Earth Story.

Here by accident? Not on your nelly!

An Essay Originally Published in Salvo Magazine Volume 51

 

For this is what the Lord says—

he who created the heavens,

 he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth,

 he founded it; he did not create it to be empty,

 but formed it to be inhabited— he says:

“I am the Lord, and there is no other.

                                                                                                               Isaiah 45:18

Just a few short decades ago, the Earth was considered to be an ordinary planet, orbiting an ordinary star, lost in a vast galaxy of other stars, amid myriad other galaxies populating the Cosmos. Mindless processes produced the first living organisms, we were told, which slowly evolved over the eons to produce creatures like us1. This secular myth was accepted hook line and sinker by the uneducated masses after its promotion by God-denying ‘high priests’, including the late Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, and mindlessly parroted by a generation of science journalists unwilling to dig any deeper. Yet, with the exponential rise of human knowledge, this worldview is being radically over-turned by an avalanche of new science which paints an entirely different picture of our world: one in which its exceptional properties for supporting a long-lived biosphere for the express benefit of humanity in particular, is coming to the fore; where life itself ‘terraformed’ the Earth under Divine instruction.

An Anomalous Solar System

Many lines of evidence show that the Earth is old; 4.543 billion years with an uncertainty of just one per cent. But the circumstances under which our planetary system was shaped were very unusual. Formed from the gravitational collapse of a vast cloud of gas and dust, the proto-solar system condensed into a relatively thin disk with the neonatal Sun at its center. The inventory of elements endowed to the solar system might have turned out to be much like any other were it not for the presence of at least two relatively close-by supernova events2 which helped eject it from a nursery of other stars, but which also enriched the primordial solar system with relatively large quantities of heat-generating radioactive elements such as aluminum 26, thorium and uranium3. The aluminum 26, with its short half-life of 730,000 years, provided enough thermal energy to remove excess levels of volatiles including water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide which would have scuppered the future emergence of living creatures on our world. In contrast, the very dense and long-lived radioactive elements like uranium and thorium sank to the center of the primordial earth, where their prodigious heat has kept the planet in a geologically active state over billions of years.

The Moon-forming event, which is thought to have occurred about 100 million years after the neonatal Earth formed4, in a highly improbable, oblique collision with a Mars-sized object, helped remove still more volatiles from the primordial Earth, allowing it to eventually form relatively shallow oceans where the continental land-masses could eventually emerge from the sea floor.  The debris from this cataclysmic event formed a relatively large Moon in close proximity to the Earth, helping to stabilize its orbital inclination and over time, to slow down the rotation rate of our planet from just 5 hours shortly after the Moon’s formation, to its present leisurely rotation period of 24 hours.

For the first few hundred million years after its formation, the Earth would have looked black and golden from the vantage of outer space, from the vast amounts of solidified magna cooling on its surface as well as the prodigious levels of volcanic activity spewing out hot lava from the planet’s interior. Frequent collision events with smaller space debris like asteroids would also have exacerbated these hellish conditions, but eventually the prodigious levels of water vapor outgassed from its interior would have transformed our lava dominated planet into a blue water world still devoid of continental landmasses.4  But just as soon as the Earth cooled down enough to enable liquid water to flow on its surface, life appeared.

Life Terraforms the Planet

The standard evolutionary story is that life began as simple organisms and gradually progressed to more complex forms with the slow march of time, but the best scientific evidence now suggests that this life was already complex and biochemically sophisticated. This is based on isotopic evidence5,6 from the analysis of ratios of carbon and sulfur isotopes in sedimentary rocks laid down over 3.5 billion years ago. Since these biochemical processes have an absolute requirement for highly complex protein enzymes to have been present, it completely eludes an evolutionary explanation. Then why did our Creator choose to begin Earth’s life story with microbes? The answer has less to do with evolution than it has with chemical sophistication. The simple answer is that microbes are, by some considerable margin, the hardiest creatures ever to have lived on our planet.

Microbes are the die-hards of the living world, being capable of surviving in very hot and cold temperatures, high and low pH environments, and can even thrive in a cocktail of toxic chemicals and radioactive environments. Once the planet cooled enough to allow the first microbes to survive, they were set to work removing a plethora of poisonous substances from the primordial Earth. In these early times, the Earth’s surface would have had large amounts of so-called vital poisons, substances that are required in small amounts for more complex life to thrive, but in higher concentrations, can prove lethal; substances like iron, copper, zinc, molybdenum, arsenic, boron, selenium and iodine, to name but a few. In their soluble forms such vital poisons would have stunted any new life forms coming on the scene but in chemically transforming these elements7 into insoluble ores and minerals, microbes not only  removed such vital poisons from the Earth’s water environments but also formed large deposits of the valuable minerals that are now mined for their use in high technology devices. This also makes sense from a creation point of view, as more complex organisms are far more sensitive to these toxins than microbes are. One other benefit that life brought to the Earth is that it greatly enriched the planet’s mineral and gemstone tally. According to Dr. Robert Hazen, a world-leading mineralogist, Earth has the greatest diversity of mineral species of any body in the Solar System.4 Over 4,600 mineral species have been identified on Earth. In contrast, Mars probably has about 500 and Venus about 1,000 at the most. What’s more, Hazen discovered that life processes formed about two-thirds of Earth’s mineral species4.

Recent oxygen isotope evidence shows that ongoing plate tectonic activity produced nearly all the continental landmasses by about 2.5 billion years ago.8 The fact that just 29 per cent of the planet’s surface area is covered by dry land appears to be highly fine-tuned. Greater land surface areas would induce too little precipitation in the interior of those ancient continents, preventing life from gaining a hold in these places. On the other hand, land areas significantly less than 29 per cent would not be able to re-cycle enough valuable nutrients between the land, the sea and the atmosphere to maintain a healthy biosphere.

The earliest lifeforms extracted energy from these minerals without the need for molecular oxygen, but the introduction of photosynthetic microbes radically transformed the early biosphere, paving the way for the introduction of advanced lifeforms. One way to get a handle on how early oxygenic photosynthesis occurred on Earth is to study so-called Banded Iron Formations (BIFs)comprised of iron rich clays containing magnetite and hematite. The early oceans had high concentrations of soluble iron, but when it reacts with oxygen, it forms an insoluble rust-like substance that serves as iron ore today. Such studies reveal that BIFs were first laid down about 3.0 billion years ago, continuing up to about 1.8 billion years ago.9 This coincides with the microfossil record of life, which shows that oxygen-dependent complex cellular life (the so-called Eukaryotes) made its first appearance around 2 billion years ago.10The rise in atmospheric oxygen also created the ozone layer, which protected future life on land from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

The emergence of oxygen-generating photosynthesis had other effects that are not immediately obvious. When the Sun was born, it was about 30 per cent less luminous than it is today, but as it aged, its luminosity increased with the result that the amount of thermal energy received by the planet also increased. Photosynthetic organisms removed great amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide and generating oxygen which reacted rapidly with another greenhouse gas, methane. In so doing, photosynthetic organisms served to counteract the tendency of the aging Sun to overheat the planet.11 The remains of these and other unicellular creatures settled to the bottom of the oceans where they  formed vast sediments that were compressed over time to produce natural gas and oil reserves so important to human civilization today.

After a long cooling phase coinciding with the formation of the supercontinent, Rhodinia4, signs of the first large(macroscopic) multicellular lifeforms appeared about 600 million years ago in an event known to palaeontologists as the Avalon Explosion, where scientists have uncovered the first evidence of simple animal lifeforms. It is unclear however whether these bizarre creatures were animals or plants but what is clear is that in the space of a short 10-million- year period starting around 541 million years ago, 80 per cent of all existing animal forms appeared in the fossil record, with no credible evolutionary antecedents. Paleontologists studying the so-called Cambrian Explosion have found no transitional forms in layers immediately pre-dating this period in Earth history. Moreover, the land was being prepared for the arrival of vascular plants by fungi who began breaking down rocks into soil as early as about 1000 million years ago12.  It is difficult to conceive how any blind process like Darwinian evolution could produce such stunning biological complexity and diversity in such a short space of time without any foresight.

In recent times, a greater appreciation of the interplay between life and plate tectonics has been appreciated. Without plate tectonics, our planet wouldn’t have a climate stable enough to support life over billions of years of time. That’s because plate tectonics takes center stage as a planetary thermostat in a process called the “carbonate-silicate” cycle.13 Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dissolves in rainwater to form carbonic acid, which dissolves silicate rocks. The by-products of this erosion, or “weathering,” are conveyed to the oceans where they are ingested by organisms—such as tiny planktonic foraminifera—and incorporated into limestone (calcium carbonate) shells. When those creatures die, they fall to the bottom of the ocean and pile up as sediments, creating new raw materials used by humanity. The introduction of life on planet Earth also increases the amount of water subducted into the mantle, where it functions as a kind of lubricant, facilitating motions between plates. It also lowers the melting point in the mantle, which leads to more volcanism and therefore more continent building. So, without life speeding up the weathering at the surface as well as the sedimentation rate on the sea floor, the fraction of the surface covered by continents would be far smaller.

Plate tectonics has other, hitherto unforeseen consequences for the maintenance of the Earth’s strong magnetic field.  By accelerating the transfer of heat to the surface, plate tectonics induces convection in the liquid iron outer core of our planet. What’s more, it’s the dynamic outer core that generates our planet’s magnetic field, which protects Earth’s atmosphere and oceans from excessive erosion and dessication from the solar wind as well as all surface life from dangerous cosmic rays.

The fossil record attests to several mass extinction events that occurred over the long history of our planet.14 Research has shown that these devastating events are followed by equally spectacular mass speciation events, uncannily similar to the scenarios described in Psalm 104. According to Christian astronomer, Dr. Hugh Ross, these events proved crucial for maximizing both the quantity and longevity of Earth’s life.15 By ensuring that the right quantities and kinds of life are present at the right times, our Creator employed these organisms to remove the just-right quantities of greenhouse gases from Earth’s atmosphere so as to compensate for the Sun’s increasing brightness. According to Ross, one would expect God to intervene periodically to remove life no longer appropriate for compensating for a brightening Sun and then replace it with life that is more efficient at doing so. Finally, in the last few hundred million years, vast deposits of coal and oil were produced from the remains of plant life that flourished on land during the Carboniferous and Permian (360 to 250 million years ago) periods, which was necessary for the launch of the industrial revolution.

Jewel Planet

Seen in the light of these new scientific discoveries, it is apparent that the Earth is a highly fine-tuned planet that has sustained a very stable environment over 4 billion years for the flourishing of life. And that same life transformed our world beyond recognition to make it ideal for humans to thrive in. This consensus is now being expressed by other scientists, who have noted Earth’s amazing properties. Influential books like Donald Brownlee and Peter Ward’s Rare Earth16: why complex life is are in the Universe, David Waltham’s Lucky Planet17, John Gribbin’s Alone in the Universe18 as well as Privileged Planet19by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, all seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Far from being a humdrum planet orbiting an ordinary star, the Earth was designed by a mind vastly more advanced than our own. And I give God all the glory!

 

Dr. Neil English is the author of several books in amateur & professional astronomy. His latest historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, is published by Springer-Nature. You can support his ongoing work by making a small personal donation or by purchasing one of his books. Thanks for reading!

 

References

  1. Sagan, C. Cosmos, MacDonald Futura Publishers, London, 1981.
  2. Eric Gaidos et al., “26Al and the Formation of the Solar System from a Molecular Cloud Contaminated by Wolf-Rayet Winds,” Astrophysical Journal 696 (May 10, 2009): 1854–63.
  3. Ross, H., Elemental Evidence of Earth’s Divine Design; https://reasons.org/explore/publications/nrtb-e-zine/read/nrtb-e-zine/2010/03/01/elemental-evidence-of-earth-s-divine-design
  4. Hazen, R. The Story of Earth, Penguin, 2012.
  5. Allen P. Nutman et al., “≥3700 Ma Pre-Metamorphic Dolomite Formed by Microbial Mediation in the Isua Supracrustal Belt (W. Greenland): Simple Evidence for Early Life?” Precambrian Research 183, no. 4 (December 15, 2010): 725–37.
  6. Yanan Shen et al, “Isotopic Evidence for Microbial Sulphate Reduction in the Early Archaean Era,” Nature 410 (March 1, 2001): 77–81.
  7. Gadd, G.M., Metals, minerals and microbes: geomicrobiology and bioremediation https://mic.microbiologyresearch.org/content/journal/micro/10.1099/mic.0.037143-0;jsessionid=CfnAVoIxE-Nxln81QM-D2S0N.x-sgm-live-02
  8. N. Bindeman et al., “Rapid Emergence of Subaerial Landmasses and Onset of Modern Hydrologic Cycle 2.5 Billion Years Ago,” Nature 557 (May 23, 2018): 545–48, https://doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0131-1.
  9. James, H.L. (1983). Distribution of banded iron-formation in space and time. Developments in Precambrian Geology, 6, 471–490.
  10. Simonetta Gribaldo et al., “The Origin of Eukaryotes and Their Relationship with the Archaea: Are We at a Phylogenomic Impasse?” Nature Reviews Microbiology 8 (2010): 743–52.
  11. Ross, H. Improbable Planet, Baker Books, 2016.
  12. https://theconversation.com/complex-life-may-only-exist-because-of-millions-of-years-of-groundwork-by-ancient-fungi-117526
  13. Walker, J.C.G., Hays, P.B., & Kasting, J.F. A negative feedback mechanism for the long-term stabilization of Earth’s surface temperature. Journal of Geophysical Research 86, 9776-9782 (1981).
  14. Melott & Bambach, “Do Periodicities in Extinction—With Possible Astronomical Connections—Survive a Revision of the Geological Timescale?” Astrophysical Journal 773 (August 10, 2013).
  15. Ross, H. Mass Extinction Periodicity Design; https://www.reasons.org/explore/publications/nrtb-e-zine/read/nrtb-e-zine/2013/12/01/mass-extinction-periodicity-design
  16. Brownlee, D. & Ward, P., Rare Earth, Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, Springer, 2000
  17. Waltham, D., Lucky Planet, Icon Books, 2015
  18. J., Alone in the Universe; Why our Planet is Unique, John Wiley, 2011.
  19. Gonzalez, G. & Richards, J, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery, Regnery Publishing, 2004.

                                                                                                                       

De Fideli.

Product Review: Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 Pocket Binocular.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25: a noble gesture from a market-leading optics firm.

