pedestrian path through the fascinating world of binocular observing. Written by two veteran stargazers, Robin Scagell and David Frydman, who have amassed an enormous amount of field experience with more binoculars than you could shake a proverbial stick at. Their book, now in its second edition, shows you how the sky works and then presents a month by month overview of what can reasonably be seen using binoculars of various sizes. Unlike the aforementioned books, the authors include sections on lunar, planetary and solar observing, before engaging in a comprehensive survey of the binocular market. This is a great book to learn about how binoculars are made, what the various models offer the observer and how to test binoculars prior to purchasing. It also features an excellent chapter on how best to use a given binocular; whether it be hand-held, harness stabilised, or securely mounted in a variety of configurations, from simple monopods to complex binocular mounts.

Stargazing with Binoculars provides a wealth of information that any interested reader will find useful, including how to estimate binocular fields using star tests, making sketches of what one sees in a binocular, as well as sections on observing comets, meteors, artificial satellites and much more besides. It also provides a comprehensive overview of the southern sky, so it is equally useful to those observers who enjoy life in the antipodean.

This is a fabulous, cost-effective book for all binocular enthusiasts, featuring a generous number of full colour images to complement the text, and although I have not seen the second edition( 2013), I’m sure it will be just as good if not better. All in all, a great stocking filler for the binocular enthusiast!

Exhibit D: Observing the Night Sky with Binoculars: A Simple Guide to the Heavens

Author: Stephen James O’Meara

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

ISBN: 978-1843155553

Price: £24.99

2008, pp 148

I’ve always been a fan of Stephen James O’ Meara, a highly accomplished visual observer, who served on the editorial staff of Sky & Telescope for many years before joining Astronomy(USA) as a regular columinist. I have collected and enjoyed all of his books over the years and would heartily recommend them to anyone.

Though he is perhaps better known for his studies of deep sky objects, observing from the big Island of Hawaii using 4- and 5-inch refractors, I was glad to see that he produced a book dedicated to binocular observing to complement his telescopic adventures.

Observing the Night Sky with Binoculars is a large book compared with all the others mentioned above, with dimensions of 12 x 8″. The book opens with a great introduction to exploring the night sky, featuring the Big Dipper as a starting point to find your way around the sky. Here, you’ll learn how to estimate angular separations between objects, how best to perceive star colours, as well as a good introduction to the physiology of the human eye. A surprising amount of information can be gleaned by studying the Big Dipper and how it points to many other interesting objects nearby in the sky. What is somewhat surprising about this work is that O’ Meara categorically states that he used inexpensive binoculars – 7 x 50s and 10 x 50s – in preparing the material for this book. He does not dwell on the intricacies of binocular construction or advocate any particular brand of binocular, in contrast to his other books, where he strongly advertises the virtues of small, expensive TeleVue refractors(been there, done that, not going back).

The book continues by taking a seasonal look at the treasures of the binocular sky, covering each season from spring, summer, autumn and winter. What is immediately obvious is that O’ Meara has an encyclopedic knowledge of the mythology of the heavens, with a particular interest in ancient Egyptian sky lore. While this is all very good, I personally would have liked less discussion on mythology and more about actual observing, but everyone has their own take on how best to present the wonders of the night sky and, in this capacity, O’ Meara carries his own torch.

All the illustrations in this book are black & white, but the charts and diagrams are very easy to read and assimilate. In addition, there is a wealth of good drawings made by the author in this book which greatly adds to the value of this work and while many targets can be seen by the averagely keen eye, some are very challenging, requiring both very dark and transparent skies and a very keen eye to fully appreciate.

Though it is a bit more pricey than the other books discussed above, anyone with a keen interest in the binocular sky will appreciate this very well written book, and I for one feel fortunate indeed to have a copy in my personal library.

Exhibit E: Handbook of Binocular Astronomy: A complete guide to choosing and using binoculars for astronomers – whether beginners or not-so-beginner.

Author: Michael Poxon

Publisher: Starman Books

ISBN: 97809562394-0-2

Price: £12.96

2009, pp 397

Now for something completely different!

