About These Projects
Many of the observing projects on this page are observing programs of the Astronomical League. AL members who complete a core group of five observing programs, plus achieve the highest level of five additional programs are eligible for the Master Observers Club certificate. The core programs include the Messier, Binocular Messier, Lunar, Double Star, and Herschel 400 observing lists. I received AL Master Observer's certificate #62 in 2006.
 

DEEP SKY OBJECTS

The Herschel 400 List
I began my project to observe the 400 deep sky objects on the Astronomical League's Herschel 400 Club list in February 2002. Observing notes and additional information (including an index) are available on this site. I
completed the list on March 30, 2003, but will be updating the observations and adding my own photographs to the material on this site.

The Herschel 400 includes many of the brighter members of the list of deep sky objects compiled by Sir William Herschel in the late 18th century. It is dominated by galaxies, open clusters and globular clusters, although nebulae (diffuse and planetary) are also well represented.

Astronomical League Herschel 400 Club Certificate #274

 
Herschel II Observing List
This list of 400 deep sky objects selected by the Rose City Astronomers in Portland, Oregon consists mostly of galaxies, but also includes some of the dimmer open clusters, diffuse nebulae, and globular clusters.

Observing many of these objects proved too difficult with my 9.25 SCT and was the final motivation (along with the Arp list) to upsize my equipment to an 11-inch Celestron SCT.  I completed documentation of this program in mid-August 2006.

Astronomical League Herschel II Club Certificate #49

 
Arp Peculiar Galaxies
I've observed and recorded detailed notes on 104 of the brighter galaxies/groups in this list, down to about magnitude 13.5. I am also beginning to image some of the over 300 objects on the list.

Astronomical League Arp Peculiar Galaxies Club Certificate #39V (Visual)

 
The Double Star List
When moonlight obscures most other deep sky objects I turn my attention to double stars and asteroids. The Astronomical League Double Star certificate list includes 100 of the most interesting double and multiple stars visible from the Northern hemisphere.

Astronomical League Double Star Club Certificate #208

 
The Urban Observers Club
Astronomical League Urban Club Certificate #58
Globular Clusters
  I've observed about 70 globular clusters using the AL observing program rules, working toward 100. The minimum requirement is 50.
   
Planetary Nebulae
  I've observed about 45 planetary nebulae using the AL observing program rules; working toward 100. The minimum requirement is 50.
   
The Messier List
It's probably incorrect to say that one has "completed" the Messier list.  The 110 deep sky objects on the list are endlessly interesting and, like most amateurs, I stop by to observe at least one of them every night I'm at my
telescope (in fact, sometimes I have to tear myself away from the Messiers to do other things.) I have observed and logged the entire Messier list twice using the star-hopping method:  once in 1982 and again in 2002.

In 2007, I observed 109 of the Messier objects in one March night using my CGE go-to mount and a C-11 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The only one I missed was M30, the globular cluster in Capricorn, which was still below the horizon at dawn.

Astronomical League Honorary Messier Certificate (all 110 objects) #1981
Astronomical League Binocular Messier Certificate (77 objects with $49 10x50 Bushnell binoculars) #590

 
The Caldwell List
Sir Patrick Caldwell Moore created this list of 109 of his favorite celestial objects not included in the Messier catalog.

AL Caldwell Silver Certificate (72 Northern Hemisphere Objects) #53

 

SOLAR SYSTEM OBSERVING

The Lunar List
The moon is one of the most interesting objects in the heavens for urban or suburban observers. Not only does it have a lot of detail, but much of this detail is clearly visible in virtually any telescope.  The 100 objects and views on the Astronomical League's Lunar Certificate list provide a chance to crawl over the entire surface of the moon. Most objects are craters, but there are also seas, mountains, walls, rills, canyons, and other interesting features. 

Astronomical League Lunar Certificate #314

 
Solar Observing
As detailed as lunar images are, our star -- Sol -- is the most dynamic object available to amateur observers. Solar observing requires a safe solar filter that reduces the intensity of the sun's searing and blinding light before it enters the telescope.

My solar observing is done with a full aperture white, glass filter on my 120ST Orion refractor. Such a filter is relatively low in cost (<$100) and fine for observing the movement and transformations of sunspots as the sun rotates from East to West and for making detailed observations of sunspot groups. The huge group depicted in my 10-minute field sketch on the right was made with a 9.25-inch SCT.

More expensive ($500-$3000) hydrogen-alpha filters are required to view prominences and details on the sun's surface. I'm currently using a Coronado 40mm Personal Solar Telescope.

A highly interesting activity is to monitor the changing position and shape of sunspots every clear day for an extended period (one to two months.) This is one of the activities involved in obtaining the AL certificate.

Astronomical League Sunspotters Certificate #72

   
Asteroids (aka "Small Solar System Bodies")
  One would imagine that waiting for a tiny speck of light to change its position slightly with respect to surrounding stars would be the astronomical equivalent of watching ice melt. But it turns out that hunting for and identifying asteroids is a lot of fun. Most can be seen to move within an hour, and it's usually possible to confirm a visual asteroid sighting within two hours by plotting its position and noting patterns in field stars. Like the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, the sunlight reflected from larger asteroids is subtly more steady than that of stars.
 
A list of 103 asteroids I've observed so far can be accessed here.

Astronomical League Regular Asteroid Certificate (25 asteroids) #16
Astronomical League Gold Asteroid Certificate (100 asteroids) #30

 
Film Astrophotography
  My  efforts in this area were pretty primitive. I piggyback mounted an old Yashica FX-3 on my Celestron 9.25-in telescope and used 50mm, 135mm and 200mm lenses to capture wide-field views of interesting regions.  I've also tried the afocal method for photographing planets, mounting my camera on a tripod and aiming it at the eyepiece view.  These photos are offered mostly to show that even someone who has no idea what he's doing can get SOMETHING with a little patience.

See Imaging for my recent digital photography.

Jupiter
April 2002, Littleton, CO

afocal method;
50mm lens; Celestron 9.25 f/10.0 @ 235x
1/2 second exposure

Red spot, below curved portion of S. Equatorial belt

 
Comet Ikeya-Zhang
April 2002, Littleton, CO

135mm lens, f/3.5
30-second, driven but unguided exposure

 
Central Orion Region
Jan 2003, Deer Trail, CO

M-42/43
(bottom center)
Flame Nebula
(left of Eastern belt star)

135mm lens, f/3.5
4-minute exposure;
driven but unguided.
Fuji 400 ASA Slide Film

(You can actually barely make out the Horse Head nebula in this image!)

 
Horsehead Region
Jan 2003, Deer Trail, CO

Horsehead Nebula
(right center)
Flame Nebula

135mm lens (!!), f/3.5
4-minute exposure;
driven but unguided.
Fuji 400 ASA Slide Film

 
Aurora Borealis
April 11, 1981
Boulder, CO
 
 

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2003, Darrell M. Dodge