October 1 2019

Preamble;

Review A

Review B

 Review C(verified purchaser):

Although I read glowing reports for these pocket Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 light carry binoculars, my previous 4 month ownership of the Swaro CL 8X25 pockets had tempered my expectations. However, I found these small glassing gems to perform optically and ergonomically within 95% of the venerable and well built CL’s (at 1\3 the price)! They, just as the CL, have handling and comfort limitations compared to compact or full size binoculars. But for quick trip non-intrusive viewing, ease of portability and very accurate powered views, these little pockets are hard to beat. Overall, they possess very nice ergonomics, have natural color presentation, crystalline resolution that is real sharp and bright, with very good contrast views. Their FOV (field of view), whose sweet spot extends to within 10% of their wide 357ft limit, has a comfortable and stereoptic DOF (depth of field) . Hinge tensions are perfect, and the focuser is fast, going from close focus (mine’s about 5ft) CW to infinity in just 1.25 turns. Eye cup adjustments lock fully in (for eye glass wearers) and fully out (non-eye glass wearers). My vision is 20\15 and with the very comfortable eye cups fully extended and resting on my brow, I can align the small EP (exit pupil=3.1) with my pupils, gaining a full unobstructed sigh picture! With its ED glass, CA (chromatic aberrations) is well controlled and I find day light\low light viewing to be bright, natural and enjoyable! Diopter is set on the front dial (for the right barrel) and has enough resistance to stay put. Made in Japan for Zeiss, they offer a lot of features and performance at a great value point. These will make great travel companions and will be back-ups for my full sized field excursion instruments!

Review D(verified purchaser):

I also read about these on an astronomy forum, where I got the “use” info below, but not the specs.
Buy these now. A best buy. Here’s why:
1. Zeiss is a world class optics company. So is Swarovski.
Compare this Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 to the world-class Swarovski 8×25 at $819 on Amazon (list price is even higher). This will show you
a) specs are same: field of view (6.8˚),
brightness (14.1 vs 14.2),
weight (11 vs 12 oz),
eye relief (16 vs 17mm), and
size in inches
b) specs favor Swaro: water resistant to 4 meters (vs 1 meter for Zeiss)
c) specs favor Zeiss: close focus 6.2ft (vs 14.2 for Swaro),
operating temperature -20 to 144˚ (vs -13 to 131 for Swaro)
d) use favors Swaro: view is said to be more comfortable to look at, ergonomically
focus has lighter touch, for those who like that
e) use favors Zeiss: view is more crisp, contrasty (Swaro view is said to be softer, more milky)
focus has firmer touch, for those who like that
f) price favors Zeiss: $293 (vs $819 for Swaro)2. Compare them to other Zeiss binos from the SAME series – Zeiss Terra ED.
– 8×25, 10×25 are made in Japan
– 8×25, 10×25 are getting great reviews, for small binos
– all larger Terra ED models are made in China
– all larger models are getting panned for poor optics and build quality
I think everybody is well aware that China optics and build quality are inferior (so far) to those from the US, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Austria, etc.So this 8×25 model is unusual. Superior optics and build are normal for Zeiss, except for their Chinese built Terra ED line.
Luckily, the 8×25 model is made in Japan with Zeiss design. This results in typical world class Zeiss quality.What is hard to understand is how Zeiss makes a $293 optic that arguably outperforms an $819 Swarovski.For bino newbies looking at 10×25, remember: the 10×25 will have a smaller exit pupil, so your views may black out more. Also, a 10x is way harder to hold steady and actually see than an 8x. So, even though you think you want 10x, you probably really want 8×25. With the 8×25, you’ll actually see and enjoy the view more.………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

What you get:

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket binocular kit.

The Zeiss Terra pocket arrived double-boxed. After opening the outer packaging, the binocular kit was housed inside a very nicely presented box with a very fetching design which folds open to reveal the contents. Unlike other products I’ve received in the past, the Zeiss box has depicted on the inside, a colourful alpine scene with majestic mountain peaks soaring high above a beautiful river valley. Perhaps the team at Zeiss intended the user to explore such landscapes? Whatever the reasoning behind it, it was certainly a pleasant touch.

With Zeiss, even the packaging is premium.

Unlike customers who bought the Zeiss pocket binocular when it was first launched just a few years ago, I was relieved to see that the instrument was housed inside a small clamshell case with a magnetic latch carrying the blue & white Zeiss logo.The box also contained a lanyard, operating instructions and a lens cleaning cloth. I was surprised that the binocular itself came neither with eyepiece or objective lens caps, but I suppose they are not really necessary, as the case very effectively protects the instrument from dust and moisture.

The box has the serial number on the side, which is needed to register the product on the Zeiss sports optics website.  On another side of the box, the detailed specifications of both the 8 x 25 and 10 x 25 models are presented; another nice touch.

The binocular was housed inside the clamshell and was pristine, with no dust on the lenses, or gunk on the interior of the barrels. From the moment I prized the neatly folded instrument from its case, I was impressed. The frame is composed of a fibre-glass like polymer, with a fetching black, grey and blue livery. The sides of the binocular have a rubberised exterior making it easy to grip well while in use. The double-hinges were rigid and hold their positions solidly once the correct inter-pupillary distance is chosen for your eyes. The optics are hermetically sealed, nitrogen purged and had immaculately finished anti-reflection coatings on both the ocular and objective lenses. They are also treated with a Zeiss’ proprietary hydrophobic coating that encourages any moisture and grime that gathers on the lenses to fall off, rather than accumulating on the surfaces. The instrument is guaranteed to operate flawlessly over a very impressive temperature range: -20C to +63C, so covering almost any environment it is likely to find itself in.

The binocular is water resistant, but to what degree remained a bit of a mystery owing to the rather odd way in which Zeiss chose to present it: 100mbar.

You what mate?

Thankfully, some physics knowledge helps to clarify the reference to water pressure.

P = Rho x g x h, where P is the water pressure, Rho is the density of water, g is the acceleration due to gravity and h is the depth in metres. Rearranging to find h gives;

h = P/ (g x Rho) = 10^4/ (10 x 10^3) = 1m

Knowledge is power lol!

So, not as waterproof as a Swarovski pocket binocular(I think it’s 4m) but adequate for most purposes.

Fully folded down, the Zeiss Terra pocket is about 70mm wide and 110mm long. The oversized barrels make the Zeiss a wee bit taller when placed on its side in comparison to a classic pocket instrument, like my lovely little Opticron Aspheric LE;

The Zeiss Terra Pocket(right) is a little wider and taller than the more conventional Opticron Aspheric(left).

The Terra weighs in at 310g, so about 40 grams lighter than the Swarovski-made counterpart. Lighter isn’t necessarily better however, as some individuals find holding such light glasses problematical. But once unfolded, the significantly wider barrels more than make up for its low mass, as I shall explain more fully a little later in the review.

The eyecups look a bit suspect, but once you begin rotating them, they work really well. They have no indents but do have ample friction. There are only two positions; fully retracted or fully extended. You know you’ve reached either situation by hearing their clicking into place. They are very solid and hold their positions superbly. Eye relief is 16mm and I was able to enjoy the full field with eye glasses on or without. Placing your eye on the eyecups is very comfortable, with their soft, rubberised overcoat and the large field lenses makes for very easy centring of your eye sockets along the line of sight of the optical train.

The dioptre(+/- 3) setting lies at the other end of the bridge(near the objectives), which initially presented some problems for me, as it is rather stiff and difficult to get going, but once you’re done you’re done! The focusing wheel is centrally located and is reassuringly large and easy to grip, even with gloves on. It moves very well, with the perfect amount of tension. Motions run smoothly, with little in the way of play or backlash when rotated either clockwise or anti-clockwise. The focuser requires one and a half full rotations to go from one end of its focus travel to another.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 has a large, centrally placed focuser. The right-eye dioptre ring is located at the other end of the instrument, near the objective lenses.

The objective lenses are very deeply recessed, more so than on many other pocket binoculars I’ve used. This affords the 25mm objective lenses greater protection against aeolian-borne dust and also serves as a first-line defence against glare. Cool!

As the other reviewers showcased earlier, the Zeiss Terra pocket binoculars are manufactured in Japan, with the larger models originating in China under Zeiss supervision. You can see that quite clearly by examining the under belly of the instrument:

The underside of the binocular reveals its country of manufacture: Japan.

That said, and contrary to what the other reviewers have asserted, I don’t fully subscribe to the notion that all Chinese-made binoculars are inferior to those produced in Europe or Japan, as I shall elaborate on later.

All in all, it’s pretty obvious that a great deal of sound engineering was put into these pint-sized field glasses.

Handling: The Zeiss pocket is supremely comfortable to use, the slightly larger frame fitting comfortably in my hands. Indeed, with its wide field of view and thicker barrels, it feels like you’re peering through a larger instrument. The big eye lenses make it easy to get the right eye placement with none of the blackouts I’ve experienced on a number of other pocket binoculars. Its light weight means that you can carry it round your neck for hours on end with no neck strain. Its easy to get both hands resting on the central bridge, using my little finger to engage with the focus wheel.

Optical Assessment:

Straight out of its case, the Zeiss Terra impressed. Looking at some tree trunks just beyond my back garden fence reaveled a wealth of high contrast detail. I was immediately taken aback with the expansive field of view; not only was it wide, but the image remained tack sharp across nearly all of the field. Images snapped to a very sharp focus and I experienced no trouble focusing from just a few yards away all the way out to some trees located hundreds of yards away. Glare suppression looked excellent, even when pointed at some backlit scenes strongly bathed in sunlight. It was immediately clear to me that I was looking through a very high quality optical instrument.

As I stated in earlier blogs, I don’t really consider the inclusion of low dispersion (ED) glass as necessary in a small binocular like this, but it’s a nice feature when presented as part of a larger, properly designed system. After all, and as several other reviewers pointed out, the Zeiss seemed quite comparable to arguably the most sought-after pocket binocular on the market; the venerable Swarovski CL pocket binocular. But what is not widely communicated is that the latter achieves all its optical excellence without using ED glass. That should send a powerful message to the gayponaut propagandists. No, its all about using great glass, great coatings and solid mechanical engineering. Alas, I was not able to compare this pocket binocular with the Swarovski, but the fact that the little Zeiss was often mentioned in the same company as it speaks volumes about its optical quality.

Further daylight tests showed that off-axis aberrations were very well controlled. Even at the edge of the field pin cushion distortion and field curvature were minimal. Looking straight up at a denuded tree branch against an overcast sky showed no colour fringing on axis but as the image was moved off axis, some slight secondary spectrum was noted. Overall, I was very impressed at the Zeiss’ optical quality; it really does exactly what it says on the tin!

A niggly moment: While the little Zeiss pocket binocular fits perfectly inside its small, clamshell case without the supplied neck strap attached, I found that the addition of the strap made it very difficult to get a snug fit. Wrapping the neck strap around the central bridge simply didn’t allow the case to close properly(the magnetic latch never stuck), but after several attempts experimenting with different approaches, I finally hit on a way to get the binocular with its strap on to fit the case. The trick involves wrapping the strap tightly around the ocular lenses.The latch sticks.  Problem solved!

More discriminating optical tests:

Flare & Glare assessment:

Even if the glass used in binoculars were mined from the asteroid belt, it counts for nothing if it can’t control light leaks. My initial daylight tests showed that glare and internal reflections were very well controlled in the little Zeiss binocular, but they can’t tell the whole story. So, I set up my iphone torch at its brightest setting in my living room and examined the focused images through  the Zeiss Terra, comparing its results with my Opticron Aspheric(a nice little performer) as well as my control binocular; the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah, which has excellent control of stray light.

The results were very interesting. The Zeiss faired better than the Opticron, but not by much. However, it was not as good as the Savannah, which exhibits exceptional control of internal reflections even though it collects far more light than any pocket binocular.

Further testing of the binoculars on a bright street light revealed some additional information. Internal reflections were well suppressed in both the Zeiss and Opticron binoculars, but the Zeiss showed more prominent diffraction spikes. The Savannah control binocular, in comparison, proved superior to both pocket binoculars. It shows very little flaring and internal reflections and much better control of diffraction spikes.

And therein lies an instructive lesson. The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 is fabricated in China yet shows exceptional control of glare and internal reflections. So, it’s not so much where a binocular is built that counts so much as how it is constructed.

An exceptional, Chinese-made binocular; the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah wide angle 143m@1000m.

It is all the more remarkable, since the Savannah can be purchased for half the price of the diminutive Zeiss!

All in all, these tests showed that the Zeiss binocular is very well protected against stray light, glare and internal reflections and this goes a long way to explaining why the views through it are so compelling.

Collimation and Field of View Tests:

I checked the collimation of the barrels on the Zeiss by placing the instrument on a tall fence and aiming at a rooftop, checking that both the horizontal and vertical fields correlated with each other. They matched up very well.

Field of view is best assessed by turning the binocular on the stars. Accordingly, I aimed the Zeiss Terra at the two stars at the end of the handle of the Ploughshare, now low in the northern sky. The Zeiss was able to image both Mizar and Alkaid in the same field with a little bit to spare. These stars are separated by an angular distance of 6 degrees 40′ (or 6.66 degrees). This result was consistent with the specifications on the inside of the box; 6.8 angular degrees.

Further Observations:

Comparing the Opticron Aspheric to the Zeiss Terra in daylight, showed that both instruments were about equally matched in terms of sharpness( the aspherical oculars on the Opticron certainly help in this regard), but I could discern that the image was that little bit brighter in the Zeiss. Better coatings in the Zeiss binocular throughout the optical train give it the edge in this regard. Field of view was also much more expansive in the Zeiss( the Opticron has a true field of 5.2 degrees in comparison). Colours were also that little bit more vivid in the Zeiss pocket binocular, caused perhaps by its better contrast and superior control of chromatic aberration.

Close focus is very good. I measured the Zeiss Terra to have a minimum close focus distance of 1.4 metres, so this should be a great little instrument for use as a long distance microscope, to spy out insects, fungi, flowers, rocks and the endlessly fascinating complexities of tree trunks.

The eye lenses on the Zeiss Terra pocket binocular measure 18mm in diameter, the same as the Swarovski CL pocket. But they are still small in comparison to a larger format binocular like my 8 x 42.

But while the field of view is quite immersive in the Zeiss Terra, it lacks the majesty factor of a larger binocular, such as my Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah, with its whopping 8.2 degree true field and better eye relief. Larger binoculars are simply easier to engage with your eye sockets and are thus more comfortable to use than any pocket binocular on the market.

Performance under low light conditions easily show the limitations of the small objectives on the Zeiss Terra. At dusk, the 8 x 42 was vastly superior to the Zeiss, showing much brighter images, as expected. So, as good as the Zeiss pocket binocular is, it can’t defy the laws of physics.