Michael Poxon is a name unknown to me, but that ought not deter a curious individual from investigating a book. Often times, to my growing knowledge, it’s ordinary folk who come across as being the most sensible and the most experienced, as opposed to the loud-mouthed guffaws you see on internet forums.

And Poxon puts his all into this very large book!

It begins, as all the others do, by stressing how important binoculars can be to the novice and dedicated astronomer alike. He offers sage advice in purchasing a good binocular, you know; what to avoid and what not to avoid. Curiously, he advises against image stabilised binoculars for the following reasons; they’re often very heavy(over a kilogram) and so do nothing to stave off arm ache, they rely on battery power(which he finds to be a nuisance) because they lose their charge in a few hours. They are also very expensive and the author feels that the money is better spent on conventional optics. Furthermore, he rightly points out that better stablisation can be achieved by using a homemade monopod. In this, I wholeheartedly agree; my brief experience with an image stabilised unit a few years back left me feeling a little underwhelmed and I felt the images were, let’s say a tad “artificial.” And although Poxon certainly advocates the cheap and cheerful porro prism varieties, he also sings the praises of compact, roof-prism models because of their labour-saving low mass in comparison to the former, albeit at some additional cost to the consumer. It is also clear that Poxon is a highly seasoned enthusiast, who has travelled to many places around the world to observe the binocular heavens. Ever the practical man, he has the presence of mind to include the construction of effective, low-tech dew shields for his 10 x 50s used during his prolonged binocular surveys, which he often mounts astride his 36cm telescope.

Chapter 2 deals with the basics of the celestial sphere, the magnitude scale of stars, as well as a very useful table indicating the magnitude limits, field of view and angular resolution of various popular models used by the amateur community. He also offers up valuabale advice on how much one can gain in stabilising a binocular; on page 31, for example, we learn that one can go a hefty 1.5 magnitudes deeper on a stabilised system compared with hand holding; and I’d call that signficant!

What follows are excellent general overviews of the Sun, Moon and planets, eclipses etc. Poxon does an especially good job in helping the reader recognise the many lunar craters and mountain ranges within the resolution remit of a typical 10 x 50 binocular with simple but very effective lunar maps. In Chapter 5 (which is mistakenly printed as Chapter 3), he delves into the fascinating world of deep sky astronomy and what follows is a very impressive listing of interesting variable stars, double and multiple stars (both wide and close-in) as well as a treasure chest of deep sky objects from the entire pantheon of constellations in the sky( the whole 88 are represented).The data is arranged in the form of notes which can be easily followed by the interested observer.

While the illustrations are not of the highest quality, they are generously presented and can be followed without much fuss. The end of the book contains a series of useful appendices with particular emphasis on variable star monitoring.This is an excellent book and, true to its opening lines, has something for every level of enthusiast; from newbie to veteran. I was pleasantly surprised by its excellent content, written by a well heeled amateur.

Exhibit F: Deep Sky Observer’s Guide

 

Author: Neil Bone

Publisher: Philips

ISBN: 0-540-08585-5

Price: £9.99

2004 pp 223

An honorary mention. The late Neil Bone(1959-2009) was a highly accomplished deep sky observer, public speaker and writer. A microbiologist by profession, he spent many of his evenings observing the glories of the deep sky from his Sussex home. Despite his notoriety and universal respect by the British astronomical community, Bone used simple equipment throughout his life, which included a ShortTube 80, a 10 x 50 binocular and a small Dobsonian telescope to accomplish all his observing goals. Deep Sky Observer’s Guide is a wonderful little book for beginning stargazers, featuring a rich selection of deep sky objects that are accessible to anyone with the same equipment. The first two chapters cover the basics of deep sky observing, including a great overview of the celestial sphere as well as the equipment and observational skills amateurs use to good effect to divine its many secrets. The rest of the book has chapters dedicated to particular deep sky real estate, including galaxies, asterisms, globular clusters, diffuse nebulae, open clusters, planetary nebulae and supernova remnants. Although the book is not about using binoculars per se, Bone used his 10 x 50 to make excellent observations of many of his subjects and are preserved for posterity in the pages of this literary gem. To see just what can be accomplished with a humble 10 x 50 binocular, this now classic text is a great place to spend some time. Many of the deep sky objects he describes were observed using his trusty binocular, and despite his premature passing, his rich word pictures still have the ability to inspire me. In amatam memoriam.

