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Observing Resources

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A primary reason why many of us are interested in astronomy is because we love observing the night sky. And yet for many newcomers one of the most difficult aspects of getting started is determining what to observe. There are literally thousands of objects within the reach of a moderate sized telescope costing only a few hundred dollars. Where does one point that new telescope?

Fortunately, many resources are available to amateurs, from atlases and catalogs to planetarium software to online resources. We've compiled a collection of these resources on this page. In addition to links to some of the best sources of information, we've also included a set of observer object lists in printable PDF format. (To download a free copy of Adobe's PDF Reader, click here!)

NASA Mars Today

NASA Mars Model Group

The resources described on this page are provided solely for the benefit of site visitors, and their appearance here does not imply endorsement or a recommendation to purchase. They are simply resources that I have found useful. Many other products would undoubtedly prove just as useful. If you know of any observing resources that might benefit observers email your suggestions to me at info@grayfoximages.com.

 

Atlases and Catalogs

There are many great star atlases and catalogs of deep sky objects that make good subjects for amateur astronomers at all levels, from beginner to expert. One of the best collections of atlas, catalog and sky map descriptions on the web is SkyMaps.com, a web site devoted to presenting information about amateur astronomy resources. One can also purchase products through the web site. The list below represents just a few of the many resources available through SkyMaps.com, Willmann-Bell and other sellers.
Norton's Star Atlas First published in 1910 and now in its 20th edition, Norton's has long since been superceded by more recent works.
Discover the Stars More than just charts, Richard Berry's intro book includes tutorials on observing, telescopes and deep sky objects.
Bright Star Atlas 2000.0
Ten star maps to mag 6.5 by Wil Tirion, with data for 600 objects visible in small telescopes on facing pages.
Cambridge Star Atlas Revised version contains 52 Wil Tirion color star maps down to mag 6.5, with 900 deep sky objects.
Pocket Sky Atlas Sky & Telescope's field atlas of 80 charts containing 30,000 stars down to mag 7.6 as well as 1500 deep sky objects.
Sky Atlas 2000.0 Spiral bound set of 26 Tirion charts covering the sky down to mag 8.5, with 2700 deep sky objects. Many versions.
Uranometria 2000.0 Wil Tirion's massive two volume set of star charts down to mag 9.5 containing more than 30,000 deep sky objects.
Cambridge Double Star Atlas Star maps and descriptive tables of over 2000 double stars. Spiral bound and red light friendly.
The Night Sky Observer's Guide Detailed descriptions of almost 8,000 night sky objects as seen in a variety of amateur telescopes.
Field Map of the Moon Sky & Telescope's large scale fold-out moon map, available in normal and mirror-reversed versions.

Planetarium Software

Each of the planetarium programs below has the ability to show the sky at any time of year and location on earth; to filter deep sky objects according to characteristics such as type, magnitude, size, catalog, etc.; to construct and print tailored sky maps for an evening observing session; and to control telescopes with computer controlled mounts. Of the three, MegaStar5 has the least sophisticated graphical presentation of the sky but the most comprehensive set of deep sky catalogs and object filtering and search capabilities.
MegaStar5 Sky Atlas One of the most complete set of catalogs available in any planetarium program.
The Sky Popular and widely used planetarium program with highly realistic sky views, including sun, moon and twilight effects.
Starry Night Highly realistic and widely used planetarium program with ability to change viewpoint to anywhere in space and time.

Online Resources

Many online web sites provide weekly or monthly summaries of sky events and observing highlights. These are often accompanied bymaps of the night sky, sometimes customizable by location and time. Some sites provide lists of interesting objects of various types. These summaries and lists can be helpful in planning an observing session, and the star maps provide beginners with a substitute for planispheres and star charts until they can purchase their own. The links below represent some of the more popular and useful ones.
S&T Observing Highlights
Monthly summary of night sky observing highlights as well as other astronomy news.
Tonight's Sky Video-based guide to constellations, deep sky objects, planets and events, located on the Hubble Site.
SkyMaps.com Extensive listing of astronomy atlases, guides, software, etc. Features monthly Evening Sky Map in PDF format.
Jupiter's Moons A Javascript application that plots the position of Jupiter's moons now or at the time of a user's choice.
NASA/JPL Night Sky Network Night sky calendar and planning tools, primarily geared for use by astronomy club members.
The Sky This Week A compilation of weekly observing highlight, maintained by the US Naval Observatory
Jodrell Bank Night Sky Monthly compendium of highlighted observing events, including planet and evening constellation visibility.
Your Sky Tonight Provides custom star charts for observer location. Features Timothy Ferris' popular Seeing in the Dark.
The Sky Tonight A night sky site devoted to introducing kids to astronomy. Allows creation of maps and tracking of solar system objects.
East Valley Observing Program Perhaps the best collection of observing lists available on the web! Well worth perusing at length.
Chesmont Space Science Forum Follow Dave Mitsky's monthly celestial calendars at the Chesmont Astronomical Society web site.
Saguro Astronomy Club (Download page) Offers a number of useful data sheets as well as an extensive deep sky object database.
Deep Sky Database Tools for building observing lists from the Saguaro Astronomy Club database.
Hawaiian Astronomical Society Deep Sky List Includes several lists of deep sky objects as prepared by different observers.
Astrosurf Carbon Stars A list of over one hundred carbon stars.
Reddest Carbon Stars A list of the 22 reddest carbon stars.
Wolf-Rayet Stars An extensive list of Wolf-Rayet Stars
AstronomyBoy Best 100 Non-Messier Objects A list derived from an online discussion on the sci.astro.amateur Usenet newsgroup.
Skywatching Highlights A summary of noteworthy sky events for the year. Located on the Space.com web site.
Your Sky Provides tools to create skymaps for user defined time, location and viewing direction.
AstroViewer Provides tools to create skymaps for user defined time and location. Also includes current Earth day/night view.
SpaceWeather NOAA site devoted to information about and observation of the Sun.
Willmann-Bell Seller of astronomy books, atlases, catalogs, observing guides and software.