A Walk by the River Bank

River Endrick, near my home.

One of the best reasons to own and use a pocket binocular, is that it encourages you to go outside and explore the landscape. They’re so light weight and handy that anyone can carry one. Sometimes I use the Opticron and at other times I like using the Zeiss. Their sharp, high-contrast optics deliver wonderful images of the Creation. For me, nature is life affirming; a profound source of revelation and illumination. Like a great Cathedral, it fills me with awe and wonder. The sound of the wind whistling through the trees, the babbling brook and the noisy chirps of small tree birds form part of a symphony paying homage to the One who fashioned it all. For some, the Darwinian, materialist lie has dulled or even extinguished the sense of wonder that is innately endowed to every child. Dead to the world, believing themselves to be highly evolved animals, they pose no meaningful questions and can give no meaningful answers to life’s biggest conundrums. As you think, so you are.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

For me, being able to explore the wet and wild places with tiny optical aids is a source of unending joy. On sunny afternoons or early in the morning, I sometimes take myself off for a walk along the banks of the River Endrick which meanders its way through the beautiful valley in which I live. Stretches of shallow, fast-flowing water predominate but are also complemented by deeper pool and riffle sequences; favourite haunts of  Brown Trout, Perch and other course fish. Lanky Herons frequent these waters in search of fresh prey.  Bracken flourishes all along the river, and my pocket binocular allows me to study their shape and form in great detail. As summer gives way to autumn, their bright lorne hues transform into various shades of brown and tan. Spiders weave elaborate but deadly webs of silk with their spinnerets that sparkle and glisten in the morning sunlight, creating a wondrous decoration that I can experience up-close and personal with my long range microscope.

Towering trees soar into a blue sky by the banks of the Endrick.

Many species of tree grace the banks of the river; Ash, Silver Birch, Sycamore, Horse Chestnut and even the odd Oak. Thriving from frequent rain showers, their trunks are covered in lichens, moss and algae that reveal a wealth of intricate structure and a riot of colour that changes in accordance with the varying altitude of the Sun as it wheels across the sky. I especially delight in observing the colour of autumn leaves in bright sunlight, the ruby reds of anthocyanins and the yellow-orange hues of carotenoids. Every now and then, I watch as the fast-flowing water, dappling in weak autumn sunshine, ferries off fallen leaves, their destinies unknown. My pocket binocular shows me that every tree trunk is unique. Each tells its own story, visual scars of its past life.

On some stretches of the river bank, I can still find some late-flowering wild plants that delight the eyes with colour in unexpected ways. And as autumn continues its march towards winter, the thick brambles begin to yield their succulent fruit. What could me more pleasing and more natural than to feast on their nutritious berries?

An expected riot of autumn flowers observed along the river bank.

At some places along the river bank, there are expansive rocky stretches. And yet every stone you un-turn reveals even more of God’s Creation. A scurrying earwig, a wondrously armoured wood louse or a frolicking spider.The pocket binocular brings everything into stunning clarity. And though at first glance, each stone looks more or less the same, my little pocket spyglass shows that they too are all unique. Every crevice, every colourful grain is one of a kind.

A rocky stretch along the river bank.

This tiny corner of the world is ripe for exploration, with every day that passes presenting new adventures, new wonders to delight the eye. But so is yours!

Bird Watching with the Zeiss Terra Pocket Binocular:

Can good pocket binoculars be suitable for birdwatching?

Lots of birding websites don’t recommend using pocket binoculars for bird watching, citing their small fields of view and reduced comfort compared with larger binoculars as the most common reasons. Having used these small binoculars for a while now, I must say  that I respectfully disagree. The Opticron Aspheric has served as a good birding binocular for me, especially for quick looks at birds that visit our back garden table and the crows that nest in the conifer trees in the common ground beyond our back yard fence. Recently, a group of five magpies have taken up residence in the Rowan tree in our back yard. Each evening as darkness falls, they hunker down in the tree and don’t seem to be fazed by us turning on an outside light or noisy disturbances when it’s time to put the garbage out. During the day though, they are often seen chackering away at each other loudly(magpies don’t actually sing) as if to resolve some dispute among themselves. Further afield, there is a small pond just a few hundred yards away in the grounds of Culcreuch Castle, which attract quite a few varieties of water bird; swans, duck, water hens, heron and even the odd cormorant. Once I learned to use them properly, small binoculars like these have never presented much in the way of a problem for me.  And since the Zeiss Terra pockets have a nice wide field of 6.8 degrees, they have proven to be better suited than the Opticron in this regard because you can better track the motions of birds with a wider true field.

On the Zeiss Sports Optics website, under ‘usage’, they seem to be saying that the Terra pockets are less suitable for birding, but I wonder if this is merely a clever ploy to get folk to buy into their larger(and more expensive) models. If so, they’re lost on me. With their excellent optics and generous field of view right to the edge, they can and do serve as good birding glasses. Of course, you can only form your own opinions by actual field experience but you may discover that the little Terra is all you really need! Seen in this light, acquiring a Zeiss Terra pocket binocular can actually serve as a cost-saving measure that stops you haemorrhaging your hard-earned cash on ever bigger and more expensive models.

How About Astronomy?

A small binocular like this is not the best for exploring the night sky since its small objective lenses cannot gather enough light to really wow the observer. However, the Terra’s excellent performance both at the centre of the field and extending nearly all the way to the edges, as well as its wonderful contrast make star gazing a pleasant experience. Out here in the sticks, the sky is quite dark and rewarding, even when observed with such a small instrument. Its field of view is large enough to enjoy some of the showpieces of the sky like the Pleiades, the Hyades, and larger asterisms such as Melotte 20 in Perseus, which can be taken in with its generous field of view. Stars remain very tightly focused and pin sharp across the field. Later in the season, I look forward to exploring the winter constellation of Orion the Hunter, to seek out its magnificent nebula in his Sword Handle, as well as the many delightful clusters of stars that are framed within its borders.

On another autumnal evening, I was able to pick up the three Messier open clusters in Auriga, M34, the Messier galaxies, M81 and M82, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Double Cluster in Perseus, wide double stars like Mizar & Alcor and the Coathanger asterism in Vulpecula. Running the binocular through Cygnus and Cassiopeia will also reward dark-adapted eyes with innumerable faint stars, like fairy dust on black velvet. One delightful little project involves exploring the lovely colours of bright stars such as blue-white Vega and Sirius, creamy white Capella, brilliant white Rigel, orange Arcturus and fiery red Betelgeuse and Aldebaran.

Following the phases of the Moon can also be a rewarding and worthwhile pursuit, as the Terra’s above average glare and internal reflection control will ensure that you get nice crisp, contrasty images. Lunar eclipses can also be enjoyed. You might also like to try your hand at observing the beautiful light shows presented by clouds passing near the Moon on blustery evenings. The excellent contrast of the Terra will also allow you to see stars around the Moon which can be very arresting to observe. Capturing the bright Moon as it rises over man-made buildings will also delight the eye. Above all else, don’t let its small aperture deter you from exploring God’s wonderful creation, which fills the Universe with hope and light.

Final thoughts:

Terra: for exploring the Earth and beyond.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket binocular is a fine, high-quality optical instrument that is easy to use and transport. If taken care of, it will give you years of enjoyment where ever you wish to take it. As I said from the outset of this blog, I believe Zeiss did something very noble in bringing this little binocular to market at the price point they set. To be honest, and as others have quipped, they could well have stuck a ‘Victory’ label on it and no one would be any the wiser. Optically, Zeiss engineers have cut no corners to deliver an ergonomic, durable and optically sound instrument that will delight anyone who looks through it. I suspect that the Zeiss Terra pocket might be one of their best-selling products. It is even available on finance and buy-now-pay later schemes here in the UK, although I would strongly advise would-be buyers to save up and pay the price in full rather than incurring more debt, where you ultimately pay more. The Zeiss is expensive as small binoculars go, but I feel that it’s worth every penny, as for me at least, it has already given me countless hours of wonderful experiences. In the world of high-quality pocket binoculars, the Terra certainly stands out in a crowd. Highly recommended!

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Neil English is the author of a large medley of essays(650pages), Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, which showcases the extraordinary lives of amateur and professional astronomers over four centuries of time.

Post Scriptum:

1. The Zeiss Terra has a two year warranty, which is enacted once you register the product on the Zeiss website. Cross-checking is thorough, requiring the serial number, and the name & address of the place of purchase. After checking these details, you receive a confirmatory email from the Zeiss Sports Optics team, welcoming you to the world of Zeiss.

2. The little foldable Zeiss Terra is very suitable for those adults with unusually small inter pupillary distances (closely spaced eyes) and children.

3. The overall light transmission of the Zeiss Terra ED is 88 per cent. Source here. This is exactly the same as the Swarovski CL Pocket(non-ED just in case Pepperidge farm forgets, ken ) binocular. Source here. Zeiss Victory Pocket binocular light transmission is 91%. Source here.

4. The family of magpies came back to the Rowan tree in my garden, as they always do, just before sunset. Here is a picture of four ( I think!) individuals settled in the tree branches at 20.09pm local time on the evening of October 6 2019.

Wee magpies hunkering down for the night in my Rowan tree.

5. After a week of abysmal weather, with endless cloud and rain, I finally managed to test the little Zeiss Terra pocket binocular on a very bright gibbous Moon at 10:25 pm local time on the evening of October 10 2019, when it was within an hour of meridian passage. At the centre of the field, it delivered a beautiful, clean and razor sharp image with no false colour. The background sky was good and dark with little in the way of diffused light. Internal reflections were pretty much non-existent with the Moon in the centre of the field. Only when it was placed just outside the field did I detect some minor flaring. Moving the Moon to the edge of the field threw up some slight lateral colour, bluish at its southern edge, and green-yellow at its northern edge. These results were entirely consistent with my flashlight testing. This will be a useful Moon-gazing glass!

6. May 11 2020: This afternoon I received a phone call from the Zeiss team clarifying that the Terra pocket binoculars have indeed moved production to China, but they also reassured me that the quality of the product is identical to the original Japanese-made instrument, as is the packaging, accessories and two-year warranty. Not all employees were aware of this until recently and this was the root source of the recent confusion.

7. October 25 2020: Optics Trade has done a new video review of the Zeiss Terra ED  8 x 25 pocket glass. The reader will note that the model featured in the video is also manufactured in Japan. Link here.

 

 

Bible Review: The KJVER.

The only way to keep sane in a world gone mad.

Make no mistake about it, we live in very dark and perilous times. The secular world, of course, can offer no coherent answers to our problems. Believing humans to be nothing more than evolved animals, their inept ‘woke’ officials are just too preoccupied corralling hard working people into pseudoscientific, oppressive lockdowns, decimating livelihoods and whole economies. The corrupt mainstream media peddle fear and promote the ideologies of creepy elites who finance their aberrant narratives. Liquor and cannabis stores, casinos and abortion clinics across the United States, once the greatest Christian country on Earth, remained open for business, of course, but churches and synagogues were either shut completely or restricted to just a few tens of people. You can shout from the top of your voice in a riot, but are prohibited to sing in church. Brainwashed by clueless ‘masktards’ into wearing useless face diapers which offer no credible protection against a virus that only poses a danger to a very small minority of individuals who are old or have some underlying health issue, swathes of once sensible, intelligent citizens of our nations have turned into intimidated imbeciles or snitching Nazis in all but name – take your pick.

Meanwhile, the ongoing push to enforce the politics and ideologies of the far left on our societies continues apace. Organisations like Black Lives Matter, run by trained Marxists and sexual deviants are feverishly dismantling Judeo-Christian values and the sacredness of the nuclear family. They care nothing for black lives, of course, or any other lives for that matter. Their goal is the complete dismantling of western society, profaning everything decent and civilised in their wake. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church too, has turned his back on historic Christianity, quoting mostly himself, to embrace the new Eco-Marxism, placing the pagan gods of the nations on an equal footing with the true God, which is idolatry. Francis is a pantheist and one of the leading architects of the Great Reset! I sometimes wonder if Pope Francis has ever read the words of Genesis, where God promised mankind that the world will go on until the day He decides to end it?

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

Genesis 8:28

No, clearly not! He ‘d rather hug a tree than feed his flock!

Brown-nosing with elite socialists and fear mongering environmentalists, who worship the creation rather than the Creator, and using the new religion of ‘climate change’ to impose their radical, unscientific, Draconian, and unworkable polices, is it any wonder that the faithful are leaving the Roman See in record numbers? Yep, God has left the Vatican and the so-called ‘descendant’ of St. Peter has donned the robes of the Biblical False Prophet.

Our societies are sex obsessed. No longer do people promote themselves primarily in terms of their worldly achievements; it’s their sexuality that counts most! They define themselves in terms of their homosexuality, bisexuality or pansexuality(does that mean they’d get up on just about anything?). Or how about transsexuality? Normal, heterosexual people, in contrast, have no platform any more. We are the silent (or silenced) vast majority. And you daren’t say the obvious: that every child gets the best start in a stable, loving family, with a mother and a father at the helm. No, that is now deemed hate speech.  How about polyamory? Yep, it’s already happening in Massachusetts City. And what about paedophilia? No, surely not paedophilia! Well, canvass the boys at Netflix to explain this?

Legal bestiality is sure to come next! Approved of by the good citizens of planet Earth.

And there, in a nutshell, is what St. Paul prophesied in Chapter 1 of the Book of Romans.

We’ve well and truly arrived!

Woke social media networks have become nothing more than cesspits of immorality, patrolled by hate-filled cowards hiding behind keyboards. Free speech and common sense are being silenced and those that dare speak out are ‘cancelled’ or fired from their jobs. In short, the Bible expresses this new spirit of lawlessness that is now alive and well in our societies most succinctly:

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof

2 Timothy 3:1-5

Of course, I’ve not mentioned the proliferation of false teachers that have infiltrated the Church, the push for cashless societies, the ‘strong delusion’ God has clearly placed on the unbelieving world, a marked increase in persecutions of the saints, wars and rumours of war, pestilences, famines, earthquakes, wild fires and a string of other natural disasters. All these signs are before our eyes, just like Jesus said they would( see Luke 21, Mark 13, Matthew 24 & Revelation 13).

Without a shadow of a doubt;  the Biblical End Times are upon us.

For sure, we cannot know with certainty what time it is on God’s cosmic count-down clock; it could be months, years or even a decade or two, but all Bible believing Christians can clearly see that day is rapidly approaching and indeed, Christ Himself implored us to keep watch and to occupy the time until He comes in flaming vengeance against all the sons and daughters of disobedience.