 

 

Exhibit G: Binocular Stargazing

Author: Mike D. Reynolds

Publisher: Stackpole Books

ISBN: 978-0-8117-3136-2

Price: £5.99

2005, pp 213

 

Mike D. Reynolds is a name familiar to many American and Canadian observers. A professor of astronomy and Director Emeritus at Chabot Space & Science Center at Oakland, California, he is probably best known for his popular writings in Astronomy Magazine, as well as his excellent books on eclipses and meteor watching. Binocular Stargazing is a very well written and thought-out book, covering a lot of ground. After a short foreword from celebrated comet discoverer, David H. Levy, the first three chapters provide all the information you’re likely to want to know about binoculars, past and present, written in a friendly yet authoratative style. What is very refreshing to see in this title is that, like nearly all the other authors of binocular astronomy, Reynolds emphasises that one can obtain excellent results with only a modest investment; a philosophy yours truly also shares.

Chapters 4 through 7 offer excellent overviews of how binoculars can be used for lunar & solar observing, before engaging in a thorough but non-technical treatise on the wider solar system objects, the distant stars, as well as presenting a great introduction to deep sky observing. One slight niggle pertains to the author’s persistent use of the term “pair of binoculars” throughout the book. Though certainly not a big deal and still used my many observers, the phrase doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. The word ‘binocular’ implies duplicity. Better to use ‘binocular’ to refer to a single instrument and ‘binoculars’ when referring to more than one such instrument.

Chapters 8 through 12 offer up one of the best surveys of the binocular sky I’ve seen, arranged in seasons, ending with a special chapter devoted to observing from southern skies. Throughout, Reynolds displays his first-hand experience in the field and has a talent for making the subject matter very accessible. The science presentation is first-rate, as one would expect from a guy with an advanced degree in the science. Variable stars are particularly well represented in this title.

What I particularly liked is the inclusion of extensive appendices (A through I) at the back of the book. One appendix in particular, emphasises the age-old tradition of note-making and keeping, sketching and the like; an activity of great importance even in this age of instant digital gratification.

The text is quite generously illustrated in monochrome, though some of the images could have come out better, they are certainly good enough not to distract or confuse the interested reader. All in all, Binocular Stargazing is a highly recommended book for binocular enthustiasts, and I for one will continue to enjoy dipping in and out of it in the future.

Exhibit H: Touring the Universe Through Binoculars: A Complete Astronomer’s Guidebook.

Author: Philip S. Harrington

Publisher: Wiley

ISBN: 978-1620456361

Price: £18.34

1990, pp 306

It is hard to believe that nearly 30 years has gone by since the publication of Philip Harrington’s, Touring the NIght Sky with Binoculars. Back then, I was still an undergraduate with only a 7 x 50 porro prism binocular and a 60mm classic refractor to explore the night sky. Pluto was still a planet and the first CCD imaging pioneers were beginning to tinker with their crude chips to obtain electronic images of the celestial realm; most were still using photographic film. And while amatuer astronomy has changed beyond measure in only three decades, Harrington’s book provides solid evidence that some texts will never go out of fashion.

The preface of this now classic text reveals the modus operandi of the author, who admits that the book was primarily written for himself! Giving an honourable mention to Garrett P. Serviss’ 1888 work, Astronomy with an Opera Glass, Harrington weaves together an enormous body of field knowledge, which both complements and far exceeds the collective wisdom of his distinguished Victorian predecessor.

Harrington was one of the earliest amateur astronomers to call attention to the considerable advantages of using two eyes, explaining that gains of up to 40 per cent can be achieved in resolving fainter, low-contrast deep sky objects. This much is made clear in the short introduction to the book, but the march of time has thoroughly vindicated his binocular evangelism, as evidenced by the great popularity of binoviewing, as well the growth of binocular astronomy in general among the global amateur community.