Object Lists (PDF)

Unless one has been observing for years, deciding on an observing program for an evening is sometimes a daunting task. That's where having a prepared list of objects is helpful -- even more so if the list allows note taking as well. To this end, we've created a set of observation log sheets in printable PDF format. These lists are built from a variety of sources, including but not limited to the MegaStar5 Sky Atlas planetarium software program, The Astronomical League's observing lists; the web sites of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, Astronomy Club of Tulsa, Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers, AstroSurf.com, Atlas of the Universe; The Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner; and monthly observing guides posted by SkyMap.com. Most of these sources draw from the same set of public domain stellar and deep sky databases, including the NGC and IC databases and an extensive collection of specialized catalogs. Print out any of the observing data sheets below and use them at your telescope in conjunction with sky charts and maps from the sky atlases or planetarium software programs listed above to log your observations as you make them!

Star Party Challenge Objects A monthly list of objects to challenge observers beyond the Messier showpieces.
SEDS Asterisms Mostly naked eye asterisms; fine list for beginners and long time night sky lovers alike.
Deep-Sky-UK Asterisms Good list of telescopic asterisms from the UK astronomy site www.deep-sky.co.uk.
SAC Asterisms Extensive list of asterisms from Saguaro Astronomy Club download data base.
Best 240 Night Sky Objects A list of ~240 galaxies, open & globular clusters, diffuse & planetary nebulae, doubles, and carbon stars.
Best 400 Night Sky Objects A list of ~400 galaxies, open & globular clusters, diffuse & planetary nebulae, doubles, and carbon stars.
Best 600 Night Sky Objects A list of ~600 galaxies, open & globular clusters, diffuse & planetary nebulae, doubles, and carbon stars.
SEDS Messier Marathon List
The SEDS list of 110 Messier objects, arranged in order for observing during a marathon (2-page).
ACT Messier Marathon Charts Seven page list of 110 Messier objects, with 17 finder charts, from the Astronomy Club of Tulsa.
Caldwell Catalogue List of 109 outstanding non-Messier objects compiled by British astronomer Sir Patrick Caldwell-Moore.
Astronomical League Binocular List The Astronomical League's list of good objects for binoculars.
Astronomical League Urban Club Deep Sky The Astronomical League's list of best deep sky objects for light polluted skies.
Astronomical League Herschel 400 List The Astronomical League's list of 400 objects from William Herschel's catalog.
Astronomical League 100 Best Double Stars The Astronomical League's list of the 100 best double stars, arranged by season.
Dave Mitsky's Monthly Celestial Calendar A month-by-month list of great objects; each monthly list covers 2 hours of right ascension.
Colored Double Stars A list of double stars with contrasting colors, from Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers
Close Double Stars A list of close double stars, with primary mag < 6, secondary mag < 7 and 0.8" < separation < 5.0".
Double Stars Mag 6 or Brighter & 2-120 Arcsec Separation Double stars brighter than mag 6 and between 2-120 arcsec separation.
The Best 360 Galactic Open Clusters A list of 360 galactic open clusters brighter than mag 12.
The Best Galaxies Mag 11 A list of about 180 galaxies brighter than mag 11.
Globular Clusters Brighter than Mag 11 A list of 80 globular clusters brighter than mag 11.
Planetary Nebulae Brighter than Mag 13 A list of over 100 planetary nebulae brighter than mag 13.
The Best Diffuse and Dark Nebulae A list of the best diffuse and dark nebulae.
Reddest Carbon Stars A list of the reddest carbon stars, adapted from AHo Software for PalmPilots.
Carbon Stars Mv8.5 A more extensive list of carbon stars with maximum magnitude brighter than 8.5, from AstroSurf.com.
Wolf-Rayet Stars A list of Wolf-Rayet stars visible in amateur telescopes, also adapted from AstroSurf.com.
The Evening Sky Map Monthly sky map, calendar of events, and summary of objects visible in small telescopes by SkyMap.com
To download a free copy of Adobe's PDF Reader, click here!

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If you would like to express thoughts on this subject use the link to send an email.    2013 Michael W. Masters
Notice: All images and written material on this web site are 1999-2013 Michael W. Masters. All rights are reserved under US copyright laws. Images may not be downloaded or otherwise used without written permission of the artist. Written material may be quoted under fair use so long as attribution is given.