With world events worsening by the week, it pays to stick closely to the time-honoured truths of the Bible. Reading Scripture is like watching the news headlines as prophecy after prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes. There are many versions of the Bible available in the English language but the King James Version is still loved and adored by millions of Christians around the world. The reasons pertain to its majestic prose, unchanged wording, as well as its literal accuracy. And while there are a few modernised versions that stick quite closely to the King James Version(KJV), some readers feel that none of them capture Biblical doctrine quite the same way.

That said, many Christians are turned off by the KJV because it uses archaic words that are no longer spoken in everyday English. And while many of these words can be negotiated, it can make for a difficult read in many places. But what if you had a Bible that uses the original KJV text but only updates those archaic words that make for a smoother read? Enter the King James Version Easy Read or KJVER.

First published by Whitaker House back in 2001, the KJVER has a number of neat features not seen in other English translations. For one thing, both the Old and New Testaments have red lettering! To see what I mean, take a look at this section of Leviticus shown below:

Words spoken by God in the Old Testament of the KJVER are printed in red.

The KJVER updates the text but it does so with a very light touch. This is achieved by replacing words like ‘thee’,  ‘thou,’  and ‘ye’ with ‘you.’  But unlike all other versions where ‘you’ can be  singular or a plural, the KJVER places a small superscripted ‘p’  where the ‘you’ refers to the plural case.  And rather than totally removing all of the archaic words, a great many are maintained but a modern equivalent is listed at the end of the sentence to help the reader more fully understand the text. This greatly helps both in public and private, devotional reading. An illustration will help:

The text of the KJVER only lightly updates the original KJV and offers modern equivalents to old words that are no longer used in everyday parlance.

The reader will also note that the KJVER gives the Hebrew words for God whenever He is mentioned in the Old Testament. In this capacity, it actually enhances the original KJV. Italicised words are also preserved in the KJVER and represent the words that were added by the original committee who compiled the Authorised version. In all about 800 of the most redundant, archaic words are replaced by their modern equivalents. For example instead of saying ” cleave to” in the KJV, the KJVER replaces with “cling to.” As a result, the reader will hardly notice these changes as they read through the text.

As a result of these very modest changes, the KJVER is much closer to the KJV than the NKJV or MEV(both of which are also based on the Textus Receptus). Does it work? I would have to say yes, although I would have personally kept the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ in because they are not a hindrance to understanding Scripture and many readers will quickly come to terms with them. Who is the KJVER for? Those that love the language and cadence of the KJV but have difficulty understanding archaic language. It will make an excellent study text for folks who want to eventually use the KJV as their main Bible.

In summary then, the KJVER should be in the library of anyone who likes Bibles which are based on the Majority(Byzantine) Text. One reading through of this Bible will allow you to more fully engage with the KJV and enjoy it without prompts or footnotes.

In the end though, I urge the faithful, who are not appointed to the wrath to come, to keep holding the Bible as their gold standard, especially in these days when our societies are plunging ever more into depravity and insanity, as we enter the tribulation period. Like the Bible reminds us:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

2 Timothy 3:16 KJVER

Thanks for reading!

 

De Fideli.

 

The Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25 Redux.

The Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25 pocket binocular and its accessories.

A work commenced October 2 2020

Anyone who has been following my blogs will be aware that I’ve used and discussed many pocket binoculars from every price class. I find them to be charming and useful in equal measure. But after two years of speculation and accumulation, I’ve returned to one model that will remain in my stable; enter the Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25.

In all, I’ve had experience with no less than three of these units; the older model, used by my wife, which is neither waterproof or fog proof, and two of the updated models which are weather proof. I gave one unit away to my next door neighbour as a gift when I finally acquired the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20. But in a series of recent optical shootouts between my wife’s Opticron and the little Trinovid, I discovered that while the Leica had the edge in terms of optical performance over the latter, it displayed significantly less veiling glare than the Leica! That came as quite a shock to me and the experience weighed heavy on my mind.

Then I acquired a large Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32, which threw up another issue; this superlative(but expensive) binocular has the best optics I had personally experienced and also displayed exceptional control of veiling glare. Furthermore, because of its small size and light weight, I could use it for all kinds of activities; for casual viewing during my long walks, for birding and even for sweeping the night skies. These circumstances meant that I was no longer using the little 8 x 20 like I had used it in the past and, as I absolutely hate hoarding instruments, I decided to part with it and settle for the much more economical Opticron; the third one.

As I described in a previous blog, the Opticron Aspheric is a really well made pocket binocular, with solid mechanics and very good optics. Furthermore, its larger exit pupil compared with the  8 x 20 makes it much easier to line up with my eyes and its long eye relief(16mm as opposed to just 14mm for the Leica 8 x 20) makes for very comfortable viewing. The field of view of the Opticron is small though – just 5.2 angular degrees( 91m@1000m) but its aspherical ocular lenses ensure great edge-to-edge sharpness that is far more aesthetically pleasing than having a larger field where the sharpness drops off rapidly as one goes off axis. The Opticron produces beautiful vignettes of the creation, just like the smaller than average field of view offered up by my Leica Trinovid HD 8x 32 (at 7 angular degrees). You see, I have personally come to value pristine edge-to-edge performance over chasing ever larger fields of view.

I acquired the Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8x 25 from the Birder’s Store for the princely sum of £95 – reduced from its usual price of ~ £120 – which I think represents exceptional value for money. I wondered why such a nice instrument was going for such a low price. Sadly, I learned that the models had been discontinued as of July 2020. So if you’re looking for a real bargain in pocket binoculars, now would be a good time to acquire one before they’re all gone!

I intend to use the Opticron pocket glass for birdwatching from my kitchen window, sporting events, the occasional trip to the theatre(if they ever open again) and, you know, ‘domestic tomfoolery.’ For all serious excursions though, the larger 8 x 32 will remain my most used, general purpose binocular.

Two classically styled, general purpose binoculars.

 

Thanks for reading!

De Fideli.

Product Review: Viking Optical Ventura 10 x 25 Compact Binocular.

 

The Viking Optical Ventura 10 x 25 Compact Binocular.

A work begun September 25 2020

 

Product: Viking Optical Ventura 10 x 25

Weight: 305g

Chassis: Polycarbonate

Coatings: Fully multi-coated, dielectric and phase coated prisms

Field of view: 6.5 angular degrees(114m @1000m)

Eye Relief: 13mm

Eye cups: Twist up

Close focus: 4m

Tripod compatible: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes; 1 metre for 5 mins.

Warranty: 10 years

Dimensions: 11 x 11.5 cm

Supplied Accessories: Carry case, neck strap, lens caps

Retail Price: £120-145 UK

 

Viking Optical is a UK-based company that has recently brought a good range of their own branded binoculars to market. In past blogs, I have favourably reviewed two of their models, the Viking Kestrel ED 8 x 42 and Merlin ED 8 x 32, which offer excellent value for money, with their very good optics and mechanics. Having developed rather a soft-spot for pocket binoculars in general, I was curious to find out how their smaller glasses would fare, and so I ordered up Viking’s Ventura 10 x 25 for evaluation. What follows is arguably the first review of this model I have seen on the internet.

The Ventura pocket binocular arrived in perfect nick, double-boxed and containing all the promised accessories, which included the 10 x 25 binocular, a soft neoprene pouch, ocular and objective lens caps and a high quality neck strap. First impressions were very good. The instrument felt nice and solid in my hands, with a tough, texturized rubber armouring which is beautifully finished. The metal focuser moved smoothly, both clockwise and anti-clockwise, with no discernible backlash. The twist-up eye cups are of high quality and slide upwards rather than clicking into place. Both cups are overlaid with soft rubber making viewing through them quite comfortable. The right eye dioptre, located just under the ocular lens proved to be very rigid –  a bit too rigid for my liking to be completely honest  – and my first impressions of the optical performance showed that it delivered nice, sharp, bright images, with a large field of view.

The Viking Optical Ventura 10x 25 showing the fully multi-coated ocular lenses.

Tests for light leaks, internal reflections etc

Setting my iphone torch at its brightest setting, I directed the little Ventura binocular into the intensely bright light beam and examined the images generated. I was relieved to get a very good result – there was a few, minor internal reflections and a modest diffraction spike, but overall the image was very clean and free from diffusion, indicative of the use of high-quality glass components. Overall, it was a notch down from my superlative Leica Trinovid  8 x 32 in this regard, but I was very happy with the result, especially given its moderate price tag. Testing on a bright sodium street light after dark showed very little in the way of internal reflections. This will be a good binocular for observing lit-up scenes in towns, cities or habours, as well as for Moon gazing.

The objective lenses have good anti-reflection coatings but are not very deeply recessed.

Impressions in the bright daylight conditions

I was quite surprised by the size of the field of view on this instrument, especially given its 10x magnification. 6.5 degrees is very wide and indeed, it is larger than the 6.3 degree field offered up by the 8x model. My previous experiences with binoculars delivering impressively wide fields taught me to be cautious about expecting excellent edge-to-edge field performance from a mid-priced model like this. And my tests confirmed by suspicions. Though the binocular has quite a large sweet spot, the image softens noticeably as one moves beyond about 60 per cent of the way from the centre. Indeed the outer 15 per cent or so was very blurred indeed. And while I could correct for much of this edge of field blurring by refocusing, it left the centre of the field out of focus. Testing under the stars showed that it displays quite strong coma, and a touch of barrel distortion near the field stop, with bright stars like Vega transforming from tiny pinpoints in the centre of the field into prominent ‘seagulls’ at the edge. Depth of field too is noticeably shallower than in a high quality 8 x 25 binocular I used as a control in side by side tests. The image is very sharp and bright provided one stays within the sweet spot, so potential buyers should bear this in mind. The binocular displays excellent control of chromatic aberration even though it does not have extra low dispersion glass elements.

The underside of the binocular.

The most annoying result I found with this binocular was its very strong veiling glare. Observing in the open air, under a bright, overcast sky manifested this very strongly indeed. It also shows up when one observes the tops of trees or a hill under a bright background sky. This can be somewhat ameliorated by shading with an outstretched hand but I still couldn’t eliminate all of it. The images were much better if I observed under the shade of a tree or under a roof where the bright overhead sky is blocked off. The effect is also not seen while observing under the shade of forest trees.

Strong veiling glare like this results from the objectives not been deeply recessed enough from the end of the barrel but also from ineffective buffering of reflected light off  the lens edges or the space between the lenses. Compared to an Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25, which has objectives that are about as deeply recessed as the Viking Ventura, the latter proved to have much stronger veiling glare. This is a problem Viking should look to improve in the future.

The ergonomics of the Ventura binocular are excellent as pocket glasses go. Its long barrels and short central bridge allows one to wrap one’s fingers around the instrument to achieve a very steady viewing posture. Remarkably, the focus wheel requires nearly three full revolutions to go from one focus extreme to the other! It’s quoted close focus of 4 metres is a gross over estimate though, at least on the unit I tested. I measured the 10 x 25 Ventura’s close focus to be more like 2.5 metres.

As stated earlier, the binocular comes with an exceptionally high quality neck strap which is well padded, and, owing to its quick-release clips, can be easily removed. Ditto the soft neoprene case that fits the instrument snugly, even with the strap attached.

The exceptional quality neck strap that accompanies the Viking Ventura 10 x 25.

Conclusions

I have mixed feelings about this binocular. While its mechanical and ergonomic virtues are clearly in evidence, I felt it under-achieved optically. This is especially the case since I have tested similarly priced instruments with better optical performance than the Ventura pocket glass. The designers could have sacrificed some field size for better field correction and this would not have been missed on a binocular this small. 6.5 degrees is relatively enormous for a 10 x 25 glass anyway. The instrument could also benefit from supressing veiling glare more strongly. Personally, I could live with the inferior edge of field performance if the veiling glare issue were better addressed, since its centre of field performance is quite excellent. Together though, these defects represent a deal breaker for me. I do hope that the 8 x 25  Ventura shows less issues than the 10x!

The Viking Optical Ventura 10 x 25 comes with a snugly fitting soft neoprene pouch for easy storage and transport.

 

Neil English hopes to review many more binoculars in the future in order to build a decent portfolio for a forthcoming book. Thanks for reading.

 

 

De Fideli.

Battle o’ the Specula: the Martian Opposition of 2020!

Octavius(laevo) et Duodecim.

A work begun September 18 2020.

As I have explained in previous blogs, I am a Newtonian convert, after spending more than a decade promoting small aperture and way over priced refractors. It was in January 2015 that I finally set out on a journey of transformation that gradually convinced me that for serious amateur astronomy, where high resolution targets were concerned, Newtonian reflectors offered much greater bang for buck. Indeed, a humble SkyWatcher 8″ f/6 Dobsonian costing less than £300 completely out-performed state of the art refractors costing £1500 and upwards I had used in the 5 and 6-inch aperture range. After I had convinced myself of the truth of this revelation, I began to communicate my ideas in a series of observation reports, much to the chagrin of the “refractor nuts” who I believed(and still believe) had deluded themselves for years and decades. Furthermore, I stated that one of the principal reasons for the popularity of refractors in the amateur community pertained to their lack of maintenance, as well as their rapid acclimation owing to their small apertures. Furthermore, I attributed the decline of the Newtonian reflector, at least in part, to an unwillingness of amateurs to learn how to properly collimate and acclimate their telescopes. Blinded by the instant gratification of small, unobstructed apertures, they foolishly forsake the feral but oh so sweet charms of a well-tuned Newtonian. Had they learned how to adequately set up their Newts, they would not have joined the rat race, as I once did, to buy ever larger and unwieldy instruments that unnecessarily drain amateurs of resources. To my mind, as an observer who chooses horses for courses, refractors are beginner telescopes that really lack the aperture needed to see the creation in all its detail…. warts an’ all.

Over a period of time, I embarked on a number of projects that first improved the performance of the 8-inch(Octavius) and my smaller ‘grab ‘n’ go’ instrument; a 5.1 inch(a.k.a. Plotina) f/5 reflector, which included buying in higher quality optical flats and treating the mirrors to the highest quality coatings money could buy(but still very economical in the scheme of things) as well as learning the art of precise collimation and acclimation. I also studied the problem of tube currents and how insulating the tubes greatly reduced these problems. These telescopes gave me a great deal of pleasure in pursuing the entire panoply of astronomical targets, and in my specialist area of double star observing, their fine, sharp and colour-pure images were nothing short of revelatory! And once I began exploring the long and rich history of the Newtonian reflector in the hands of highly skilled observers, I discovered that my sentiments toward these wonderful telescopes were shared by many of them. You can explore a lot of these stories in my large historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy. Failing that, take a long, hard look at the hundreds (thousands?) of testimonies about Newtonian reflectors in this ongoing blog.

