Can You See the Planets with Binoculars?
It’s no secret that a telescope is deemed the best instrument for viewing the night sky. Besides allowing you to be able to see the planets in our solar system, but you also be able to view intricate detail across their surfaces. Nevertheless, a pair of binoculars can be used to view the planets, too.
Even though a pair of binoculars may not be able to allow you to view the detail of the planets, they do offer a variety of advantages that a telescope simply does not. For starters, binoculars offer plenty of portability that makes traveling with one a lot less cumbersome than if you were to travel with a large, bulky telescope.
Besides their portability, binoculars also offer an exceptionally wide field of view that will make viewing the night sky an immersive experience. There’s also the advantage that Binoculars are also extremely easy to use, which makes them an ideal choice for beginners who are just starting out.
Despite these benefits, it is worth noting that unless you’re using very powerful binoculars, it’s likely that you won’t be able to view any detail across each planet you view, but you will still be able to make them out in the sky. Below, check out some of the best tips to help you view each planet using binoculars:
Seeing as Jupiter is the largest planet in our entire solar system, it’s a pretty good place to start, especially if you’ve never tried viewing the stars and planets before. Though you likely aren’t going to be able to see too much of Jupiter in great detail, you will be able to see Jupiter and its four moons, which will make for an interesting viewing experience.
While viewing Jupiter, you’re going to notice that all of the moons have different levels of brightness, and they also won’t look too different from stars. The easiest way to distinguish them from any surrounding star is by making sure to remember that the four moons will each appear at different levels of brightness to all of the other surrounding light sources.
The moon closest to Jupiter is known as Lo and is usually the hardest out of all the moons to detect – which is why it’s important to make sure that you are using a pair of powerful binoculars! The second moon of Jupiter is known as Europa and is nearly the exact same as our moon, the only difference being that Europa is entirely covered in ice.
Jupiter’s third moon goes by the name of Ganymede and is the biggest moon in our solar system. The final moon of Jupiter is the furthest away of all of them and can pass above or below Jupiter’s orbit.
To help raise your chances of viewing all of the moons, we recommend using large and more powerful binoculars, as smaller binoculars are often unable to detect each of Jupiter’s moons.
Many people find that a pair of 15×70 binoculars are the best for viewing Jupiter, and allows them to be able to view the changing of positions of each moon, as well as being able to view them passing behind and in front of Jupiter’s shadow.
As the second biggest planet in our whole solar system, Saturn is the next planet that you will be able to see with your binoculars. If you’re new to astronomy, Saturn is the planet with rings around it, and due to this, it appears to be more of an oval shape than a circle when viewing it through a pair of binoculars.
If you’re using a very powerful pair of binoculars, then you may be able to detect Saturn from its rings, but this is usually never the case, as it is extremely rare to be able to see space between the two.
More often than not, when armed with binoculars, you will likely be able to see “handles” on each side of Saturn, which are simply the outermost parts of the rings.
Similar to Jupiter, Saturn also has moons that orbit around it (7, to be exact!). However, out of all Saturn’s moons, only one, Titan, will be visible to you when viewing through a pair of binoculars.
Moreso, it’s worth noting that Titan will only be detected by a pair of binoculars that are at least 70mm aperture, as small ones won’t be powerful enough to detect.
Though Venus is by no means the biggest planet in our solar system, it is one of the easiest to spot due to its brightness. The reason Venus is so bright is that it is covered in clouds that have the power to reflect large amounts of all the sun rays that hit it.
While the clouds that cover Venus have the power to reflect upwards of 65% of the sunlight that passes over it, Earth is only able to reflect 35% in comparison, with Mars and the Moon reflecting even less than that (around 15% at best).
Besides being able to reflect large amounts of light, another reason why Venus is so bright is that it is fairly close to Earth, which in turn makes it appear slightly brighter and easier to spot than the planets that are further away.
When viewing Venus from a pair of binoculars, you’ll notice that Venus has its own individual phases, in a similar way to the Moon.
If you’re planning on viewing Venus, then many people believe that the best time to view Venus is just after the superior conjunction, which is something that occurs when the Sun, Earth, and Venus all form a straight line.
After superior conjunction, Venus will then be visible in the night sky, though you will need to make sure that you are using a powerful pair of binoculars during this stage, as Venus is quite small compared to other planets.
However, after Venus begins to set later in the evening, you will be able to see Venus with a pair of small binoculars, although the detail may not be the best. Similar to Jupiter, many people find that a pair of 15×70 binoculars are the best for viewing Venus throughout all of its phases.
Out of all the planets in the solar system, Mercury is the smallest planet of all. Unfortunately, Mercury is one of the most difficult planets due to its size and conjunction cycle. Mercury stays very close to the sun, which means that as it goes through its phases, it is often only visible for a few days at a time.
Additionally,y due to its size, Mercury can be difficult for binoculars to detect, so we recommend making sure that you’re using a powerful pair with a big aperture of at least 60mm.
Mars, Uranus, and Neptune:
So long as you’re using a powerful pair of binoculars, you will be able to view these three planets. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to make out any details as they’re so far away.
Can you see the space station with binoculars?
Believe it or not, you don’t actually need a pair of binoculars to view the international space station, but they’ll certainly help to make the ISS easier to view in more detail! If you want to view the ISS in the sky yourself, then you’ll first need to determine what time the ISS will be rising above the horizon in your local area.
Prior to the time, we recommend that you head outside around 5-10 minutes earlier, as this will give your eyes enough time to adjust. Then, face yourself to the west, place your binoculars to your eyes, and wait to see a little orb of light rising from behind the western horizon – this will be the space station.
After that, all you will need to do is sit back and enjoy! Thanks to your binoculars, you’ll be able to view the space station in great detail, and may be able to detect its golden panels.
As a side note, it’s important to keep in mind that the visibility level of the ISS can vary, with some passes appearing to be extremely bright, and others appearing to be no brighter than surrounding stars. The best passes of the ISS are when it appears above the horizon, as the sun is then able to illuminate it. To help raise your chances of viewing the ISS on one of these nights, we recommend regularly checking the popular Spot The Station website.