The book, as Harrington makes clear, is actually a collection of concise notes which he himself compiled in his adventures under the night sky. Eschewing any discussion on equipment, the author launches into fabulous discussions of the Moon, Sun, planets and minor bodies of the solar system, before wading into the pantheon of objects existing far beyond our shores. Beginning in Chapter 7, Harrington provides concise but highly accurate depictions of a sumptuous listing of deep sky objects:- stars, open clusters, nebulae and galaxies, as seen in a variety of binoculars, both large and small.

In a departure from most other authors, Harrington recommends the 7 x 50 above the 10 x 50 as the best all round instrument for hassle-free binocular observing, but it is also evident that he has gained a considerable amount of experience behind a larger 11 x 80 instrument. Every constellation in the heavens is discussed separately, rather than approaching the subject from a season by season perspective. This works supremely well, being more reminscent of Robert Burnham Junior’s three volume work, Burnham’s Celestial Objects, than anything else.

While this hardback text was not designed to be used in the field, it is an indispensible work for planning and reflecting upon the sights seen on a clear, dark night. I find myself using it to compare and contrast it to my own observations and notes and to challenge myself to see more with a given instrument.

Remarkably, any discussions on binoculars per se are reserved for short appendices at the back of the book. Like all truly seasoned observers, Harrington avoids making specific recommendations, emphasing that one can do a great deal with modest equipment. Appendix B in particular, discusses how resourceful amateurs have hobbled together exceptional mounting strategies that greatly increase the comfort of viewing through truly giant binoculars, featuring such individuals as Norm Butler, Jerry Burns and John Riggs, to name but a few.

Although technology has certainly moved on (just look at the quaint photographs used to illustrate the text!) since Harrington first collated the work for this text, it is unlikely to be superceded by anything in the modern age. Indeed, it remains, for me, the definitive volume of binocular astronomy and shall continue to hold a special place in my astronomical library. Thoroughly recommended!

Concluding Words:

Just like in the case of telescopes, we are fortunate to live at a time in history where quality binoculars can be had for relatively small amounts of money. There is a bewildering number of models available to suit everyone’s budget, and even the least expensive units are immeasurably superior to the naked eye. But as all the authors of these books make clear, what is most important is that one gets out under a starry sky and use the instrument. Of course, one can decide to avoid the collective wisdom of these writers, but it will most likely lead the researcher down many dead ends (I speak from the well of my own experience), where one is tempted to keep buying ever ‘better’ models in the mistaken belief that grass is really greener on the other side. Unfortunately, this is largely the state of affairs on our telescope and astronomy internet forums, where folk seem to be more interested in a said instrument than actually using it. This is highly regrettable; indeed it is a very real kind of poverty, missing, as it were, the woods for the trees, but it can easily be countered by just getting on with the equipment we have.

I hope you have found these mini-reviews of some use and I do hope that amateurs everywhere will avail of these well thought out resources, written by people who have a real passion for observing the night sky and for sharing their knowledge with others.

Postscriptum:

Was it something I said?

Folk fae the fora having a guid chinwag about ‘binocular’, ‘pairs of binoculars’ etc.

Changin’ culture ken.

De Fideli.

 

 

Observing the Super Blood Wolf Moon.

Keeping it simple for the January 2019 Lunar Eclipse.

 

Date: January 21 2019

Time: 00:05UT

Yeehaw! The skies have remained clear this evening and things are looking great for tonight’s total lunar eclipse. What a difference that makes to the total washout we had here for the last one, which occurred on the evening of July 27 2018!

Okeydokey. What exactly is a Super Blood Wolf Moon?

It’s a Super Moon because the event occurs when the Moon is significantly closer to us than normal, making our natural satellite bigger and brighter than at other times.

It will be a Wolf Moon as it simply denotes a full Moon in January. The connection with wolves is a little harder to pin down, as these largely nocturnal critters are often heard howling at night and often in the direction of the Moon.

Finally, a Blood Moon indicates the coppery colour the Moon turns in mid-eclipse as it enters the Earth’s shadow, when sunlight gets refracted (bent) as it passes through its atmosphere, casting an eerie ruddy hue on the lunar surface.