In the summer of 2017, I added an even larger Newtonian telescope to my arsenal, a Revelation-branded 12″ f/5 Newtonian reflector (Duodecim). The instrument was outfitted with a GSO primary and secondary mirror. My star testing of the instrument showed that the optics were very good indeed, especially when one considers the very modest price I paid for it second hand( ~£400 as I recall) and I enjoyed many evenings of double star and deep sky observing with it. I did not elect to upgrade the 70mm secondary of this telescope unlike my smaller instruments, but only to treat both mirrors to the same state-of-the art coatings I had also applied to my other reflectors.

Despite owning this large 12 inch instrument for over three years now, I have never subjected it to serious testing on planets. This was not due to any lack of enthusiasm on my part, but simply reflected the fact that visually interesting worlds like Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were not favourably placed at my observing location to warrant any serious study of them. They were simply too low in my local skies and obstructed by trees to give the telescope a fair chance of showing off its powers. But all that changed in the autumn of 2020, when the planet Mars presented itself as a bright, morning object, rising to very decent altitudes in my sky to finally enable me to assess its performance in this regard.

So, in this blog, I wish to offer my opinions on how well it performs on the Red Planet in comparison to my smaller, but optically excellent, 8-inch reflector. The results were a long time in coming, that’s for sure, but I now have reached a very clear and unambiguous conclusion. To find out the details, read on.

Octavius (left) and Duodecim(right) looking southeast-ward at Mars.

Beginning my observations at the end of the first week in September, by God’s grace I was treated to a long spell of settled weather, which still persists to this day (September 18). I usually began my observations starting at around 23:45 UT and ended them about an hour later at 00:45 UT(add an hour for BST) by which time the planet had attained a very decent height above my south-eastern horizon but still someway from its highest altitude when it culminates in the south.

Both instruments are mounted on simple, non-motorised, lazy-Suzan Dob mounts and were fully acclimated and precisely collimated prior to making any planetary observation. The reader will also note that I do not employ any active cooling(electric fans) on either instrument, in keeping with my desire to preserve my style of observing, which is ostensibly low-tech, and in keeping with the methods employed by my astronomical forebears.

Optimal Magnifications Employed

I employed a good but very simple Orion 10mm Sirius Plossl eyepiece coupled to Barlow lenses on both instruments. The Plossl is a superb planetary ocular, owing to its technological refinement over more than a century, its small number of glass elements, and though eye relief is tight, it is considerably improved by adding a Barlow lens, which makes the viewing more comfortable and immersive!. In my testing, conducted over several nights, I gravitated toward an optimal power of 192x for the 8″ f/6 instrument and 244x on the 12″ f/5 instrument. These powers were obtained by coupling the 10mm Plossl to a 1.6x Barlow in both instruments. The reader will note however that by employing a 2x Barlow with the same eyepiece, I was also able to get very satisfactory results with the higher powers it delivered(240x and 310x for the 8- and 12-inch, respectively). A common mistake made by novice observers is to try to coax very high powers on planets to obtain a greater disk enlargement but I have found by experimentation that finer details are often gleaned by backing down the power a bit so that image sharpness is optimised over apparent disk size.

As well as observing the planets as presented by the Plossl and Barlow combination, I also studied the contrast enhancing effects of several colour filters, which included simple, inexpensive Wrattens, but also a number of interference-based filters marketed by Baader Planetarium and Tele Vue. In the next section, I will outline the results I obtained.

Results: The telescopes were set up next to each other and experienced nights of good seeing (Antoniadi II or less) as well as average seeing( Ant III) during  the wee hours of the morning. The image in the 8-inch was very bright, but the 12-inch presented intensely bright images with its attendant  diffraction spikes. That said, after a few minutes, one’s eye adjusts and more details pop out of the image. Both telescopes showed impressive levels of detail; a small south polar ice cap, a more extensive northern ice cap, very distinctly resolved darker areas and limb mist. At a glance, the 12-inch reflector showed more detail regardless of whether the conditions were above average or just average. A feature merely hinted at in the 8-inch was unambiguously discerned in the larger, 12-inch instrument. The 8 inch reflector showed less atmospheric turbulence than the 12-inch but the increase in turbulence was less than I had anticipated. I concluded that the 12-inch could be used productively as a powerful planetary telescope, which came as a great relief to me.

A variety of filters were employed to assess their contrast enhancing effects. An orange Wratten #21 proved especially good for bringing out surface details and proved equally good on both instruments. A Baader green long pass filter also proved very effective, especially in the 12-inch, showing up surface details complementary to green. The Tele Vue Bandmate Planetary filter was also excellent in both telescopes. For enhancing atmospheric phenomena, a blue Wratten # 38 A really enhanced morning limb mist. For a minimalist effect though, I tried the Baader single polarising filter, which did an excellent job increasing contrast and reducing telescopic glare without imparting any colour shift. I intend to use the single polariser in routine work on this planet as it approaches its mid-October opposition and beyond.

To get an idea of the kind of detail I could discern through the 12-inch, have a look at some sketches shown here and here, made by experienced UK-based observers employing 12-inch reflecting telescopes during the current Martian apparition.

Conclusions: Some UK-based observers in the modern era have claimed that a 12-inch is too large to use productively as a planetary instrument but I must respectfully disagree with that conclusion. Under the conditions in which I routinely observe the 12-inch proved the superior instrument. So aperture wins, though the 8-inch reflector is much easier to use because it has very smooth motions in both azimuth and altitude axes. My 12-inch Dob base moves far less smoothly but the results convinced me that I should improve its azimuth bearings or acquire a better quality base for the telescope. Such a modification will go some way to increasing both the efficacy and enjoyability of this large instrument. Suffice it to say that I am very much looking forward to observing Jupiter and Saturn at higher altitudes with my 12-inch over the coming years, God willing.

 

 

Neil English is the author of several books in amateur and professional astronomy. He is currently writing a book on how to improve the performance of budget Newtonian reflectors of various sizes, which is due out in 2021. Thanks for reading.

 

 

De Fideli.

Caveat Emptor!

 

August 30 2019

As you may gather, I’ve taken a keen, active interest in testing out binoculars with an aim to providing my readers with good quality products that won’t break the bank. As part of that process, I needed a few entry-level models to compare and contrast them with other products purporting to provide better optical quality. In one transaction, I purchased an Eyeskey labelled 8 x 32 roof prism binocular on August 5 2019 from eBay. It was brand new and set me back £37.79, taking about two weeks to ship directly from China to my home in Scotland.

Here is a photo of what I received:

The Eyeskey Package.

Here is a close-up photo of the Eyeskey binocular; the reader will note the texturing of the armoring and distinctive tripod adaptor cover

The Eyeskey 8 x 32 roof prism binocular.

Here is what it looks like from the ocular end:

Note the plain 8 x 32 & Bak4 Prism labelling on the focus wheel.

And here is a photo of the tethered rubber objective lens covers as well as the thumb indentations on the underside of the binocular:

Note the tethered rubber objective covers and thumb indentations on the Eyeskey.

After inspecting the Eyeskey binocular and its accessories, I recalled another binocular, marketed by a company called Avalonoptics.co.uk, which I had come across in a previous internet search.

Here is Avalon’s 8 x 32 Mini HD binoculars( all images taken from their website):

Avalon 8×32 Mini HD Binoculars BLACK

Here is an image of the entire package:

Here is an image of the writing on the focusing wheel:

Note the thumb indentations on the under side of the barrels on the Avalon:

And here is an image of the tethered objective covers on the Avalon:

 

Next, I took a look at the specifications of both models.

You can view the Avalon specs here

And here are the Eyskey specs( source eBay):

8561-8X32_01

Both claim to be fully multicoated, are nitogen filled and fog proof, but there is no mention of a phase coating on either model.

There is a few differences in the quoted specifications. The advertised field of view is 6.78 degrees for the Eyeskey and 6.9 degrees for the Avalon model; quite close. Eye relief is quoted as 18mm for the Eyeskey and 15mm for the Avalon, but these figures can often be incorrect or at least misleading(as I will explain in another up-and-coming binocular review). The Eyeskey has an advertised weight of 18.3 oz = 519 grams, whereas the Avalon has a quoted weight of 416 grams.

Weight can also be misleading though, as it can vary according to whether you include the lens covers and strap etc.

The boxes look pretty similar with just different logos on them, same goes for the neck strap and generic instruction sheet.

Now for the price comparison:

Eyeskey 8 x 32: £37.79

Avalon 8 x 32 Mini HD: £119(recently discounted 20% from £149)

Finally, have a look at this youtube presentation of the said Avalon Mini HD binocular here.

Is the Eyskey 8 x 32 model worth the £37.79?

I suppose for what you get it’s a bargain.

But what about the Avalon?

I’ll leave that up to you to decide!

Caveat Emptor!

 

Update: September 16 2020

I have been monitoring a website that sells Avalon binoculars and noted a number of irregularities that continue to concern me. If you click on this link, you’ll see a model called the Avalon Titan ED 10 x 42. If you scroll through the marketing blurb and the specifications of the binocular, its main feature is ED glass. But there is no mention of phase coatings, type of multi-coating, or dielectric coatings, the material out of which the chassis is constructed etc which I would expect given the very high price of the binocular; a whopping £1099 UK! You will also note that the packaging looks very similar to the Eyeskey model featured above, with a generic (one page) instruction sheet. To say the least, I would have expected far more technical information about such an expensive binocular, especially when it retails for more than top branded models from Zeiss and Leica, for example.

I dispatched an email to the said company a week ago, where I asked why the Titan model(weighing a whopping 1.3 kilos) was so much more expensive than their other models given the very sparse information provided on the website. I received no response. I sent another email to the company yesterday and it too has fallen on deaf ears!

 

The company has also produced a number of dodgy youtube videos  and have even used a ‘mathematical ecologist’ ( ooooh) to flog their gear.

The same website sells Zeiss Terra ED binoculars at greatly marked up prices. For example, the Terra ED pocket ( 8x 25) glass is on sale for £489 UK in comparison to nearly all other retailers( ~£250).

Needless to say I am deeply suspicious of this company and would continue to caution customers to tread carefully in order to avoid disappointment.

 

 

Neil English debunks many telescopic myths in his new historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

De Fideli.

 

Product Review: Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32.

The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32.

Product: Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32

Country of Origin: Portugal

Weight: 630g

Chassis: Rubber armoured Magnesium

Eye Relief: 17mm

Exit Pupil: 4mm

Dioptre Range: +/- 5 D

Field of View(Published): 124m@1000m (7.07 angular degrees)

ED Glass: Unknown

Eye Cups: Removable, twist-up in 5 locking steps

Light Transmission: 90%(published)

Close Focus: 0.95m(measured)

Waterproof: Yes to 4 metres depth

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Coatings: Fully multi-coated, P40 phase coatings, HDC coatings, hydrophobic & dirt repellent coatings applied to outer lenses.

Tripod Adaptable: No

Dimensions: W/H : 11.7 x 13 cm

Warranty: 10 years

Supplied Accessories: Leica padded strap, rain guard, ocular lens caps, lens cleaning cloth, non-padded neoprene carry bag, instruction manual, warranty &  test certificate.

Price: £700-£750(UK)/$899 USD

Preamble

Review A

Review B

Review C

Review D

Review E

 

A work begun September 1 2020.

 

Leica (formerly Leitz) is a name familiar to all camera and binocular enthusiasts. For over a century, this German based company has brought to market state-of-the-art products for discerning outdoor enthusiasts, combining high quality optics with award-winning mechanics, creating instruments that are not only highly durable but have great aesthetic qualities that make them a delight to hold in the hand and to just look at.

The Trinovid line of binoculars by Leica has long been considered the company’s ‘heritage’ brand. First produced in the late 1950s, the Trinovids were so named because of the three features – or Tri Novitäten in the German tongue – which combine state-of-the-art optics, true internal focusing and excellent ergonomics in one tidy package. If you think the latest incarnation from Swarovski – the NL Pure’s – have a wide field of view of at 159m @ 1000m, it pays to remember that Leica was churning out Trinovids with much larger true fields – up to 170m@1000m by the mid-1960s. If that ain’t prestigious enough, a Leica Trinovid – really a highly specialised 10 x 40 monocular nicknamed the “Eye of Apollo” – accompanied the US astronauts on their epochal sojourn to the lunar surface in the northern summer of 1969.

The Trinovid remained Leica’s flagship binocular until the introduction of their Ultravid line in the mid noughties, but were continued as a lower cost alternative until Leica ceased production of the Trinovids altogether in 2015, much to the chagrin of many Leica fans. So that was the end of a line of binoculars that served the outdoor enthusiast perfectly for well over half a century right?

Thankfully, no!

In 2016, the company announced a new line of Trinovids, revamped with an ‘HD’ moniker. As usual, the new Trinovid HDs – all made in Leica’s factory in Portugal – were first launched in the perennially popular 8x and 10 x 42 incarnations, but a year later Leica added two smaller glasses to the same family – the 8x and 10 x 32. This review will take a close look at the 8 x 32 model. Leica specifically marketed the new Trinovid HD line as “entry-level premium class,” whatever that means.

In order to make this review as objective as possible, I would like to compare and contrast it with the performance of two other 8 x 32 models; the Celestron Trailseeker and the Viking Optical Merlin ED 8x 32, shown below;

Two other good 8x 32 models used to test alongside the Leica Trinovid HD 8x 32; The Celestron Trailseeker(top) and the Viking Merlin ED(bottom).

These models were chosen for a number of reasons; both have fully multi-coated optics, dielectric and phase corrected roof prisms, while the Merlin has two ED elements in its objective for improved colour correction. These models retail at considerably lower prices than the Leica however – the Trailseeker (recently discontinued) at ~£150 and the Merlin at ~ £239. So, testing these units along side the much higher priced Leica would serve as a good reality check in terms of both optics and ergonomics, and will thus provide the reader with a much better overall indicator as to whether or not the Leica Trinovid HD is worth its much heftier price tag.

First Impressions & Ergonomics

The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 was purchased brand-new from an authorised UK Leica dealer – The Birder’s Store – for a good price; £699, which included free expedited special delivery to my door. I was actually struck by the number of stores that advertised the instrument on their websites, only to find, upon further enquiry,  that many did not have it in stock.

Now what do the townies call that again?

Oh yes; vapour ware.

This was not the case with the Birder’s Store however, the staff of which were friendly and professional throughout, and were able to process my order the day before it arrived here.

