This article discusses all SAC observing
The only exception is the 1000 New Objects program.
If you have asked yourself or others
what can I look at in a telescope then this article will provide the
There are a number of programs available to SAC members many were
added during the 1990's. These programs are to help us improve our
observing skills and enjoy the wonders of the night sky.
To receive an award for completing
a program, marathons excluded, all entries must be recorded and turned
in to the Deep Sky Chairman. The recording involves a description
for the observation of each object along with the location, date,
sky conditions, telescope and magnification used. The award is a plate
with the observers' name and program that is mountable on the telescope;
it is presented at one of our meetings.
There are two major categories of
programs, one for solar system objects and one for objects beyond
the solar system. Shallow sky is a term sometimes used to refer to
solar system objects and there are two in this area that were started
last year. One is for observing the moon and the other for remainder
of the solar system.
Solar System Objects
110 Best Lunar Objects
The "110 Best Lunar Objects" has been setup for those who
observe from relatively brightly lit sites, like a backyard, or who
prefer observing the moon. There are individual entries for naked
eye, binocular and telescopic observations for various lunar phases.
SAC Solar System
The "SAC Solar System" project contains objects like the
sun, planets, asteroids, comets, meteors, glows and sunspots. Parts
of this program can be done from backyard sites, but others, like
Pluto, need a dark site. Observations of the sun cannot be done from
a dark site under any conditions.
Deep Sky - Objects Beyond
The Solar System
The other category of programs are
referred to by the name deep sky.
There are several and they can be generalized as follows, initial,
double stars, advanced and marathons.
These observing programs are covered in increasing relative difficulty.
The initial deep sky programs include
the Urban List, Messier Catalog and the 110 Best NGC and have been
selected because they contain the showpieces of the night sky.
There are two reasons for the Urban List program; first it is for
telescope owners who have difficulty traveling to a dark sky observing
site and second, for observers to compare with observations from dark
skies in other programs. It is for this second reason that all of
the observations for this program must be done from sites that are
too bright to see the Milky Way with the unaided eye. Currently the
list includes entries from the Messier Catalog, NGC and the Washington
Double Star Catalog.
The ever-popular "Messier Catalog" is the product of the
famous French comet hunter Charles Messier and came from his observations
during the 1700's. While searching for a comet in September of 1758
he ran across an object above the southern horn of Taurus which looked
like a comet but unlike a comet, didn't move. So he decided to catalog
observations like this, so others looking for comets wouldn't be confused.
We now know this object today as M1 or the Crab Nebula and the rest
is history. Since Messier's telescopes were far inferior to the ones
used by amateurs today, he found only the biggest and brightest in
the night sky. This, therefore, puts them in the "showpieces
of the night sky" category; which makes them easy targets to
locate from a dark-sky observing site. This program is the oldest
award in SAC and is an excellent place to start a deep-sky observing
career. I often wonder what Charley would say if he could see what
his catalog means today!
110 Best NGC
The "110 Best NGC" was updated from the Royal Canadian Astronomical
Society Observer's Handbook that had the original title "100
Best NGC". In 1989, Steve Coe and I decided to add 10 more entries,
out of respect for the number of entries in the Messier Catalog, remove
some of the mundane more northerly entries and add some southerly
ones. For example the entries in Centaurus were added to the list.
The entries in this program, for the most part are not quite as bright
as the Messier Catalog, are a little harder to find and observe; but
be careful there are some spectacular surprises in this list.
The Deep Sky Group suggests doing
this program after the Messier Catalog.
110 Best Double Stars
There is only one double star list and that is the "110 Best
Double Stars." It came in part from the RCAS Observer's Handbook
and a list titled Chaple Double Stars, after the double star observer
Glen Chaple. In 1985 Steve Coe and I replaced some entries with ones
of our own choosing to add a greater flavor of color contrasting doubles.
Many of the doubles are so widely separated that they can be resolved
or split from a backyard.
Observations made from a dark sky site for the Messier Catalog, 110
Best NGC and 110 Best Double Stars are not usable for Urban List observations
and vise versa. Instead the observation from diverse sites can be
used to see the differences between a bright sky and dark sky observing
Anyone who completes these Observing
Programs, can rest assured that they will know the sky, their telescope
and observing skills well enough to take on any observing project;
like the "400 Herschel Objects!".