Timing of the Eclipse:

Starts 02:36 UT

Partial Starts 03:33 UT

Total Starts 04:41 UT

Maximum 05:12 UT

Total Ends 05:43 UT

Partial Ends 06:50 UT

Ends 07:48 UT

 

Conditions as of 00:13UT

Dry, no wind, very cold, 0 C, a wee bit hazy, reducing transparency just a tad. Moon currently transiting the meridian.

Instrument used: 10 x 50 roof prism binocular mounted on a monopod for additional stability and comfortable viewing. Binoculars were made for watching the full Moon, an activity I’ve been enjoying these last few months. I don’t normally observe the Moon when it’s full but binoculars have made it a very worthwhile exercise, especially on nights when some cloud banks cover it. Refraction of Moonrays often produces wonderful displays of colour which are thrilling to observe with ordinary binoculars. My family will join me later during mid-eclipse. My wife will likely reach for her compact 8 x 25 Opticron LEs and the boys will likely be making use of my general purpose, 8 x 42 wide-angle roof prism binocular.

The author’s 10 x 50 binos atop a lightweight monopod.

10 x 50 binoculars are ideal for watching lunar eclipses as they offer decent image scale and a wide field of view for observing stars in the vicinity of the phenomenon.

I hope to estimate the brightness of the mid-eclipse Moon by turning the binocular around and looking through the objective lenses. This reduces the size of the Moon to something much more like a bright star and so is a useful and simple way to compare it to familiar bright winter stars.

I also hope to rate the colour of the umbral shadow, using the five point system devised by the French astronomer, A. Danjon, who proposed the following schema;

L=0 denoting a very dark eclipse, with the Moon almost invisible at mid totality.

L= 1 denoting a dark eclipse, with grey or brownish colourations but with lunar details only discerned with difficulty.

L= 2 denoting a deep red or rusty colouration, with a darker central area and progressively brighter near the lunar edges.

L= 3 denoting a brighter, redder eclipse often with yellowish colours appearing  near the edge.

L= 4 denoting the very brightest eclipse, when the Moon is a coppery red colour, often occurring with prominent bluish shadow rims.

Are we learning Iblis?

Time: 02:28 UT

Conditions remaining good as the eclipse begins. Moon now high in the western sky, a light easterly breeze has started up, bringing some sparse cloud with it. Arcturus rising in the eastern sky; Capella sinking in the west.

Time: 03:37 UT

Partial eclipse now underway; darkening of the limb clearly visible. Thin cloud has moved in and the breeze is still here but lunar visibility still fair to good.

 

Time: 03:48

Moon looks like the Deathstar out of Starwars through the 8 x 25 compact.

Time: 04:02 UT

Some faster moving cloud has rolled in. Amazing display from the clouds in colour and in texture as they move across the face.

04:26 UT

Coppery glows readily seen now. Time to wake the troops.

05:00: UT

Just a few minutes from maximum eclipse. Visibility now very poor, looks like a L=1, but there is also significantly thicker cloud cover. No stars visible for brightness estimate.

Troops a bit underwhelmed.

05:11 UT

Prominent coppery tones from southern hemisphere, brighter near northern limb. Lunar regolith pretty difficult to discern. Visibility quite poor.

Away to bed.

January 22 2019

Postscript: Thoroughly enjoyed the long build up. But as mid-totality approached, the clouds had built up to such an extent that the Moon could only be seen intermittently. The boys found the eclipsed Moon to be quite eerie looking but seeing it well in binoculars or using the naked eye was always interrupted by the encroach of cloud from the west. This cloud formed the basis of a weather system which caused it to rain for most of the day yesterday. My wife thought the event was cool but, like me, she felt that she had witnessed better lunar eclipses in the past.

The apperance of the eclipsed moon looked very much this fine depiction created by veteran sky watcher, David Gray, who is based just a few hundred miles south of our location, only that the details on the lunar regolith were far more subdued owing to the smaller apertures (50mm in our case) employed.

 

De Fideli.