The instrument came in the standard padded grey Leica box, complete with neoprene carry case, a lens cloth, padded neck strap with the Leica logo, rain guard, tethered objective lens covers, instruction manual, test certificate and warranty card. I was immediately struck by the beautiful, solid build quality of the instrument, with its magnesium chassis and thick, flat black rubber armouring. The red Leica logo made for a nice aesthetic touch embedded at the end of the right barrel of the instrument. Built like a proverbial tank, the large central focus wheel moved with silky smoothness, taking just over two full revolutions from one extreme of its travel to the other. This extra long focus travel is unusual in a binocular of these specifications but is required for the instrument’s amazing close focusing distance of under 1 metre – the closest I have personally encountered by quite a considerable margin, with the exception of the marvellous Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21, with its unrivalled 0.5 metre minimum focus.

I was very much looking forward to examining the eye cups on this Leica, which turned out to be every bit as good as I had hoped! They are beautifully engineered with five positions from fully extended to fully retracted, and all locked into their respective positions with a loud and reassuring ‘click’ sound. Supremely comfortable, they are ‘cushioned’ in a lovely soft rubber that sanctions prolonged glassing in the field  They remain in place with a rigidity(read rock solid) that I had come to expect from this company owing to my previous pleasant experiences with its smaller sibling – the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20  pocket glass. Sporting a very generous eye relief of 17mm, this is one binocular that eye glass wearers will never struggle to see the full field with! That’s good news going forward, as I don’t know if I will eventually(maybe a few decades hence when I’m in my 70’s lol) have to observe with my eye glasses on all the time.  The eye cups are also removable should I wish to give them a thorough clean.

The eye cups on the Trinovid HD are made to a standard I would expect from a world class company like Leica.

I normally wouldn’t even comment about the rain guards and tethered objective covers  – like who really cares lol? – but in this case I have to say that they were of unusually high quality- a first for a premium manufacturer like this. The rain guard is very snugly fitting – indeed it takes a bit of effort to prize it off if you’re in a hurry. But I find that it affords that little bit more protection to the eye pieces during rough handling, especially if dust, dirt and sand etc are prevalent. This is the case irrespective of whether or not the eye cups are extended or fully retracted.

Same goes for the objective lens covers too. Unlike most others which are far too loose, these stay on snugly helping to protect the instrument.

It’s just a pity I’ll never use them!

Unlike the older Trinovids and the current Ultravid models, the new Trinovid HDs have their dioptre setting placed under the right ocular lens, as is common with the vast majority of binoculars you’re likely to come across. It has a prominent red line which one can use to mark the optimal setting for your right eye but is not lockable unlike that found on the Ultravid models. Many of the reviewers cited above view this as a retrograde step, but personally, I have always felt that having a lockable dioptre is a bit of a gimmick; more an over-engineered ‘gee whizz’ solution than anything else and not really worth the extra cost incurred in acquiring a model with one installed. Other folk may have different opinions on this and that’s OK. But there are other practical reasons why I prefer to have a dioptre setting that can be adjusted on the fly. Knowing my own physiology, I have come to learn that my eye sight can change ever so slightly if I glass in the early morning after resting for many hours, or after staring at a computer screen for a long period of time. I also notice small changes if I’m tired. And all of these states often have me reaching for the dioptre ring to micro-adjust the focus in my right eye during critical glassing moments when I require the very finest images the binocular is likely to  provide. The adjustments, though very slight, are nonetheless real, and so having a well-made but conventional dioptre ring that I don’t have to adjust by pulling on the focus wheel and fiddling with a dial is actually a distinct advantage in my books.

The Leica Trinovid HD has a simple, right eye dioptre that does exactly what it says on the tin.

All of this may seem a bit new to many readers, but I can assure you I am not alone in noticing this in prolonged field use.

My first look through the Trinovid greatly impressed me; I was immediately taken by its bright, sharp and colourful images of the creation. Indeed, that first look convinced me that I had a first-rate optic in my hands, as I will elaborate on shortly. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the results my tests revealed about this binocular in comparison to the other models cited above.

Tests for Light Leaks and Glare

Setting up my iphone torch at its brightest setting, I dimmed the lights in my living room and aimed the binocular into the intensely bright light beam just a few metres away, studying the image for internal reflections, diffraction spikes, diffused light etc.The Trinovid produced an excellent result, as I had anticipated. No binocular on God’s earth can pass this test with 100 per cent success, but any reflections it possessed were very very minor and strongly subdued. It was fully the equal of my smaller Trinovid in this regard,  and also the Viking Merlin ED, but a notch up from the Celestron Trailseeker. If the latter scored an 8.5 out of 10, both the Leica Trinovid HD and the Merlin were awarded a score of 10 out of 10. They both displayed a very weak diffraction spike which I did not find bothersome. This is in sharp contradistinction to that reported on the larger 10 x 42 model reviewed by the gentleman in Review C showcased above.

When pointed at a a bright sodium street lamp at night showed excellent results for all three binoculars. No annoying internal reflections and no sign of a diffraction spike – a result I had anticipated owing to the lamp’s less intense brightness. The Leica Trinovid HD will make an excellent binocular to study night time scenes such as city scapes from a lofty vantage, a bright full Moon, or a distant harbour lit up at night.

The Leica Trinovid HD 8x 32 shows little or no light leaks around the ocular lenses (left hand ocular).

And a right ocular.

All binoculars, no matter how well made, suffer from some degree of veiling glare while glassing under an open sky in broad daylight. I am happy to report that the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 exhibited the lowest amount of this phenomenon I have personally experienced. It was simply far less of a problem than that witnessed in either the Celestron Trailseeker and Viking Merlin glass when viewing under the same bright, overcast sky, and phenomenally better than the little Leica 8 x 20(which shows very strong veiling glare owing in part to its exposed objective lenses). This was the case even though the objectives on the Trinovid HD were not as deeply recessed as on the Merlin binocular( a full 10mm), so must have been attributed to much closer attention to proper baffling of the overhead light. And while much of this veiling glare can be all but removed by shading the glass from above with an out-stretched hand, it is nice to be able to glass without having to resort to such antics except in the most demanding conditions. Kudos to Leica for addressing this niggling and pervasive problem!

Glassing Tests in a Summer Garden

Glassing some late flowering Cosmos flowers in my back garden in bright sunlight was enough to show off the quality of the images in this new Leica glass. The glass is supremely sharp across the vast majority of the field, with only a little peripheral softness near the field stop. Like all the roof prism binoculars I have had the pleasure of using, lateral(horizontal) field correction is noticeably better than when the same image is examined by moving a target from the bottom to the top of the field (vertical panning). This has hardly been mentioned in the online literature so far as I know.

The Leica image has a sparkle to it that was simply missing in the Trailseeker and Merlin, with noticeably better contrast than either of the test binoculars. Reds and yellows are especially enhanced to my eyes. It was almost as if someone had peeled away a thin veil allowing my eyes to see those last fine details that had remained more elusive in the both the Merlin and the Trailseeker. I could also see that the noticeably wider fields on the latter glasses(136m@1000m) were significantly softer in the outer 30 per cent of the field, indicating that the Leica had a much larger sweet spot. Glassing the top of a telephone pole against a bright overcast sky revealed some colour fringing(chromatic aberration(CA)) in the Leica Trinovid HD. Indeed, in the same tests, it was not present in the Merlin ED and actually less prevalent in the Celestron Trailseeker too! This is in agreement with all of the lengthy reviews cited at the beginning of this blog, but you will still note their comments as stating that the “images are excellent(or very good) despite having noticeable CA. This last point deserves further comment.

So what’s going here? According to Leica USA’s Jeff Bouton, the new Trinovid HDs do indeed employ some kind of ED glass but they are not as well corrected in this capacity in comparison to their more expensive Ultravid line. That said, the image in the 8 x 32 Trinovid HD has a quality about it that places it just ahead of the Merlin glass  within its sweet spot, which exhibits better control of CA. I attribute a large part of this to the Leica’s exceptional control of glare which in turn delivers higher contrast images to the more ‘apochromatic’ Merlin. It just goes to show, once again, that a binocular need not exhibit overly aggressive control of secondary spectrum to deliver a gob-smackingly good image. To my mind, the Leica Trinovid HDs offer a very convincing ‘proof of concept’ in this regard. And besides, I rather like to see a little in some images as I have been fond of telling my readers over the years! Having said all of this, I have noticed that the degree of fringing in difficult observing settings is sensitive to eye placement. Paying a little more attention to squaring your eyes in the 4mm exit pupil of these small binoculars will all but eliminate it.

Stop Press: The Leica Trinovid HD is a decidedly achromatic binocular!

Low Light Tests

The Leica Trinovid HD boasts an excellent transmittivity of 90 per cent, placing it just a few percentage points behind the very best binoculars currently available. But how would it fare against the much more economically priced Trailseeker and Merlin binoculars in low light conditions, such as those experienced at dawn or dusk?  Remembering that all three glasses sport fully multi-coated optics, phase corrected prisms with high reflectivity dielectric coatings, I performed some tests on tree branches some 50 yards distant after the Sun had set in early August skies. The results were not surprising to me, given what I had already learned from a number of other tests carried out earlier in the year; there was very little difference in perceived image brightness between all the instruments, though I did give the nod to both the Merlin and the Leica HD over the Trailseeker, but only just. What this tells me is that light transmission is very efficient in these mid-tier binoculars. I would be confident enough to bet that they transmit 85%+ of the light they collect and that’s very good news for the budget conscious consumer. How times have changed from only a short few years ago! What is more, the claim that ED glass results in brighter images was not really in evidence in these tests either, contradicting the claim by the gentleman who conducted Review A above.

Further Impressions in Field Use

The Trinovid HD 8 x 32 has an excellent depth of field. Anything beyond about 50 yards remains in good focus, only requiring a slight tweak of the focus wheel to obtain ultimate sharpness. But it is its remarkable close focus – just 0.95m as I measured it – that really distinguishes it from its competitors including the company’s more expensive Ultravid and Noctivid lines. Viewing objects at close focus – rocks, flowers, insects – has brought many joyful experiences, although I have to switch to ‘monocular mode’ to get the most comfortable views at these short distances.

I measured the field of view under the stars, where I was able to hold Alkaid and Mizar & Alcor in the Plough asterism  in the same field of view with a little bit of room to spare. Since these stars are ~6.7 angular degrees apart, I felt the quoted 7.1 degree field was quite accurate.

I realise that many binocular enthusiasts will be a little alarmed by the smaller field of view offered up by the Trinovid HD. Most 8 x 32 models have fields approaching 8 angular degrees or even a little higher, but this was a very deliberate choice in my case. I mean, if I wanted a wider field of view, I could have acquired the Zeiss Conquest or the Swarovski CL companion for about the same price I paid for the Leica glass. But I have discovered that I’m more interested in vignettes where I don’t have to resort to rolling my eyes around to take in the entire field rather than broader vistas. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that smaller fields are more conducive to study than overly large ones! I absolutely love the wonderful sharp field stops on the Trinovid and the way it frames each binocular scene I wish to image. I also understand from past experiences with instruments like the Nikon Prostaff 7s 8 x 30, which has an excellent 6.5 degree field, that optical engineers can deliver better edge to edge sharpness by cutting down the field of view. I think the folk at Leica are fully aware of this trick, opting for bigger sweet spots within a smaller field of view, rather than a larger, more conservative field of view but with the loss of critical definition as one moves from the centre to the edge of the field. Truth be told, a seven degree field is more than ample for virtually every scenario I’m likely to find myself in, and in field use I don’t ever get the feeling that the image is ‘restricted’ or ‘tunnelled.’

The Leica Trinovid HD has special coatings applied to the outer lenses which repel dirt, oil and water. Though some Leica-run websites give the impression that this coating is their patented AquaDura, I felt it best to contact the Leica Sports Optics team directly for clarification on this matter, and here is how they replied:

The lenses of all Leica Trinovid binoculars feature an extremely effective, water-resistant and dirt-repellent coating. It is a similar style of hydrophobic coating in that it doesn’t allow water to pool on the lens should you be using them in the rain and it also makes cleaning them easier as fingerprints and dirt along with water can’t cling to the surface. The actual “Aqua Dura” coatings are reserved for our Ultravid HD+ and Noctivid ranges only.

Fortunately, this is easy to test at home. I set up the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32(which does not have such coatings) alongside the Trinovid glass. Both these instruments have the same ocular lens size, so I breathed heavily on them, creating a ‘fog.’ Next I watched both to see which one dispersed that fog more quickly. The easy winner was the Leica. I would estimate that it takes about three times longer to disperse on the uncoated Celestron. This will prove to be very useful in the colder and damper months of the year, where exterior fogging is a common though inadvertent problem.

The Choice of 8 x 32 versus 8 x 42

For less than £100 more, I could have acquired the 8 x 42 Trinovid HD, but I’m a convert to 8 x 32, having enjoyed the larger format glass for quite a while. The main reasons are compactness and reduced weight. I do a lot of glassing; maybe a hour on work days and several hours at the weekends and holidays. The 8 x 42’s I’ve used can be tiresome hanging around your neck after prolonged field use. Indeed, sometimes they felt more like bricks than binoculars. The 8 x 32 format gives up very little to their 42mm equivalents in the vast majority of applications. A high-efficiency 32mm glass  like this works well in strong sunlight and dull overcast days. It also performs adequately under a forest canopy, where there is restricted sunlight. Only at dawn and dusk is a good 42mm binocular a better option, but as I said before, I don’t do a lot of glassing at these times. A 32mm is no slouch for star gazing either, as I shall explain a little later. The smaller frame of the 8 x 32 is also more conducive to stashing away in a rucksack or pocket.

Going from a 5.4mm exit pupil on the 8 x 42 to just 4mm on the 8 x 32 wasn’t an issue for me either, as I discovered using both the Celestron and Merlin binoculars. The Trinovid HD 8 x 32 is supremely easy on my eyes and I don’t have any problems with blackouts or kidney beaning. Furthermore, I happen to think that the smaller exit pupil on the 8 x 32 format produces an image that is that little bit sharper than the larger 8 x 42 owing to the reduced aberrations inherent to design of the human eye. Opinion on this matter will undoubtedly vary and there is no absolute right or wrong answer. You see, it’s all about personal taste!

Why not the Ultravid or Noctivid?