400 Herschel Objects!
This is the first of the advanced programs, extracted from Observe
the Herschel Catalog produced by the Ancient City Astronomy Club located
in St. Augustine, Florida. Although it is named after the famous English
observer, William Herschel and contains objects he observed, all of
the entries are found in the NGC and hence have an NGC number.
The Astronomical League supports this program and observations from
SAC members are forwarded to their program administrator for verification.
The award, upon verification is sent by the Astronomical League administrator
back to the Deep Sky Chairman and includes a numbered certificate
and a lapel pin along with the observationsand listing on their website
at "Astronomical League Herschel Club Certificate Awardees".
The certificate, lapel pin and a special SAC telescope plate will
be presented to those who complete the 400 Herschel Objects! list
at a future meeting.
Many of the entries found in this list are fainter and more difficult
to find than the deep sky programs discussed above. But they are easily
seen in an 8" telescope. There is no doubt that a 6" telescope
can be used for this program and, if anyone cares to take on the challenge,
it should be possible in a 4" as well. Keep in mind, experience
from the above programs helps.
The first SAC award for the 400 Herschel Objects! program occurred
Notice to advanced programs participitants
Approximately 25% of the objects in the Herschel program are also
found in the Messier Catalog and 110 Best NGC. Furthermore, observations
of the duplicate entries made from a dark sky site can be used for
this program without re-observing. So if you have completed the Messier
Catalog and the 110 Best NGC, then you are about one quarter of the
way completed. So, after completing the others, you can't afford to
not do this program.
110 Beyond the NGC
The "110 Beyond the NGC," as the title implies, contain
entries that are not in the NGC. There are entries from the IC, Abell,
Perek & Kouhetuk, King and many other catalogs. The Deep Sky Group
approved the list in January 1999. Many of these are very tough to
see in a medium size telescope and the inexperienced observer should
not try this list. It takes quite a bit of time trying to track down
a 12th magnitude 2 arc second planetary nebula in the Sagittarius
Star Cloud -- with an 8 inch telescope - again verified by the author!
1000 New Objects
The "1000 New Objects," started in 1992 consist of 1000
objects not on any of the preceding lists. There is no list for this
program; it is the observer's responsibility to select the objects.
With the remainder of the NGC, the entire IC as well as many other
popular catalogs to choose from, finding the correct number of objects
is not a problem; the problem will be which ones!
This list should not include objects which are on the previously mentioned
The "Messier Marathon" is not to be confused with the Messier
Catalog that was discussed earlier. They both involve the same catalog
but different rules are applied. The Messier Catalog requires a much
longer time, as each observation must be recorded as describe above.
The marathon is done one night in spring and merely requires the observer
to see the object through the main telescope then check it off from
The first Messier Marathons, coordinated
by original SAC Deep Sky Chairman Wally Brown, were 1981, 1982, 1983
and 1985. Don't know what happened in 1984, there are no references
in SAC archives. Only SAC members attended and awards were presented
to the top three observers.
The annual All Arizona Messier Marathons
began in 1993 with all Arizona astronomy organizations being invited.
This has been one of the first and most successful annual events in
amateur astronomy in Arizona. Perhaps due in part being held at a
central Arizona site and the fact that it is normally the first decent
new moon weekend following the winter. It is interesting to note that
many who show up at the marathon site do not participate in the marathon;
instead they observe, visit with old and new friends or dabble in
astro-photography. Awards for marathoners are presented to the three
top observers and certificates to all observing 50 or more objects.
Wally Brown coordinated the Messier+
marathons in September of 1981 and 1982. Since it is not possible
to view the entire Messier Catalog this time of year, entries not
viewable because they were to close to the horizon during twilight
or below the horizon were removed and replaced by entries from the
NGC while keeping the count at 110. These marathons were unique to
SAC and there is no reference of any other astronomy group, club,
organization or society organizing such an event. As in other marathons,
awards were presented to the top three observers.
It should be obvious that most of
the programs contain 110 objects as the standard and was decided on
as a tribute to the magnificent catalog of Charles Messier.