Friday, December 3, 2010

Binoculars: Things You Should Own I

This holiday season there is a constant undercurrent of advice against acquiring too many things. I am in favor of keeping the materialism to a minimum. There are all sorts of things we can buy that will have the effect of further polluting the world, further impoverishing the poor, or driving us, personally, into bankruptcy. And sometimes all three of these.
It is not a good idea to buy things in this category. Besides, they tend to take batteries, or gasoline, or some other kind of outside energy source that you have to pay for, to keep running. Yet another drain on the environment--and your pocketbook.
There are a few things, though, that I believe everyone should own because they can contribute in important ways to one's education, amusement, and happiness. Of these, probably the highest end item is good binoculars. (Hmmm..."Binocular" or "binoculars"? Hard to say. Let me just muddle on through.)
I currently have a Bosch-Optikon which seems--to me--to be quite powerful. Despite its famous German name, I take it that it was made in China. That is all right with me, as long as it works. And, although I am unable to give you the technical specs, it seems to work very well.
It replaces a promotional Sports Illustrated instrument which I had had for years, and which was only useful for observing race horses at a distance of no more than 16 inches or so.
This new binocular was given to me when I began to join long-time friends to go birdwatching; it was one of Dan's spares. It made an enormous difference in what I was able to see.
(Bird watching, incidentally, is one of the reasons why you really need binoculars. It may sound dull; in fact, it is relaxing and challenging. It isn't often that you can find a hobby that combines both benefits. I will make a case for it in another post.)
You might want the glasses as well for watching sports--better than my old SI model--or for going to plays, ballet, or opera. Although for what takes place inside theaters and opera houses you will not need binoculars as powerful as my current ones. The little ones called opera glasses will do very well.
I have just begun to realize the possibilities of binoculars for home study of astronomy from your own back yard. I know about people who use them this way--there are even books about it--but I live in a bad place for astronomy, with tall trees, lots of night lights, and frequent overcast skies. But this morning I awoke at 5 a.m., when it was very dark outside, and saw a sliver of crescent moon hanging just over South Mountain. Somewhat to its left was a bright light that seemed unwinking. For this reason I thought it was a planet. On impulse, I decided to get the binoculars and check it out.
The experience was, shall we say, illuminating. First I looked at the moon, and saw quite a bit more of it than than I had seen without assistance--the dark shadow that covered the large part of it not in full sunlight. When I turned to the bright light to its left I was delighted to see the light turn into a sphere, molded and shaped by the distant sunlight just as the moon was. I could see striations across its face, which made me believe that this was Jupiter. But I don't know for sure.
All I DO know is, I cannot wait for another chance to explore the heavens with the aid of my binoculars.
I wish you the same pleasure.