As I alluded to earlier, Leica offer higher priced models with allegedly slightly better optics, light transmission and more refined mechanical features, such as a lockable dioptre that I commented on previously. The Noctivid is not available in a 32mm format, so that eliminated it as an option, but it is offered in the Ultravid HD line. Having said that, many experienced commentators will admit that you’re getting 95 per cent of the performance of the Ultravid HD binocular in the Trinovid optic, and I happen to agree with that assessment having average, though well-trained eyesight.  I doubt that I would be able to tell much of a difference between these glasses, with gains of just a couple of percent in light transmission and slightly better edge of field performance(the Trinovid shows mild pincushion distortion at the very edge of the field), but I certainly would notice the big gaping hole in my wallet. I was struck by the write up made by the gentleman in Review B above, who commented that although he had intended to acquire the Ultravid HD 8 x 32 that day in the Leica store, he couldn’t tell the difference between it and the Trinovid HD, and ended up saving himself a lot of cash! I’m not a sucker for the law of diminishing returns, so for me, the Ultravid HD is overkill and over priced. I don’t need it nor desire it. I got what I paid for and I’m satisfied!

And last, but by no means least, I wanted a top-tier binocular with solid history behind it and only the Trinovid from Leica really has this. Newer, fancier models come and go all the time, of course, but the Trinovid goes back to an era before I was born and there is a satisfaction in owning an instrument that carries on that tradition.

Your mileage may vary.

 

Ad Astra

Though you can fruitfully engage with the night sky with any binocular, large or small, I find a 30mm aperture about the minimum that will yield views that will keep you engaged for long periods of time. And going from 30 to 32 mm results in a noticeable (~14 per cent) increase in light gathering power. With the light from the city of Glasgow some 25 miles to the south having diminished during the lockdowns, the sky is noticeably darker to my eyes and more majestic with it.  The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 was my instrument of choice to re-explore a truly dark sky after the summer twilight had come and gone. In mid-August, with no Moon in the sky, I set up a comfortable recliner in my back garden, and lying on my back, I explored the starry heaven down to perhaps the 9th magnitude of glory. The stars appear as beautiful, tiny pinpoints and their colours true and rich. I’ve even watched falling stars streak across the field during the Perseid meteor shower in the second week of August, and even witnessed a few brilliant fireballs with this wonderful, small glass.

I’m using my binoculars more and more now to escape the drudgery wrought by this scamdemic and the escalating evil, violence and depravity we’re constantly bombarded with on the air waves. You could say that the sky and the great outdoors have become my new telly. To me the stars are like old friends that come and go as the seasons change and I have enjoyed observing all manner of deep sky objects with this little instrument – the comely Pleiads and the Hyades in the wee small hours of the morning, the Coathanger asterism, the Engagement Ring around Polaris, the majestic Double Cluster and brilliant stellar associations such as Melotte 20 in Perseus. Later in the night, Auriga begins to dominate the eastern sky and all three of its Messier open clusters can be framed within the binocular field. Scanning the Milky Way through Cygnus, I usually pause to soak up the especially rich star fields around Sadr and Deneb, before panning onwards into Cassiopeia further east. The heavens surely declare the glory of God!

I have also enjoyed gazing at the Moon growing ever brighter as the days of August proceeded, its size appearing larger owing to its proximity to the horizon. The Leica binocular serves up tack sharp images of the lunar regolith, set against a jet black sky and remaining pleasingly coherent even at the edge of the field. Placing a bright Gibbous Moon just outside the field stop shows that this binocular is superior to the other models in suppressing stray, off-axis light. And when the rain clouds move in from off the Atlantic, racing across the Moon’s silvery countenance, they create painfully beautiful light shows that are rich in colour. In short the Leica is a wonderful companion whether it be day or night. I have even made some makeshift white light solar filters to fit over the instrument’s objective lenses in order to keep an eye on the Sun. Alas, it appears to be entering what astronomers call a grand solar minimum, which does not bode well if historical archives are anything to go by. Is God saying something here too?

Maybees aye, maybees naw.

A Favourite Birding Spot

Culcreuch Pond, looking east toward the Fintry Hills.

In the last twelve months, I have taken up bird watching as another hobby; something I never thought I would find myself doing if I’m being honest. But by and large, the human world has become such a dark place to me that nature is the only refuge I have left. At least she still obeys her Creator lol. I’m very fortunate to live in a place where I can access the wet and the wild, and observe her perfect regularities with all her wonders and beauty. Having a good binocular makes this an especially joyful experience.

Just a half mile from my home is Culcreuch Pond, where I have spent a few minutes on most dry days glassing a pair of Mute Swans and their new family of six cygnets. I have watched them grow from tiny hatchlings to strong and healthy juveniles. The bright, dry spring and warm, wet summer has generated plenty of pond vegetation for them to thrive on. On many days, the adults see me observing them from the banks and begin to swim their way towards me, the cygnets following their parents gracefully in a wonderful flotilla. And they get real close too; often within a few metres of where I’m standing. The youngsters make loud whistle sounds as they approach in search of an easy meal but I have always resisted feeding them. I guess other folk do throw them food, explaining why they cross the pond to see me. To the casual onlooker, they all appear more or less identical, but I have come to know them so well that I can identify unique markers on their body that helps me to distinguish them.

The pond is also a good place to observe all manner of duck, Coots and even the odd Grey Heron lurking in the reedy shallows. Unlike the swans, Herons are far more leary of humans and getting closer than a few tens of metres has proven all but impossible for me. Still, the Leica glass allows me to make up for this distancing and I have observed these magnificent birds as they patiently patrol the shores for approaching fish.

Looking eastward beyond the pond, the hills soar 1,000 feet or so above the valley and I can often observe majestic raptors – mostly Buzzards but also the odd Peregrine Falcon gliding effortlessly on the warm summer thermals. Much of the lower lying parts of the hills are covered by deciduous trees and bracken which change their colours as the seasons progress. Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to glassing their beautiful autumnal shades as September gives way to October.

Summary & Conclusions

Worth saving for.

I commend the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 to the enthusiastic naturalist, birder or casual star gazer. It does exactly what it says on the tin and its robust – indeed slightly overbuilt – construction will appeal to those who value performance over bling. It has a classical look and feel about it that is as good to look through as it is to look at. It is durable, water proof to 4 metres depth, and can be relied upon in all weathers. It yields wonderful, bright and tack sharp images of the creation that will delight anyone who looks through it.  Like any other product from the modern world, the Leica Trinovid does have a couple of things that niggle me. For one thing, the silly looking neoprene case does not befit an optic of this quality in my opinion. Nor do I really like the ‘HD’ moniker associated with its name. What does that signify? It’s certainly not a scientific term! Does that mean there will be an HD plus in the future, just like the evolution(don’t we really mean intelligent design?) of the Ultravid model?

If so, I’m not for chasing the wind. But I guess some folk will never be content.

For sure, the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 is an expensive instrument by almost anyone’s standards, but I feel its cost is justified in this case, especially if you intend to use it as frequently as I plan to, by day and by night.

 

Highly recommended!

 

Neil English is the author of many books in amateur and professional astronomy.  He prides himself in sorting the bling from the bread. You can support his ongoing work by purchasing one of his books or by making a small personal donation. Thanks for reading!

 

De Fideli.

Book Review: “Dominion” by Tom Holland

The Christian influence on Western Civilisation will never be erased.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland

Little Brown 2019

(594 pages, Hardcover $20.79)

 

 

As I sat down to collect my thoughts for the review of the distinguished British historian and author, Tom Holland’s latest book, Dominion- How the Christian Revolution remade the World,  we are in lockdown, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the planet. Deprived of our usual liberties to roam where we will, humanity had risen above the drudgery of government imposed captivity, and shown its better side – if only for a while – helping those who are vulnerable, the sick and the elderly, the poor and the destitute, supporting our health care workers on the front line, raising countless millions of dollars for struggling charities, as well as lifting the spirits of families around the world with songs, stories, games and jests.

The irony of this predicament was not lost on me as I finished the final chapters of Holland’s latest tour de force. The thesis of Dominion is that, despite the west’s departure from Judeo-Christian values upheld for centuries and millennia, and though we largely live in a post-truth society more concerned with feelings than facts, the Christian message still casts a long shadow over the shared values of our contemporary, secular, civilisation. Acts of charity, selflessness, compassion and sacrifice – all of which are deeply anchored in the gospels of the New Testament- were abundantly on display in our societies during this time of crisis.

Drawing on 25 centuries of human civilisation, Holland calls upon a rich depository of ancient, medieval and modern history to drive his point home. Beginning with the Jews, who were the first people to receive instruction from the Creator God of the Bible, Holland contrasts the strict monotheism of Judaism to the polytheism of the surrounding nations. In addition, unlike the idols of silver, gold and fine polished stone used to characterise the gods of other nations, the Biblical God first revealed to the patriarchs was not to be worshipped in like manner. Drawing on the moral laws preserved in the Torah, Holland explores the implications of the Ten Commandments, the sabbath and laws establishing proper sexual relations in this ancient people. These laws and precepts, Holland convincingly argues, though resisted by the Persians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, gradually became written on the hearts of what we might call western civilisation in the aftermath of the fall of the Roman world.

The singular life of Christ – an itinerant preacher and healer born and raised in the Roman-occupied territories of Palestine, and subjected to a horrific execution on a Roman Cross – Holland argues, set in motion the greatest revolution in human cultural history the world has ever seen. Indeed, Holland goes so far as to suggest that the ideas conveyed in the New Testament effectively detonated the cumulative wisdom of the ancient world. We are not the benefactors of Greek and Roman civilisation, as many historians have asserted, but of Christendom.

Accordingly, Holland lays out the evidence for this startling conclusion, exploring how the early Christians followed the example of their Lord and Savior through great acts of charity, caring for the sick, the orphaned, the poor and the weak, not to mention heroic acts of martyrdom that shocked and horrified the pagans who lived alongside them. Surviving waves of persecution under tyrannical Roman Emperors, the blood of its martyrs sowed the seed of evangelism in the hearts and minds of both slave and free for the cause of Christ. And instead of stamping the new religion out, such heroism only served to swell its ranks across all tiers of society, from the mega-rich to the abject poor.

After Constantine the Great  granted his imprimatur to the Christian religion in the 4th century AD, a golden age of Christian literature blossomed in its wake, including many of the writings of the early Church Fathers – Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine of Hippo, in the western tradition, and Basil of Caesarea, Athanasius of Alexandria and John Chrysostom in the eastern tradition. And after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west in the late 5th century AD, Christian ecclesia become synonymous with centres of learning. On the precipice of the known world, Christian monasteries preserved the knowledge passed down from classical antiquity and would eventually become the seedbeds for the establishment of the first university towns such as Padua, Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge and Madrid, to name but a few.

Holland explores the long ascent of what would emerge to be the powerful Roman Catholic Church, which came nearest to making the Christian religion truly catholic, or universal, but does not shy away from the problems within the Roman See which eventually led to its greatest schism; the Reformation and Protestantism. Holland displays a nuanced understanding of how key individuals of the Reformation such as Martin Luther, fanned the flames of antisemitism by equating Jews with vermin and calling for their extirpation for the rejection and murder of the true Messiah. How could Luther, who was in lockstep with the beating heart of so many ordinary people, turn out to be a hater of the original People of the Book? Are not all human beings made in the image of God? Whatever the reasons, antisemitism remained alive and well in the centuries that followed, as Holland explores in discussing the persecution of Jews by the Spanish Church throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, and culminating with the Nazi regime which ordered the extirpation of millions of Jews in the years leading up to and throughout World War II.

But antisemitism was just one aberration that emerged from what Holland couches more generally as muddled theology. The same could be said to have occurred with the problem of slavery and racism in general. Holland recounts stories about folk who could look you straight in the eye and tell you that their Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments – condoned slavery in its various forms. And yet, while it’s easy to take a few Biblical verses out of context to justify almost anything, most references to bondservants in the Old Testament do not have the same meanings we ascribe to slavery in our own society. Evidence of this is clear enough in Exodus 23:9 when the Lord warns the people of Israel not to oppress the ‘alien’ and the ‘foreigner’ in the land, and that to remember that they too were once under bondage. Furthermore, St. Paul boldly proclaimed that there is neither slave nor free, neither Jew nor Greek – all are one in Christ Jesus. It was with such convictions that prominent Christians such as William Wilberforce and others -curiously not mentioned by Holland – who provided the abolitionists with the political power to end slavery, first across the British Empire, and later in the New World,  especially through the monumental efforts of Abraham Lincoln in the aftermath of the American Civil War. The author revisits racism later in the book in his discussion of the late Nelson Mandela and the thorny issue of apartheid in the Republic of South Africa.

Holland also explores the radical effects of science on the Christian faith, particularly the works of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin’s dangerous ideas gave intellectuals who either hated or held the Christian worldview in contempt – Aldous Huxley, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Andrew Carnegie and Adolf Hitler – plenty of ammunition to show that blind, impersonal and implacable forces shaped the origin and development of all life on earth. And man, long held to be a special creation by God – was merely just another evolved animal. One idea united all these men; if nature was red in tooth and claw, where the fittest only survived, surely human societies had a duty to follow suit. Suddenly the centuries old Christian ideals of compassion, sympathy and charity, respecting all individuals as unique creations of the Godhead, were now being portrayed as vice – deluded and ‘pusillanimous’ – and certainly not how an enlightened mankind ought to behave. And yet, all the while, there were (and still are) Christians who came to accept evolution, they do so ignorantly, since the latest scientific advances, which sadly, are not investigated by Holland in this treatise, are now rapidly and firmly demolishing those claims.

The God of the Bible is the God of love. Shouldn’t love always win? Holland looks at some controversial manifestations of ‘love wins,’ including the rise of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle in the modern world and the ordination of women clergy. If life-long monogamous relationships are the Christian ideal, Holland asks, what is so immoral about gay marriage? And if the Bible teaches that men and women are equal but different in the eyes of God, who shows no impartiality, why can’t women deliver sermons from the pulpit? Holland shies away from offering his own opinion on these questions but suffice it to say that a close reading of the Bible condemns all homosexual acts as gross violations of God’s plan for human beings. What’s more, such deviant behaviour has a strong destabilising influence on the nuclear family. And, as to the question of women clergy, St. Paul only offers his opinion (in the negative) rather than stating that it is a decree from Sovereign Lord, and thus is open to fresh debate.

Dominion is a book that deserves to be read by a broad cross-section of society, by people of faith and those of none. And while Holland maintains a decidedly agnostic tone throughout, he is certainly sympathetic to and, I suspect, somewhat in awe of the long shadow the Christian worldview has cast over human civilisation; a shadow that shows little sign of abating in the 21st century.

 

Dr. Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. He also earned a Diploma in Classical Studies from the Open University. His latest historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, demonstrates how the science of astronomy was profoundly influenced by observers fully committed to the Christian faith.

 

De Fideli.

Paradigm Shifts.

