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Monday, October 25 2021 @ 08:59 am EDT

AOAS Member Jon Stone, Jr. Earns AL Observing Award

General NewsSeventeen-year-old Jon Stone, Jr. received his Messier Club observing certificate from the Astronomical League last fall. By simply recording his observations as he found the first 70 targets in the Messier list of 110 deep-sky objects, Jon accomplished what only one other AOAS member has done......he EARNED his own Regular Messier Club Certificate.
I congratulate Jon Stone on receipt of his own Regular Messier Club Certificate for locating and logging at least 70 of the 110 objects in the Messier List.


You went out last night and set up your telescope to observe. As darkness gripped the sky you began with a couple of familiar objects that you know how to find, maybe a globular cluster or a double-star. You chose these because you know where they are, but you've recently been getting pretty good at "star-hopping". That's a method of looking at star charts and identifying and matching groups and patterns of stars with the charts, and then moving your telescope to some particular spot where your celestial target resides. Let's say it's M-104, a bright nearly edge-on galaxy on the border between the constellations of Virgo and Corvus. Your charts helped you find this galaxy and it seemed easy. You're proud of yourself for having accomplished this small personal feat of observing.

As you gaze at this new object you study it closely, and you notice how it's dark dust lane easily contrasts with the brighter glow of the nucleus. But at some point, you've had enough and you want to try finding something else, maybe a new globular cluster in Ophichus. Or, maybe you want to find another southerly "M-object" in Sagittarius or Scorpius, or an open star cluster like NGC-869 and NGC-884 in the northern regions, the famous "Double Cluster" in Perseus.

M-104 the "Sombrero Galaxy" on the border between Virgo and Corvus (Hubble Space Telescope image)
You have accomplished a goal of finding something new by the star-hop method, but you've also missed a golden opportunity to simply record the date, time, telescope and eyepiece(s) used, and a quick little word or two about what you just saw. The description might be something as simple as, "Found M-104;dust lane easy to see, looks like a Sombrero; easily found; nearly edge-on galaxy in Virgo". It will never again matter what object you want to locate once you've mastered the "star-hop method". When you can do that, then you can easily earn an observing certificate.

The vast majority of amateur astronomers do this same thing; they've learned how to use their telescope along with a star chart to locate dim objects, but neglected the chance to record their observations. It really is that simple. Just choose an object, find it by star-hopping, identify it as the correct object you're seeking, record your observation, and then move on to the next target and log that one the same way.

Click read more for the rest of this story.

To me, the whole idea of an observing certificate should be to encourage observers to use their star charts to locate objects the old-fashioned way. The current new generation of "GoTo" telescopes and accessories can take a lot of the work out of finding objects, but that just seems like cheating if you ask me. I learned so much more once I'd learned to star-hop and began logging my objects as I found them. My Honorary Messier Certificate took almost two years for me to earn primarily because I didn't own a telescope at the time. I received it in the fall of 1987 after asking to use someone else's telescope every time I attended an AOAS star party. Thank goodness everyone was happy to allow me to do that. But learning how to find deep-sky objects helped me learn to identify constellations, asterisms, and other sights as I progressed. That, in turn, helped me to "see" more when I did find anything new that I needed for my Messier list, and later on, for my Herschel 400 list which I finished in 1995 after 6 years of effort. "Seeing" all there is to see is quite a trick in-and-of itself, too.

Amateurs who use automated telescopes to earn their observing certificates lose that opportunity to learn how to "see" whatever's there that may not be obvious with a cursory glance. The old saying of "there's more to [something] than meets the eye" really applies when trying to earn an observing certificate. Never-the-less, the Astronomical League doesn't discriminate when it comes to earning an observing certificate. Anyone may earn any of the Astronomical League's observing certificates with any type of telescope, automated or manual.

Personally, I'd always advise that everyone who wants to earn an observing certificate try to do so by learning and applying the star-hop method to locate objects manually. You will wind up learning the sky and so much more when you do.

So, think about the challenge of trying to earn your own Astronomical League observing certificate. It isn't hard, but it does take a little more effort when you're out under the stars. We offer logsheets to download in our "Downloads" section of this website, and you can even download a copy that's usable in Word to create a clean copy separately from the logsheets you might print off and use in the field as you make the observations. If you use a laptop, you could conceivably use that set of logsheets to create everything in the most attractive way possible within the laptop.

However you choose to log your observations, the fact that you take the extra time to LOG what you see is what will help you in the long run. Please consider starting your own list and join myself and Jon Stone as the next AOAS members with your own observing certificates.
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