Using binoculars for astronomy

I use binoculars for quick looks and extended observing of wide areas of the night sky. As anyone who has tried to use binoculars to observe the sky will tell you, it is a pain in the neck…literally! Trying to look up while holding binoculars, and also trying to steady the view long enough to observe could be used as torture. Your neck gets it first, then your arms start to ache, and finally your back starts to object. Observing for more than a few minutes at a time results in major pain, and after a half hour of this, most observers will give up.

There are two solutions that I find work pretty well:

  1. Use image-stabilized binoculars while reclining in a “zero-G” lawn chair. I use a pair of Canon 12×36 IS II binoculars, and find I am comfortable observing for perhaps a half hour using this setup. If this option appeals to you, read Gary Seronik’s Review: Canon’s Image-Stabilized Binoculars.
  2. Mount binoculars on a parallelogram, which is then mounted to a sturdy tripod (usually). You sit in a chair or stand to use them, depending on the size of the parallelogram. The problem is that in order to get a parallelogram that is sturdy enough to support binoculars and keep them steady, the final setup will weigh too much to be considered portable.
Sky Window with my Celestron 9x63 binoculars
Sky Window with my Celestron 9×63 binoculars

After much searching, I finally found the solution. The Sky Window® is a deceivingly simple looking device, consisting of a machined aluminum frame, a front surface rectangular mirror, and a thumbscrew to mount the binoculars to the frame. The observer looks down through the binoculars and observes the sky from a seated position. The Sky Window® can be mounted on a sturdy tripod, or it can be placed on a table.

I use Celestron 9×63 binoculars with my Sky Window® and find this works very well for me. After looking through my setup, most everyone agrees this is the only way to use binoculars when observing the night sky. Some say they find the price of the Sky Window® is too high, and since it is so simple, they will build their own version. I challenge them to try, and have yet to see anyone pull this off. The clever design of the Sky Window® is not as simple as it first appears!

For a very detailed discussion of the Sky Window® I would suggest you browse the excellent online article complete with photos written by Math Heijen: The Sky Window mirror mount for binocular astronomy.

Unfortunately, the Sky Window® is no longer available from the original manufacturer Trico Machine. In fact, it appears Trico Machine is not in business. If you find out differently, or find another source for this product, please leave me a comment!

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