The Story of the Solar System: The Primordial Earth - skyatnightmagazine

Originally Published in Salvo Magazine Volume 50

“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.” So writes Professor James Tour, one of the world’s foremost synthetic organic chemists, based at Rice University in Texas. Intimately acquainted with the latest research in prebiotic chemistry, Tour has expressed severe skepticism that a plausible naturalistic mechanism for the origin of life will be found any time soon. But he goes even further:

 

“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.”1

Dr. Tour’s views have surfaced at a time when astronomers have been peering into the depths of space, searching for intelligent signals from hypothetical alien civilizations. Yet although they have been listening for more than half a century, ET has not chimed in. The quest to detect life beyond the Earth is admittedly in its infancy, but the negative results thus far produced have caused more than a few scientists to question the underlying assumptions made by the early pioneers in the quest to find extra-terrestrial life: Frank Drake and Carl Sagan.

Despite what the general media report, there are a number of serious problems with the standard origin-of-life models, for which their proponents have failed to provide good answers. For example, life on Earth requires a source of homochiral molecules, that is, molecules that are capable of rotating the plane of polarized light either to the left (L) or to the right (D). Specifically, life invariably requires L amino acids and D sugars. But so far, chemists have been unable to identify a plausible natural mechanism by which these left- and right-handed biomolecules can be generated at the high level of purity necessary for the first cells to form. Indeed, such molecules can only be synthesised under highly constrained laboratory conditions, using purified (read bought in) reagents, which have little or no relevance to the environment of the early Earth. And while meteorites have been found that contain small amounts of amino acids, they invariably are shown to contain equal amounts of L and D isomers (technically known as a racemic mixture).

In short, no conceivable naturalistic scenario could result in the generation of the large, stable ensembles of homochiral ribose and homochiral amino acids that all naturalistic origin-of-life models require, affirming why no such natural sources have ever been found.2 I recently asked Dr. Tour directly if the problem of homochirality had been solved, and he firmly responded, “No; it is far from solved.”

 

The Phosphorus Conundrum

The element phosphorus is vital for the proper functioning of living cells, being a constituent of both RNA and DNA, as well as of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the universal energy currency of all known life forms. But recent work conducted by Cardiff University astronomers suggests that phosphorus could be scarce in many parts of the universe. “Phosphorus is one of just six major chemical elements on which Earth organisms depend,” says Dr. Jane Greaves, and it is crucial to the compound ATP, which cells use to store and transfer energy. Astronomers have just started to pay attention to the cosmic origins of phosphorus and found quite a few surprises. In particular, phosphorus is created in supernovae—the explosions of massive stars—but the amounts seen so far don’t match our computer models. I wondered what the implications were for life on other planets if unpredictable amounts of phosphorus are spat out into space and later used in the construction of new planets.3

 

The Cardiff team used the UK’s William Herschel telescope, situated on La Palma in the Canary Islands, to measure the levels of phosphorus and iron in the Crab Nebula, a well-known supernova remnant. They compared those figures to measurements taken earlier from another supernova remnant known as Cassiopeia A (Cas A). Their preliminary results proved very surprising. While the measurements of Cas A showed relatively high levels of phosphorus, those from the Crab Nebula showed far lower levels. “The two explosions seem to differ from each other, perhaps because Cas A results from the explosion of a rare type of super-massive star,” said Dr. Phil Cigan, another member of the Cardiff team. “If phosphorus is sourced from supernovae,” added Greaves, and then travels across space in meteoritic rocks, I’m wondering if a young planet could find itself lacking in reactive phosphorus because of where it was born? That is, it started off near the wrong kind of supernova? In that case, life might really struggle to get started out of phosphorus-poor chemistry on another world otherwise similar to our own.4

 

Re-evaluating the Drake Equation

Ever since the American astronomer Frank Drake introduced his famous eponymous equation in the early 1960s, astronomers have produced widely varying estimates of the number of extant extra-terrestrial civilizations present in the Milky Way Galaxy. Until fairly recently, the estimates varied from 10,000 to a few million. Countering these estimates, some scientists have re-examined the so-called Fermi Paradox, posed by the distinguished Italian physicist Enrico Fermi in the form of a question: If the universe is so large, with innumerable habitable planets, then why have we not detected any sign of ET?

A team of scientists and philosophers based at the Institute of Humanity in Oxford University has taken a new look at the reasoning behind the Drake equation, and found that its optimistic expectations are linked to models like the Drake equation itself. The problem, as these researchers point out, is that all such models “implicitly assume certainty regarding highly uncertain parameters.” Indeed, following an analysis, they concluded that “extant scientific knowledge corresponds to uncertainties that span multiple orders of magnitude.” When these uncertainties are introduced, the outcome is strikingly different: “When the models are re-cast to represent realistic distributions of uncertainty, we find a substantial ex ante probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe, and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it.” This result, they assert, “dissolves the Fermi paradox, and in doing so removes any need to invoke speculative mechanisms by which civilizations would inevitably fail to have observable effects upon the universe.”5

 

Questioning the Mediocrity Principle

Over the past few decades, astronomers have discovered thousands of exo-planets orbiting nearby stars, so that now there is little doubt that the number of planets in the observable universe likely exceeds the number of stars. Exo-planet hunters have discovered that many of these planets orbit their stars within the so-called habitable zone—that narrow annulus around a star that allows for the stable existence of water on a planet’s surface. Nevertheless, as geologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee argued in their highly influential book, Rare Earth; Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe,6 many of the features of planet Earth that have made it suitably equipped to allow both microbial and complex life to flourish on it over billions of years are likely very rare in the rest of the Universe.

For instance, the vast majority of potentially habitable exo-planets orbit low-mass red dwarf stars, which make up 75 percent of all the stars in the galaxy.7 These stars are much more active than sun-like stars, thus exhibiting higher rates of flaring than does the Sun. Many such stars also generate strong stellar winds that could strip away the atmospheres of their planets.8 And many planets are located so close to their parent stars that they have become tidally locked, meaning that they do not rotate on an axis but constantly present the same face to their stars as they move in their orbits. Yet another issue pertains to the potential of gravitational perturbations of a habitable planet by its neighbouring planets. Even small changes to the orbital characteristics of a planet could extirpate any developing life that might exist upon it. All these conditions raise many problems for the development of any hypothetical life forms on the surface of these planets over long periods of time.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is currently being utilized in a special program called HAZMAT—Habitable Zones and M Dwarf Activity Across Time. And the early results from the program do not look encouraging. Preliminary data on just a dozen young red dwarf stars show that the frequency of flaring is much higher in them than in stars like the Sun; they typically emit flares with energies that are between 100 and 1,000 times higher than those of their elder counterparts. The most energetic red dwarf flares, dubbed Hazflares, are far more energetic than the most energetic flares ever to come from the Sun. “With the Sun, we have a hundred years of good observations,” says Parke Loyd, a member of the scientific team involved in the project.

And in that time, we’ve seen one, maybe two, flares that have an energy approaching that of the Hazflare. In a little less than a day’s worth of Hubble observations of these young stars, we caught the Hazflare, which means that we’re looking at superflares happening every day or even a few times a day.9

So-called super-earths—worlds larger than the Earth but smaller than Neptune—have recently been identified as possible candidate worlds for the development of life, but there is as yet no scientific consensus on whether they can maintain or even allow plate tectonic activity to occur in their crusts. Without plate tectonics, there will be far less efficient nutrient re-cycling, which would greatly hinder the flourishing of hypothetical life forms.

In March 2019, a team of astronomers based at the Australian National University dealt yet another blow to the prospects of finding viable exo-planetary biosystems. Modelling the magnetic fields of a large number of exo-planets, the astronomers concluded that planets with a strong magnetic field, like Earth, are likely to be very rare. “Magnetic fields appear to play an essential role in making planets habitable, so I wanted to find out how Earth’s magnetic field compared to those of other potentially habitable planets,” says Sarah Macintyre, the lead author of the paper.10 “We find most detected exo-planets have very weak magnetic fields, so this is an important factor when searching for potentially habitable planets,” she added.

Life on Mars or Venus?

Scarcely a year goes by without the question arising of whether or not Mars has microbial life. This issue was brought into sharp focus in June 2018, when NASA scientists announced the discovery by the rover Curiosity of organic matter in the soil of an ancient lakebed.11 But “organic matter” means different things to different people. Simply put, matter that is carbon-rich is not necessarily derived from biogenic sources.

More broadly though, if evidence of either extant or past life on Mars is uncovered, it might well also be discovered that such life originated on Earth. Indeed, it is estimated that over the 4-billion-year history of life on Earth, so much terrestrial soil has found its way to Mars that the Red Planet can boast an average of 2 kilograms of terrestrial soil per square kilometre of its surface (or about 11.3 pounds per square mile).12 It is certainly possible that some microbial life was delivered there along with the soil—in fact, the discovery of either extant microbial life or microfossils on Mars or the recent claim of life in the clouds of Venus might well be anticipated. If that happens, astrobiologists will need to consider the possibility that it came from Earth before claiming that any such life originated on these worlds. The popular media, pushing sensationalism, would never be so cautious.

Questioning Biosignatures on Exo-planets

Oxygenic photosynthesis by plants is the mechanism that produces the vast majority of the molecular oxygen in the terrestrial atmosphere. So for several decades, astrobiologists have speculated that the detection of oxygen in the atmosphere of an exo-planet would provide good evidence that life must exist there.13 While the detection of substantial levels of this gas would certainly be suggestive of the presence of plant life as we know it, it pays to remember that there are established abiotic mechanisms (mechanisms derived from non-living sources) that also can generate substantial molecular oxygen.

A group headed by Chinese astronomer Feng Tian of Tsinghua University published two interesting papers in 2009 that show that stars having less than 50 percent of the mass of the Sun (i.e., the majority of stars) emit copious quantities of hard UV rays and soft X rays throughout their long nuclear burning phases of up to 10 billion years.14 They also showed that when a lifeless exo-planet possessing carbon dioxide in its atmosphere is irradiated, the rays can break down the CO2 into carbon atoms and molecular oxygen. Over time, the carbon atoms, being less massive, escape into space, leaving the molecular oxygen behind. Tian’s calculations show that this molecular oxygen can reach concentrations of a few percent and so might be confused with a genuine biosignature.

 When a team of chemists from Johns Hopkins University simulated the atmospheres of exo-planets beyond the solar system, they found that they could create simple organic molecules and oxygen under various scenarios without the mediation of life.15 “Our experiments produced oxygen and organic molecules that could serve as the building blocks of life in the lab, proving that the presence of both doesn’t definitively indicate life,” says Chao He, assistant research scientist in the Johns Hopkins Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “Researchers need to more carefully consider how these molecules are produced.” Up-and-coming missions, such as the highly anticipated ones utilizing the James Webb Space Telescope, would need to take results like these into account before jumping to any firm conclusions about the habitability of a candidate planet. As a case in point, the recent flap in the media about the detection of phosphine on Venus, upon further analysis, showed that the biomarker in question was not,  in fact, present in statistically significant levels.

In a recent development, a team of planetary scientists led by Li Zeng at Harvard University estimated that as many as 35 percent of exo-planets may have impenetrable water oceans hundreds of kilometres deep.16 But while NASA has long adopted the mantra, “follow the water,” the same scientists caution that these planets are very unlikely to be habitable. Their fathomless ocean worlds would generate pressures millions of times greater than those found on Earth, resulting in exotic, rock-like ice formations many kilometres deep (such as ice VII) covering their floors. Such conditions would prevent any nutrient recycling from occurring, thus rendering these planets sterile.

Call for Caution

Investigating whether extra-terrestrial life exists or not is a profoundly important and interesting scientific endeavor, but at this point, there are good grounds for remaining skeptical about whether it actually exists. Given the arguments raised in this article, it is entirely reasonable to think that life might be extraordinarily rare in the universe, perhaps even unique to Earth. Only time will tell.

 

Notes

  1. James Tour, An Open Letter to My Colleagues (August 2017): http://inference-review.com/article/an-open-letter-to-my-colleagues.
  2. Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana, Origins of Life (RTB Press, 2014).
  3. “Paucity of phosphorus hints at precarious path for extraterrestrial life” (Apr. 4, 2018): eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-04/ras-pop040318.php.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Anders Sandberg et al., “Dissolving the Fermi Paradox” (June 8, 2018):

https://arxiv.org/pdf/1806.02404.pdf.

  1. Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth; Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe (Copernicus Books, 2000).
  2. “Superflares from young red dwarf stars imperil planets,” NASA News (Oct. 22, 2018):

https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/news/1527/superflares-from-young-red-dwarf-stars-imperil-planets.

  1. O. Cohen et al., “Magnetospheric Structure and Atmospheric Joule Heating of Habitable Planets Orbiting M-Dwarf Stars,” Astrophysical Journal 790 (July 2014): doi:10.1088/0004-637X/790/1/57.
  2. Ibid., note 7.
  3. “Strong planetary magnetic fields like Earth’s may protect oceans from stellar storms,” Royal Astronomical Society (Mar. 14, 2019): https://m.phys.org/news/2019-03-strong-planetary-magnetic-fields-earth.html.
  4. Jennifer L. Eigenbrode et al., “Organic Matter Preserved in 3-Billion-Year-Old Mudstones at Gale Crater, Mars,” Science 360 (June 8, 2018): https://doi:10.1126/science.aas9185.
  5. Ibid., note 2.
  6. Carl Sagan et al., “A Search for Life on Earth from the Galileo Spacecraft,” Nature 365 (Oct. 21, 1993): nature.com/articles/365715a0.
  7. Feng Tian, “Thermal Escape from Super Earth Atmospheres in the Habitable Zones of M Stars,” Astrophysical Journal 703 (Sept. 2, 2009): https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/96200/Tian-2009-THERMAL%20ESCAPE%20FROM.pdf;sequence=1; Feng Tian et al., “Thermal Escape of Carbon from the Early Martian Atmosphere,” Geophysical Research Letters 26 (Jan. 31, 2009): https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2008GL036513.
  8. Chao He et al., “Gas Phase Chemistry of Cool Exoplanet Atmospheres: Insight from Laboratory Simulations,” ACS Earth Space Chemistry (Nov. 26, 2018): https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsearthspacechem.8b00133.
  9. Li Zeng et al., “Growth model interpretation of planet size distribution,” PNAS (Apr. 29, 12019): pnas.org/content/early/2019/04/23/1812905116.

 

 

Neil English has been following developments in pre-biotic chemistry and astrobiology for the last 25 years. He holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and a BSc(Hons) in physics & astronomy. His latest book, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy (Springer, 2018), explores four centuries of visual astronomy. The article first appeared in Salvo Magazine Summer 2019. You can support his ongoing work by making a small donation to his website. Thanks for reading!

 

 

De Fideli.