BINOCULAR HIGHLIGHTS


The Milky Way Points upward like a dim pillar of fire and smoke above the SW horizon in the young Autumn night sky. If you've been watching this part of the Milky Way throughout the Summer, you'll notice that the center is no longer visible as it sinks below the horizon along with planet Saturn. Scan your binoculars up and down this column of dust and stars to see the grandeur of one of the spiral arms of your home galaxy.
Lonely Fomalhaut (FOAM-ah-LOT) is the only first magnitude star above the southern horizon. It's prominence is best seen in the Autumn. At "only" 25 light years away, Fomalhaut is relatively close by in our stellar neighborhood. It's intrinsic brightness (how bright it would be if it were the same distance away as our Sun) is 16 times brighter than our home star. It is also twice as massive and twice the size of the Sun. Fomalhaut sports a dusty disk similar to the one that exists in our solar system only more prominent and denser. If you were on a planet with an axial tilt like Earth's that is orbiting Fomalhaut , you'd see quite a display of zodiacal light in the Spring post twilight evening sky and Fall predawn sky. Neptune is also visible above and slightly left of Fomalhaut. Although it's bright enough to see with binoculars, Neptune is a challenge to find among the background stars. You're better off using a telescope with a GOTO mount to confirm that you're looking at the most distant known major planet in our solar system.
I like the positions of the Big and Little Dippers in the Autumn sky. The ladle of the Little Dipper appears to be pouring its "secret  chili sauce" into the cosmic brew pot of the Big Dipper. When the cooler days of Fall go by, we brew our own pot of chili to warm us during the chilly Autumn nights. Even though these star patterns (asterisms of Ursa Major and Minor) are easily seen naked eye from a dark sky site, there are a couple of surprises that you can find with a good set of 10X50 or larger binoculars. Look particularly at Mizar (second star in the handle of the Big Dipper) and Polaris. What do you see that makes them look different from the other stars?
The eastern horizon is dominated by the constellation Taurus the Bull which is a harbinger of the coming winter. The star, Aldebaran, along with star clusters Hyades and Pleiades, will rise a little bit earlier every night until they are nearly overhead in December. Scan for light green-blue Uranus (to the right of Hamal (the alpha star in Aries the Ram). It's easier to find than Neptune although that's like saying, "It's easier to find a marble than a needle in a haystack!"